What is it like to live with a wild cat hybrid? How difficult is it? What are the consequences including the wider consequences? Do they behave as Carole Baskin says, namely in a way which makes it impossible to enjoy their company?
Carole is the owner and chief executive of Big Cat Rescue (BCR). Having read what she says I have two observations (a) her bias against these cats comes through. Sorry. I don’t sense she is being totally objective and fair enough and she seems to be too eager to use bad experiences from individual cat owners to make a decision about the whole . She tends to be selective in publishing bad experiences. What about publishing the good ones too to set a balanced view? However, she has a good reason to dislike these cats and (b) she makes some very good points and I am not against what she says, in principle, namely that for almost all people who want to own a wild cat hybrid it is better if you forget it.
Clearly a lot of the problems with wild cat hybrids are actually problems with the people who buy them. Some of these owners have surely created problems for themselves and blamed the cat. I discuss that below.
“Hybrids of wild animals and domestic animals are a stupid American trend to breed more and more exotic pets” says Professor Peacock (Chief Executive of the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Australia). Note: this is not necessarily my view. Australians are very much against them.
Wild cat hybrids are neurotic, have difficult-to-diagnose health issues, have special dietary requirements, are smart, are loyal to one person, don’t get along with other pets, are excellent hunters, are demanding as to stimulation and an enriched environment, tend to escape and cause mayhem, spray everywhere, pee and poo in the wrong place, are destructive, bite and so on…..Is this true?
The most common wild cat hybrids are:
I have met and played with first filial hybrids. They were kittens. One of them was called Focus, a first filial Savannah. He was a thoroughly charming cat who behaved much like an ordinary cat. There was one difference that I could see; his voice. It had a wild cat tone to it. Of course his appearance was different too and perhaps he was a little more active and stronger physically.
Focus was cooperative when I photographed him playing and sitting and watching. He responded to Martin’s call to come to him and he rested on Martin while he, himself, rested on the sofa. In short he was a pretty normal domestic as far as I could see. I have also spoken to the Stuckis, former owners of A1 Savannahs, about Savannah cats and seen the cats with other cats, particularly second filials.
Outwardly, the Savannah F1 hybrids that I saw and played with and watched playing amongst themselves were very similar to the domestic cats that we are familiar with. Their voices are a bit stronger with a wild tone to them and they perhaps play harder and so on but I did not see in the behavior and personality of the these cats the kind of cat that Carol Baskin describes in her article entitled “Hybrid Facts” on her BCR website. That is not to say I am correct and she is incorrect. Carole Baskin has a wealth of knowledge on wild cat species (and I admire her work) but she openly admits, as far as I am aware, to strongly disliking the whole idea of breeding and owning wild cat hybrids.
Based on my knowledge of wildcat hybrids, I have always said that they are more demanding than an ordinary domestic cat. This goes with the territory of living with a cat companion that looks special and which behaves in a way which is closer to the wild cat. You get closer to nature. There is a price for that privilege and I don’t believe that people get that.
Helmi Flick, the well known cat photographer, once cared for an F1 wildcat hybrid. It is quite clear from what Ken her husband says about an F1 hybrid that it is very difficult to live with them. He says it is the most cat you can have without a prescription! In other words, they test you to the maximum but Helmi says that they’re very affectionate.
She says that although you should not take on a wild cat hybrid lightly or without hard consideration, they love you fiercely and they’re jealous of your time. Fortunately she was able to devote a large part of her time playing with her F1 cat. His name was F1 Chausie Wildkatz Bwana Bushwah. I don’t know whether he is still living but he is or was an F1 Chausie. This is a jungle cat (also called “Swamp Lynx”) crossed with a domestic cat perhaps an Abyssinian cat because the coat – a ticked tabby – is a suitable match. He was a fearless cat.
A typical way in which an F1 wildcat shows his affection for you is by giving you very strong head butts. I made a short video about that behaviour showing Titan an F1 Savannah cat head batting Kathrin Stucki. You’ll see what I mean in the video and it confirms to me that the reward you receive from this special relationship is a strong connection between yourself and your wild cat hybrid. This may suit you. Once again, I see a difference in the picture that I have painted of these cats to the one painted by Carole Baskin.
