Bengal cats. Courtesy of Colin Whiting, LVT.

Wild cats have coats patterned with stripes, spots and rosettes, that help them blend in with their surroundings.  Cat breeders have crossed wildcats with domestic cats, producing “house” cats with these exotic looks. For a hefty price tag, you can own a wildcat hybrid. But before you reserve your “wildcat”, here are things you need to know.

So you want to own a wild cat hybrid – what you need to know

where do hybrid cats come from?

There are a number of wildcats that can produce hybrid offspring when mated with a domestic cat. The most common hybrids are the Bengal and the Savannah. The Bengal comes from a union of an Asian leopard cat with a domestic cat; the Savannah is the product of the African Serval and a domestic cat (Reference 1).

The offspring of different species are not always fertile – when donkeys and horses are bred together, the results are mules, who are sterile. With wildcats, the first generation (F1) males are often sterile but usually there are some fertile females that can be “bred back” with a domestic male cat. Some of these kittens (F2) may also be sterile and “breeding back” continues until fertility is restored at F4-F5 generations. At this point, the cat is about 15% wildcat (Reference 1).

Usually a female domestic cat is bred to a male wildcat. These unions can have their problems: if the wildcats are not accustomed to domestic cats, they may view the female cat as prey and kill her. Differences in size can pose problems: a male serval can weigh upwards of 20 pounds while the average domestic cat is around 10 pounds.  Size will make it physically challenging for the cats to mate (Reference 2).

Successful mating has a better chance with a wildcat who has been raised since kittenhood in a house.

The serval’s gestation period is around 74 days compared with a domestic cat’s 65 day pregnancy. As a consequence, the kittens may be born prematurely, requiring use of incubators to keep them alive.

“Production of hybrid cats promotes illegal trade and removal of exotic cats from their natural habitats for breeding purposes.” (Reference 2) This may threaten the survival of endangered wildcats (Reference 3).

Temperament: something to consider when you own a wildcat hybrid

Domestic cats began their association with humans over 10,000 years ago. There are genetic signatures that identify these cats as domesticated. They have adapted over time from a wild state to close association with humans. In that same time, domestic cats have changed from solitary hunters to more social animals that can live in groups when there is sufficient food.

Wildcats and wildcat hybrids are genetically different than our domestic cat. Temperament is in part influenced by genetics, so it is not surprising that hybrid cats can seem skittish and unpredictable to humans, biting and scratching when not expected (Reference 2).  Experts particularly discourage ownership of F1, F2, and F3 wildcat hybrids.

Wildcat hybrids can be more territorial than domestic cats and exhibit behaviors such as urine spraying and aggression toward other pets in the human household (Reference 2).

care and feeding of a wildcat hybrid

Hybrid cats are obligate carnivores like our domestic cats and can be fed a complete and balanced diet of commercial cat food. They may need more calories than the average house cat depending on their size.

Environmental needs are similar to those of our everyday cat although hybrid wildcats can be more active and may need a bit more positive and predictable interaction with people. Leash walking and agility training may be things to consider when you own a wildcat hybrid.  Providing a catio can also provide enrichment when you own a wildcat hybrid.

Like any other cat, veterinary care is essential to a long and happy life for hybrid cats.  They will need annual exams, vaccinations, and dental care to remain healthy.

The period during which the rabies virus is shed is not known for wild cats so rabies vaccines formulated for a our domestic breeds may not have the same efficacy for hybrids. However, hybrid cats should still receive rabies vaccines (Reference 2).

legal concerns when you own a wildcat hybrid

The locality where you live may require that you have a permit or license to own a wildcat hybrid (Reference 2).

  • In Australia and New Zealand, there are complete bans on hybrid cats that are not at least 5 generations removed from a wild ancestor.
  • The United Kingdom requires permits for cats with a wild parent.
  • Norway and Sweden prohibit cats less than 5 generations removed from a wild ancestor.
  • In the United States, laws vary from state to state: Nebraska, Georgia, Hawaii and Rhode Island are the most restrictive.

If your hybrid cat bites a human, local laws may require the cat be euthanized even if vaccinated in order for brain tissue to be evaluated for rabies (Reference 2). In comparison, domestic cats can be quarantined and observed. CHECK YOUR LOCAL LAWS.

When buying a hybrid cat, be aware that a visual exam cannot determine whether a cat is truly an expensive hybrid or a domestic cat with a similar coat color and conformation. To determine authenticity, the breeder should be able to provide a DNA-verified pedigree extending back to the exotic cat foundation (Reference 2).

let the buyer beware…

Hybrid cats are not suitable for the average or first time pet owner.

