Small cat hybrids are common pets across the world. Commonly referred to as ‘lap leopards,’ their names do not stray too far from the truth. Because these hybrids are the result of breeding a domestic cat to a wild, exotic one, they often keep the wild nature of their wild parent.
It is not common for wild cats and domestic cats to co-exist naturally, and when brought face to face, the wild cat may see the smaller domestic cat as easy prey. Many exotic, wild cats are much more significant in size. This drastic size difference makes breeding extremely difficult to accomplish. Gestation, or length of pregnancy, differs between cats, primarily domestic and wild. To be considered a pure cat breed, specific coat patterns and colors must be present in the offspring. If the kittens do not have the desired trait, such as coat color or eye color, they may be killed or surrendered by the breeder. Many times, first-generation hybrids may be sterile, especially the males.
Breeding wild cats with domestic ones for a few generations does not create a domestic cat. Besides lions, wild cats are solitary and would rather be by themselves. Many first generations of hybrids are prohibited/regulated in individual states because they maintain the tendencies expected from a wild animal. F4 generations and later are considered “domestic” hybrids, and breeders can then sell them to the general public. But breeders cannot guarantee that these cats will not have wild tendencies, and they do not educate potential owners on health problems and behavioral issues.
Small Cats, Big Problems
Many people will buy these kittens ranging upwards of $20,000 or more. When they begin to express their wild instincts, many people cannot handle their nature. Like their wild parents, these cats will mark their territory excessively by urinating, spraying, and leaving scent markers. Some domestic cats are territorial as well, but not to this extent. The hybrid cats will urinate along the boundaries of a room to create their “territory.” Neutering or spaying will not change this behavior. Having a solitary-type animal in a social setting can cause the cat to act in unpredictable ways; they may attack the owners, along with any other person who comes close. If there are other animals in the house, they may strike them as well.
All cats will naturally scratch to sharpen their claws. To prevent them from scratching, destroying, and harming household items and people, frequently, they are declawed. Declawing is not just taking away the nails but the whole first part of their digit, including the bone. This amputation leads to several health-related problems later. Owners may decide they no longer want to keep up with their hybrid; the cat has a chance of being abandoned at a shelter or a big cat sanctuary. Sometimes they are let loose, leading to many environmental problems if they survive. The last option is to euthanize the animal because there is nowhere for them to go.
Behavioral issues are not the only problem with breeding for hybrids. Because these animals would not exist in nature, there are many health problems associated with them, including:
- IBD (Irritable bowel disease)
- Persistent infection with an intestinal parasite called Tritichomonas foetus
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
- Possibly of a higher incidence of FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis)
Turpentine Creek’s resident small cat hybrid is Tigger, a Savannah cat. The first Savannah cat was born in 1986, but the International Cat Association did not accept the Savannah cat as a recognized breed until 2000. These cats are very active, and like their serval relatives can leap 10 feet into the air. First-generation and non-socialized Savannah cats still show their wild-type behavior, such as growling and hissing, becoming a danger to their owners. Tigger shares a habitat with five servals. Even though he has a domesticated cat in him, Tigger is still a no contact animal.
The IUCN Redlist ranks certain wild cats used to create hybrids near threatened or vulnerable. Breeding them with everyday, domestic cats will not aid in their conservation.