Can a domestic cat mate with a lion or a tiger?

Without quoting any experts, common sense dictates that domestic cats cannot, or should not on ethical grounds, mate with a lion or tiger or any other big cat species for several reasons. Firstly, their size difference is too large to make it practical. Secondly, in an encounter between a big cat and the much smaller domestic cat the big cat would regard the smaller cat as prey. The practical issues would be insurmountable it seems.

Lion x domestic cat
Lion x domestic cat? No. Image: PoC.
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Male lion and female domestic cat

The best source for this kind of information is Sarah Hartwell and she states on her website messybeast.com that even artificial insemination would be unlikely to result in a successful pregnancy because of the differences in size and gestation periods between the two species.

Also, the domestic cat’s womb would not be able to accommodate the large fetus of a lion. The fetus would be miscarried when it reached full-term kitten size.

Female lion and male domestic cat

If a female lion carried a hybrid offspring to full-term, Sarah says that the cubs would be smaller than purebred cubs. She says that undersized offspring ready survived. This implies, by the way, that putting aside the practical issues if a male domestic cat mated with the female lion they might produce offspring but that they wouldn’t survive. Sarah does not say that genetically it is impossible.

However, the species are different genetically and they belong to a different taxonomic genera. Even when tigers mate with lions to create ligers and tigon there are major problems. The Wild Cat Sanctuary states that ligers often have to be born by cesarean section because they are “predisposed to gigantism”. Many fail to survive and tigons rarely survive infancy. They also suffer from neurological and physical issues and can experience dwarfism.

Were not told about these huge problems when lions and tigers are forced to mate by zoos keepers such as the infamous Joe Exotic. There’s also the issue of sterility in exotic cat breeds. For example, male F1 Savannah cats are sterile (serval x domestic cat).

The domestic cat does sometimes mate with the smaller wild cat species such as the Scottish wildcat which, ironically, has arguably resulted in the extinction of the Scottish wildcat in the wild i.e. there are no purebred Scottish wildcat left. A substantial proportion of African wildcats in Africa are hybrids, crosses between domestic cats and wildcats.

Conclusion

I’m not sure that somebody has tried to mate a domestic cat with a lion. We don’t know, therefore, exactly what would happen. However, all the research that I have done indicates that it is both impractical and genetically impossible to result in a successful outcome. There is also the moral dimension. I think you would find it hard to justify such an experiment because it would be pointless and essentially cruel.

4 thoughts on “Can a domestic cat mate with a lion or a tiger?”