  • They are difficult to breed and costly.
  • Hybridization may constitute a threat to endangered wildcat populations.
  • These cats can be very active, may seem skittish and unpredictable, and not make good pets.
  • Some localities may ban early generations of hybrids; some may require licenses and permits.

The Internet abounds with both horror stories and success stories about wildcat hybrids. Owning a hybrid cat requires an significant investment of not only money, but also time. Like any other cat, exposure to a variety of humans, other pets and household situations when young helps make a good pet. Also, training your hybrid kitten or cat will give him/her a way to communicate with you, accustom him/her to gentle and respectful handling, and strengthen the bond between you and your cat.

An Afterword:
Breeders bred the Asian leopard cat to domestic cats to achieve the distinctive coat of the Bengal cat. In March of 2024, Stanford researchers published a study with the results of 10 years of sequencing the DNA of Bengal cats. They found that the unique appearance of Bengals was a result of variations in genes that had already been present in domestic cats – the beautiful coat of the Bengal cat is NOT due to his Leopard Cat ancestry (Reference 4).


  1. William Murphy, PhD. Genetic Analysis of Feline Interspecies Hybrids, Tufts’ Canine and Feline Breeding and Genetics Conference, 2015
    Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA (viewed 3/2024).
  2. Ownership of non-domestic felids. J Feline Med Surg. 2019 Jul;21(7):NP3. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19857520. PMID: 31234747.
  3. Devitt, Elizabeth. Mating Game: Survival of Some Small Wildcats At Risk Due to Housecat Hybrids, Mongabay, 5/25/23, (viewed 3/2024).
  4. Williams, Sarah. Bengal Cat Coats Are Less Wild Than They Look, Genetic Study Finds. Stanford Medicine/New Center/ March 2024. (viewed 3/2024).

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A safe place for a cat when visitors come. This cat can CHOOSE to go higher or to another room if he wants to avoid strangers.

The doorbell rings and your cat runs and hides under the bed. You answer the door and your friend comes in. After some small talk, she says “By the way, how is Fluffy?” You explain that Fluffy is fine and is hiding – she just isn’t a very friendly cat.

The cat afraid of strangers may freeze or feel she has to protect herself with her claws and teeth during her veterinary exam.  Medication and training help but these will work better if your cat has some ongoing positive or at least neutral experiences with strangers.

Socialization for the cat afraid of strangers

Kittens handled gently and appropriately by a variety of humans when they are 2-7 weeks old (the sensitive period) quickly learn to accept people and enjoy being with them.

That is fine and good you say, but my cat is older now and I don’t have a time machine. It is true that we can’t have the same impact on an older cat as a kitten.  However,  we can still provide the older cat positive, predictable experiences with humans in and outside the cat’s household.

Ways to Socialize the cat afraid of strangers

Safe Places
Consider having some high perches or maybe a cat tree in your living room. Cats are curious folk and want to satisfy their curiosity if they can do it safely. A high perch or cat tree allows a cat to CHOOSE to interact or not.

CAT guidelines – Rules for Humans!
If a cat anticipates that a human will treat her in a positive and predictable way, she will be more likely to interact with that person. The CAT human-cat interaction guidelines  developed at the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, aim to make cats more comfortable when interacting with us and are easy follow.

Point out these guidelines to guests and ask that they follow them. The video version may be more appealing to children. After a few experiences of visitors seemingly ignoring your cat, she may start to show up when strangers come over.

Desensitizing Your Cat to the Sound of the Doorbell
Doorbells can be noisy and startling.  After all, doorbells are designed to alert us to deliveries or the arrival of visitors.

  • Record the doorbell sound on your phone.
  • Lure your cat to her high perch or cat tree in the livingroom.
  • Play the doorbell sound at a very low volume and offer her a high value treat.
  • Lure her down with target stick or treat. Repeat.

Gradually increase the volume of the doorbell sound over time. The doorbell will still be an unexpected noise but now has a positive association with it. You can also use the doorbell sound to cue your cat to go to her safe place (very useful if you have a door-dashing cat).

The Calm Before The Storm

For big holiday gatherings, you may also want to consider giving the cat afraid of strangers a supplement such as Zylkene or Anxitane a few days before the big event. These non-prescription supplements can make your kitty feel calmer when lots of unfamiliar humans are around.

Regular veterinary care is an essential part of a long and pain-free life for your cat. Regular visits can head off problems and spread veterinary costs out over time. Desensitizing your cat to strangers can help reduce his fear and anxiety at the vet clinic, making it easier to take him to the vet.