Carole makes some very good points about wild cat hybrid cats. She makes the startling comment that exotic cat hybrids are like strapping a nuclear warhead to the feral cat problem. This is her first and opening criticism in her article. The point she is making is that if and whether a hybrid cat escapes from household and enclosure confinement it could and might mate with feral cats and thereby create super-feral cats. This is the main reason why the Australian government will not allow Savannah cats to be imported into their country or for them to be bred there. The Australians are terrified of the damage done by feral cats never mind large feral cats, which are larger than small wild cat species.
She makes a valid point that a wildcat hybrid especially the first filial hybrid escaping and mating with feral cats could cause real problems with the ecosystem and with nature. These super-feral cats would be more like wild cats and better able to avoid humans, continue breeding and attack prey and native species.
There is also the problem of the fear and anxiety brought upon residents of an area when a wildcat hybrid escapes and wanders around the area. People get nervous and ultimately the cat is tracked and shot. People unfamiliar with F1 hybrids think these cats are 100% wild cat species. This is not a pleasant outcome for either the cat’s owner or the local residents. There is a big responsibility on the owner to avoid the cat escaping. There is another point to make: wild cat hybrids need a lot of stimulation; they demand an enriched environment but it has to be a closed, confined environment. Can the owner satisfy the cat’s needs adequately? Often not. This leads to a desire to escape.
Carol also says that when a hybrid escapes the wild nature of this cat makes it able to avoid humans and spread the usual cat diseases amongst wild populations.
Regarding vaccinations Carol says that there are no rabies vaccines that are approved for use in wild cats nor for their hybrid offspring. She said that exotic cats will often die from being vaccinated with traditional modified live virus vaccines which are used on domestic cats. If this is true, it is surely a major reason why people should not keep hybrids but I do not know whether what she’s saying in this instance is true.
She also says that wild cat hybrids howl loudly throughout the night. This is a chilling sound and there is nothing to stop it, she says. They also carry toys around in their mouths which is an unpleasant reminder that these cats are confused when living in the domestic environment. Once again I don’t know whether this is true or indeed if carrying a toy around in a mouth is indicative of anything in particular. I have a feeling that she is taking one case that was reported to her and extrapolating that to all hybrids. I am not sure though. I would doubt what she states.
Carol tells us that wild cat hybrids spray because they are hardwired to mark their territory and it does not matter if the cat is male or female spayed or neutered, they will spray a lot of foul smelling urine all over your home and that on its own is enough to put you off completely. She is saying, in effect, that these cats behave like their wild cat parent and we know that while cats as pets are almost impossible because they do spray an awful lot and I think nobody can live with that behavior.
Here are some more reasons why you should not keep a wildcat hybrid. They are unadoptable if they end up as rescue cats. I do not know of any wildcat hybrid rescue cats, by the way. Animal Control say that they never work out as pets. The liabilities are too great. They suffer from genetic defects and they require special diets. They end up with health problems like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and diarrhea. They also bite seriously, even in play. You will receive scars and your own health problems whatever you try to stop it.
“After much $$$$$ was spent at Vets, she was finally placed on 5 mg prednisolone qd and a high fiber diet. The diet gives her gas which is so foul I nearly gag. Fortunately, her stools firmed up. ..” (Frank, a Bengal cat owner reporting to BCR).
A number of years ago I wrote about Bengal cat smelly poo! It sounds amusing but there appears to be a serious side to this. Bengal cats may require a special diet and the situation is that not all breeders inform potential buyers of these extra demands.
Set against this indication that Bengal cats suffer a lot from IBS there is another report on the BCR site which states that smelly poo and diarrhea can be caused by a tritrichomonas foetus parasitic infection. This is a health problem that can affect any cat, particularly shelter cats and importantly breeding catteries. Perhaps this is more prevalent that we know and if so it is very unfair to give the impression that Bengal cats have inherent health issues. This is more a cat breeder issue.
Another cause of diarrhea in Bengal cats is gluten in standard cat food. Perhaps wild cat hybrids have more sensitive stomachs and are less tolerant of poor cat food and a lot of it is not high standard. A gluten free cat food was reported on the BCR site (at the bottom of the page) to stop diarrhea in Bengal cat. It worked.
One excellent point that Carole makes is that in some US states wild cat hybrids are banned, or there are restrictions on them in other states and is very difficult for law enforcement officers to judge whether one of these cats is a wild cat or a hybrid and this leads to breeders selling wild cats to buyers rather than the more domesticated hybrid cat because they are easier to produce.
