If you gave someone an African wildcat as a pet, how would they know it wasn’t a regular house cat? By far the greatest difference between these two cats under the circumstances would be their behavior. Although you can see that they are different in appearance – I’ve compared a tabby cat with an African wildcat – a genuine African wildcat placed into a home as a pet would create chaos for the homeowner. The cat would be frightened and aggressive and the human would be frightened and anxious. Note: there might be some rare exceptions where the cat and person get along reasonably for various reasons but the cat would have to be socialized.
Aggression and fear
The cat would not behave as a pet, quite the opposite. If you tried to approach the cat he or she would quite possibly attack you and it would hurt. Small wildcats make a lot of noise and the sounds that they make are much stronger and wilder than those of a domestic cat. The sounds can be quite intimidating. An African wildcat would either attack defensively or hide protectively. You wouldn’t have a chance of treating an African wildcat as a pet if the animal was taken straight out of Africa and put into an American home.
Even F1 wild cat hybrids can be a handful
First filial wildcat hybrids are known to be very demanding even when they are fully socialized and domesticated. I remember the well-known cat photographer Helmi Flick adopting an F1 Chausie (jungle cat crossed with a domestic cat). Her husband, Ken, said that it was like living with a cat on crack. They had to give the cat up as it was impossible to live with her.
Another person I know who adopted a first filial Bengal cat really struggled. Both these cats were half wildcat and their owners found it almost intolerable to live with them. They are both domesticated and socialized but that wild element just made things so difficult. I am just making a point. Some F1 wildcat hybrids will fit in but they are not suitable for everyone.
The beginning of domestication was different
The North African Wildcat is said to be the ancestor of today’s domestic cat. You probably know that about 10,000 years ago one of these cats walked into a farmer’s enclosure and they got to know each other. They lived symbiotically; both benefited from the relationship. However, the relationship was not your typical domestic cat relationship. The cat would have lived outside perhaps in a barn or come and gone as she pleased. The farmer would have probably fed the cat to a certain extent and he may have been able to have touched the cat. But it wouldn’t have been the kind of close, bonded relationship that today’s domestic cats have with their human companions.
I remember a video I made about two jaguarundi kittens being fed. They fought over their food and they screamed at the tops of their voices. The sounds they made were quite shocking really.
Cute small wild cats are not cute in behavior
If you listen to what you think is a cuddly wildcat such as the Pallas cat you’ll be surprised at the sounds they make. This cat looks quite cute with long fur. They come from an area near Iran. Once they open their mouth you know they are wild and fierce; an animal that will generally be unapproachable and frankly quite dangerous even though no larger than a domestic cat. People tend to mistakenly conflate cuddly domestic cat-like appearance with cuddly domestic cat character.
These are the reasons why you would know that you are not living with a regular house cat if somebody brought to you an African Wildcat as a pet.