If you have concerns about how your cat is handled at the veterinary practice, consider taking your cat to a Cat Friendly practice, where staff is trained in feline handling techniques.

This is the final post in the “Better Vet Visits for Your Cat” series. I hope you try some of the techniques suggested in these posts. Remember to break things up in simple steps that your cat can understand and master. And, always try to see things from the “feline purrspective”.


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The big eyes and round heads of kittens may elicit a caregiving response in humans.

It is often said that cats are not fully domesticated. There is that streak of wildness in them – they can be aloof and take care of themselves. We don’t control the breeding or hunting habits of the cats that live in the shadows of our neighborhoods and cities.

To some, this offers an opportunity to study the process of domestication. Some of the easy to see hallmarks of domesticated animals are the changes in their faces and shapes of their heads. In selective breeding of foxes, rounder heads, white pigmentation, and droopy ears became apparent after 10 generations of allowing less aggressive animals to mate [“Changes in Cat Facial Morphology are Related to Interaction with Humans”, Hattoi et al, Animals 2022, 12, 3493].

 Domestic cats have short noses and rounder eyes

These changes in face and head make the animals look more juvenile. The noted ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, defined these traits (the round face and big eyes) as the “baby schema”. The “baby face” of human infants is said to stimulate the premotor cortex and activate the basic emotion of CARE in human adults.  Likewise, animals with round heads and big eyes are “cuter” and more appealing to humans.
A research group in Japan [Hattoi et al. see above] compared the facial structure of 1) feral mixed breed cats, 2) owned domestic mixed breed cats, and 3) owned domestic purebred cats with the facial structure of 4) the African Wildcat, the ancestor of our domestic cats. They hypothesized that cats that interact with people would show changes in their faces, and this could be a marker of the process of domestication.

The team mapped facial dimensions to find a measure of the “baby schema” they could use. Since the size of the cat’s eye is dependent on brightness, the researchers chose the nose length and the angle of the eyes to compare the faces of the 4 categories of cats.

Measurement of Nose length in catsThe nose length (B) was reported relative to facial size, the distance between the inside corners of the eyes (A). Eye angles measured the slant of the eyes, from the inside corner to the outside corner.


Analysis of 3295 photos revealed:

  •  Domestic cats have short noses  and rounder eyes.
  • African wildcats and feral mixed breed cats have longer noses and slanted eyes when compared with domestic cats.
  • The study also found that people preferred cats with shorter noses – they were “cuter” than cats with longer noses.
  Nose Length(B/A) Angle of Eyes
African Wildcats 1.34 25.61
Mixed Breed Feral Cats 1.32 25.10
Owned Mixed Breed Cats 1.23 25.31
Owned Purebred Cats 1.14 22.77

Humans prefer cats with shorter noses and eyes that are not so slanted.  These features may elicit caregiving behavior in humans.  Domestic cats have short noses and rounder eyes; this suggests that domestication or interaction with humans has changed the facial structure of domestic cats.

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Cat under the bed
Myrddin, my sister’s cat, stayed with her as she passed away.

From ancient Egypt where cats were mummified and sometimes buried with their owners, to the Salem Witch trials, cats have long been associated with death. A quick search of the Internet will turn up all sorts of superstitions linking cats with the afterlife, the sick and dying. The bond between cats and humans is more than just providing food and shelter – this bond can persist even as one or the other is dying.

Cats in nursing homes are not uncommon these days. Oscar, a cat who lived in a Rhode Island nursing home from 2005-2022, is credited with accurately predicting 100 deaths. Oscar would choose to nap with people a few hours before they died. He was the subject of the book, Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, authored by geriatrician Dr. David Dosa.

My eldest sister was suffering from cancer and entered the hospital in the end of September this year. She was too weak for chemotherapy and chose to spend her final days in her home. During her hospital stay, her Siamese cat, Myrddin, was cared for by family nearby. He seemed somewhat shy with people when he arrived at his interim home and was gradually starting to come out from his refuge under the bed in a guest bedroom when I visited a week later.

My sister was released from the hospital a few days after my visit and asked for her cat when arriving home from the hospital. He was brought to the house and after a short acclimation period in the guest bedroom, was brought to my sister’s bedroom. I worried that he would hide but he seemed to know just what to do – he jumped up on the bed, sitting on her and kneading her stomach.

She passed away early in the morning a few days later – Myrrdin woke family staying at the house who found that my sister was no longer alive. He went back to stay lie next to her until hospice arrived.

The bond between cats and humans is more than just providing food and a warm place to sleep. We don’t know why cats like Oscar choose to nap with the dying. As for me, I am so glad my sister had the comfort of her cat at the very end of her life.