  1. The ‘moral’ implications are irrelevant. The domestic cats are in no danger of extinction. Like any animal that endears itself or makes itself useful to human beings, wind up with a huge advantage over wild animals that do not. So long as human civilization exists, cats, dogs, various avian species, rats, horses, goats, sheep, maze, wheat, potatoes, cattle etc plant or animals, will also survive and endure. The ethics dimension to things really amounts to opinions and social trends or emotional perspectives, rather than any practical, logical or sensible considerations. No animal or plant that humans exploit, does not likewise exploit humans in return. The ‘ethical’ considerations, irritatingly prominent today are little more than social posturing based on ignorance and incorrect or flawed philosophical opinions. The most obvious and glaring deficiency in modern ‘ethics’, is the false dichotomy between ‘man’ vs ‘nature’. As if mankind is somehow ‘separate from’ or ‘not a part of’ “nature”. This is foundational notion is completely illogical and irrational, based on the childish tendencies of some people to anthropomorphize (humanize) animals (like calling pups, kits, cubs etc “baby”. Humans have ‘babies’, cats have kittens, foxes kits, goats-kids, dogs and seals have pups etc); while from the other side, still others seek to philosophically “animalize” human beings. Yet, at the same time, these types of people from both groups, calling young animals “babies” and denying the elevated nature of human beings, will staunchly argue that people are magically separate from and not a product of nature. This absurdity should be obvious to anyone who pauses to reflect for a moment. Human beings are a product of nature. We are derived from nature, and in turn, human nature has been shaped by nature, natural selection and evolution. As such, everything we do and are inclined to do, is exactly what nature intended for us. Our natural tendencies are to interact with nature on all levels. Just as wildlife is often inclined to seek out and interact with people, people are naturally drawn to interact with wild life. A city is no different from an ant colony, or hare warrens, or gopher tunnels. Our herding or tribal natures are no different from, and shaped by the same forces that have elk herding, or murder of crows or large schools of tuna. Our individual buildings are no different from a bird’s nest, or bee hives, or beaver lodges and dams. Like other generalized creatures, we are poorly adapted to any specific niche, but generally exploitative of whatever environment we find ourselves in, and are particularly suited for adapting to a wide range of conditions, environments and changes that drive more specialized animals extinct. Part of not going extinct, is self defense and control of our environments, victorious competition against other species, and in eliminating threats to ourselves. I would submit that the trait that has given us prominence over most other species, is the tendency to ‘play’. Playing, is something only common to higher intelligence, and is practice and learning. Natural curiosity and experimentation. This is evident by species comparisons, and even amongst the human subspecies (or ‘races’ in honest speak. The overall general tendencies of all species and subspecies, are to remain with our own ‘kind’ as a general rule; while higher intelligence and curiosity and sometimes dire conditions spurs on intermixing on a lesser scale. Black ants do not normally combine with red ants to form large mixed colonies as a rule. They compete. Lions do not overall ‘hang out with’ or mix with tigers, wolves do not usually breed with coyotes, polar bears do not usually mix with black or brown bears, and human beings do not readily mix as one large mob without sustained and large scale efforts and exertion. Yet ALL of the above are the same species, with the same chromosome counts, and phenotypically vary only ‘superficially’. However, when resources dwindle, or ranges expand, populations overlap, or populations bottle neck and are catastrophically reduced by some selective event, all these species WILL naturally hybridize. And this will only be possible if species and subspecies share recent lineage and are genetically compatible. Even in hybrids such as horses and zebras or puma x panthero etc where hybridization is possible, but yields partially sterile F1 generation offspring; if selective pressure remains high enough, lateral gene flow takes place, and hybrid species will result if the combination yields advantageous traits. For example, even if the male F1 generations are sterile, with enough fertile F1 females back breeding between the parent species, eventually f2, f3 hybridization will yield fertile males, and a new hybrid species results. In the case of wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs; they are the same species, with the same karyotypes. So they freely hybridize. Same as with human beings (except in some cases say, where Rh negative females attempt to cross with Rh + others). Felines have two extant divisions. Puma/leopardus 2n (18×2)=36 lineage, and the panthero/silvestri 2n (19×2)=38 chromosome lineage. Any mixing between their own kind, WILL be fertile and produce viable offspring. while mixes between the two are often viable, often lead to a sterile or partially sterile F1 generation like horses and zebras, or donkeys and asses. in captivity (equal to overlapping habitat, limited resources and population bottle neck in nature), they do what comes naturally. There are some physical barriers that complete speciation despite genetic similarities and compatibility (think a small poodle x a large timber wolf, or Rh A- woman with AB+ bloodtypes, or a huge difference in stature -3ft woman and a 7ft+ male etc). Whether sexual mechanics, behavioral (social like lions, solitary like tigers; nocturnal vs diurnal, etc) may be the only limiting factor. In such cases, a 3foot man x a 7ft woman, would likely be more successful than the reverse, where the fetus may simply grow too large to be carried to term, or where a tiger and wolf would simply eat a housecat or coyote, respectively. I would put forward, that one of the reasons many of the larger cats are going extinct, is precisely due to their large sizes. Larger sizes increases the metabolic demands for their species. This in turn requires more food, larger ranges, and more risks necessary to simply feed these animals. Similar to island dwarfism, by inseminating larger female cats like tigers or lions artificially by smaller domestic males, much of the at risk species’ genomes may be preserved. If we can yield smaller stature lions, being social cats, that share social pack/pride social instincts with humans and our existing dogs and other domestics, while also providing a pet that will be appealing to human beings for pets or barn watch etc, while not posing the obvious threat a 370lb tiger poses to people, nor requiring the cost of a horse or full cow a week to feed, we will wind up giving their lineages and genomes the opportunity to be preserved to some extent. Which is better than outright extinction. Even if only hybrids survive over the next few centuries, enough of their original purebred genes would continue to live, and like the extinct aurochs, could in theory be reconstituted at any given time in the future. unless of course the ethics of de-extinction gets in the way. Either way, it could be reasonably argued that NOT doing exactly what nature designed us to do, that is to ‘play’ and experiment to see what is possible, would result in extinctions and genetic diversity that our species was created to ensure in the first place. The short answer to this article, is YES, house cats COULD, and SHOULD be back bred with their ancestral relatives to a limited degree just in case. And yes, any cats with the same karyotypes can successfully be crossbred if practical considerations are taken, such as inseminating the larger females by the smaller males until a median stature hybrid exists where the mechanics of procreation do not pose such an obvious barrier.
    such hybrids that could engender themselves to human beings interested in exotic pets, would increase their odds of survival and passing their genes into the future for as long as human beings remain extant.
    To go even further into the future, the obvious reason human primates were created by nature in the first place, is to ensure the survival of not only ourselves, but LIFE overall. Our sun and solar system has only a limited amount of time where any life at all will remain possible on Earth. The underlying mission of nature and ALL life, is to LIVE and survive, and procreate. Thus far, out of all nature, human beings are the ONLY species capable of surviving and continuing to propagate life beyond our planet and the finite lifespan of the sun that made life possible in the first place. Nature has spent billions of years through trial and error creating life capable of spreading beyond the finite capacity of our solar system to support any life at all. We are also, the only ones capable of choosing wisely, which species and strains of life seeded here, will have a fleeting chance of adapting beyond. NOT experimenting or using our natural instincts and nature out of false philosophies or willfully not using our gifts to benefit all life, and the programmed objectives ALL species share in common at a molecular and genetic level, would constitute willful extinction of everything nature has thus far worked so hard to achieve. If intentionally CHOOSING to allow mass planetary extinction due to a flawed ideology isn’t “unethical”, then what would be ‘unethical’? or if ‘ethics’ means allowing life to end out of a conscious choice; of what good or benefit is any sense of ‘ethics’ for any living species? It would constitute a harm. long term harm cannot be ‘ethical’.

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    • I would have thought that the moral dimension was always relevant as long as humans are involved. And therefore, it is not irrelevant. And as long as it is impossible genetically for a domestic cat to mate with a lion or tiger, that, too must be very relevant. And I don’t see any possibility in a long-term evolutionary change altering that absolute barrier between a successful mating.

      Reply
  2. Yeah, exactly, and leave it to the human species to entertain such a cruel and pointless experiment with living things. I can’t even imagine why one would consider it… to create a miniature lion or something? I suppose that WOULD be cool to look at but even if something like that could survive, there could be so many genetic, medical, physical, behavioral problems with it to make it just not worth the effort. And it would probably be a one-off, sterile, once and done after all the failures in the attempt.

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