In respect of breeding these cats, the point made is that in order to achieve a successful “product”, a cat that is saleable, there has to be a number of failures and also there are very many failures in the human-cat relationship and so it is cruel in respect of the breeding programs to adopt one of these cats. Having studied the breeding practices of Jean Mill the founder of the Bengal cat, I have to agree to a certain extent. I don’t know how many failures A1 Savannahs had or has. I suspect more failures than one would like to know about. Whatever the case, breeding cats are kept in small or rather small enclosures at best and this is distressing for me and all cat lovers and other people. When staying at A1 Savannahs, I remember a Savannah cat coming up to me while I was in his cage photographing his black female partner and he was desperate for human contact. He licked my trousers until they were wet through.
BCR make the point that when you buy a fourth or fifth generation hybrid there were three other generations above that and the question is what happened to those cats when they were bred and how did the breeding process go and how many cats domestic cats are killed by the wildcat male in the breeding process for first filial cats? There is the genuine question as to whether breeders breeding F1 wild cat hybrids are in breach of animal welfare laws because it could be deemed cruel to the domestic cat during mating because of the huge size difference (serval to domestic cat to create F1 Savannah).
BCR have to turn away many wild cat hybrids including Bengals although some are taken in. They do have some hybrid cats to look after so they speak from experience. They say that even fourth or fifth generation Bengals spray urine routinely even when they are neutered or spayed, male or female as mentioned above and they also bite. Personally I find this very hard to agree with because TICA accept Bengal cats as domestic cats and the breed standard insists on these cats being totally non-agressive. Perhaps the Bengal cats being looked after by BCR revert to the wild somewhat because they are probably kept outside in enclosures with other cats and so become more aggressive in their general behaviour.
BCR quote an owner of an F1 Savannah cat who was at her wits end as to what to do as her cat ate everything that was inedible:
“…He eats the furniture, tears large chunks out of the towels and sheets, and chews through anything made of plastic, rubber, or vinyl..”
I am not sure how prevalent it is but the Bengal cat does have a bit of a reputation for being aggressive (perhaps playing too hard with other cats) and destructive of household items:
“They will be destructive in your home. I had to get rid of fragile items, plants, certain decorations on the walls..” (Tina)
Does this mean that F1 wild cat hybrids should have a large outside enclosure? If so what is the point in keeping one of these cats? You can’t have a really good relationship with your companion cat when he is tucked away in a cage outside all his life.
Do wild cat hybrids eat more that ordinary domestic cats? One owner states that they do because of a higher metabolism.
I think there is a certain amount of stupidity from some Bengal cat owners. In one instance reported by BCR, the lady (Wanda) says that her 2 year old cat peed outside the litter. Her response was to drug her cat with Prozac to the maximum dosage and then what seems to be something stronger (Depo-Provera injections). Is this good cat caretaking? What about healthy alternatives? There are numerous alternatives to preventing inappropriate elimination.
In another case of “Stupid Cat Owner Syndrome” the owners says as soon as she got her beautiful F1 Bengal cat she had all four paws declawed and then proceeds to tell BCR that her cat pees and poops outside the litter box and has questionable behaviour patterns! Give me a break, lady. You bought a beautiful cat and then mutilated him for your own convenience.
BCR imply that Bengal cat breeders misrepresent the facts to their clients. They don’t tell clients (buyers) what the cat in question is really like regarding health, diet and behavior. This seems believable but I am sure there are many breeders who are completely open and honest. We have to be careful and fair when criticizing.
Conclusions? For me, the truth about living with wild cat hybrids is not with BCR but neither is it as represented by breeders of these fabulous looking cats. It is in the middle. There is no doubt in my mind that there are breeding issues and some health issues that emanate from the breeding. There are also behavioral issues but, in truth, this is about human expectation and caretaking. Are these caretakers stressing up these cats because of a poor environment and feeding them inadequately? Are vets confused?
There are lots of problems with owner expectations and breeder misrepresentations. Most or a lot of wild cat hybrid owners should care for a standard and beautiful random bred cat from cat rescue center – so much easier to care for and so much more suited to living with people in their homes.
This is another story of a zookeeper being attacked by a lion or lions and…