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Hybrids and Lookalikes

Hybrid cats are surprisingly common, and provide evidence of the fact that cat species are closely related. Feral cats often mate with European and African wildcats, although there is no wild species in the USA that provides a tempting mate for Felis catus.

This doesn’t stop breeders producing crosses through selective breeding programs. The hybrids fetch a high price tag, but buyers can sometimes get more than they bargained for when the ‘wild’ side of the genetic equation shows through.

Bengal cat breed
The beautiful Bengal - most popular of the hybrid breeds

This is hardly surprising, given that it took several thousand years to get kitty used to the litter tray. Introduce some wild genes, and you’re just asking for scratches and tantrums. This is why hybrids on the market are usually at least four generations removed from the wild ancestor.

The most popular of the hybrids is the beautifully spotted Bengal, a cross between a domestic cat and an Asian Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis).

Hybrid Cats in the US

Whether or not you can keep hybrid breeds depends on which State you live in. Even within States, the diversity of local ordinances means there are differences from county to county, even town to town.

Some ordinances restrict hybrids to the great-great grandkittens (i.e. the 4th and succeeding generations) of the ancestral wild cat in the mix. Anyone planning to move location should be aware that the laws in your new town might not take so kindly to the concept of "wild animal hybrid". Something that was an acceptable house pet in one place might find itself condemned to a cage in its new home, or banned outright.

Always check the local laws if you’re thinking of bringing home a hybrid (see the lists below for general guidance). These checks should be at both State and County level, with a final check on the individual town ordinances to make sure.

Ocicat breed
The Ocicat - nothing like an Ocelot really...

Breeding Cats that Look like Wild Cats

For owners wanting something that looks as if it has just wandered in from the local jungle or savannah, without being a hybrid, there are lookalike breeds available. These include the Toyger, a stripy, mini tiger; the Cheetoh, which looks a bit – but only a little bit – like a Cheetah; the Pixie Bob, bred to look like an American Bobcat; the Serengeti and Savannah, a lanky creature like a Serval; the Caracat, a wannabe Caracal; and the Ocicat, sporting the stripe-cum-spots of an Ocelot.

The point is that these cats look like wild cats, but have no wild cat DNA in the mix. So you can keep them in any US county.

The International Cat Association (TICA) keeps a list of recognized domestic breeds – these are the safe options, and represent the vast majority of the international pet cat population.

A Savannah kitten
A Savannah kitten - bred to resemble the African Serval

State Laws About Hybrid Cats

Every US State is different when it comes to keeping hybrid cats. There are some basic things to check before bringing one home:

  • The TICA list of recognised cat breeds. Is your pedigree cat on it? If not, you have a hybrid.
  • Local ordinances - are you allowed to keep a hybrid cat in the place you live?
  • Is your hybrid actually legal in the US? For example, Asian Leopard Cat crosses are fine, but Bobcat crosses are not

The following checklist of States will live you a head start. But remember, there are lots of local quirks that will need checking out.

  • Alabama – hybrid cats allowed
  • Alaska – no hybrids without a permit
  • Arizona – hybrid cats allowed
  • Arkansas – hybrid cats allowed
  • California – hybrid cats allowed
  • Colorado – generally ok to keep hybrids, although Denver prohibits them (with the exception of Bengals, as long as they’re at least fourth generation)
  • Connecticut – no hybrids apart from fourth generation or later Bengals
  • Delaware – permit required, as hybrids are classed as a non-native wild animal
  • Florida – no hybrids, although fourth generation and later crosses may be legal (the law is muddy on the issue)
  • Georgia – no hybrids, with the exception of Bengals, as long as these are registered with a national cat registry and at least four generations on from the Asian Leopard Cat ancestor
  • Hawaii – no hybrids allowed
  • Iowa – hybrids prohibited
  • Idaho – no first generation hybrids, but later generations are acceptable
  • Illinois – no hybrids without a permit
  • Indiana – permit required for first generation hybrids, and a license needed for selling or breeding hybrid cats; okay otherwise
  • Kansas – hybrids allowed, as long as they’re no bigger than a standard domestic cat
  • Kentucky – hybrid cats allowed
  • Louisiana – hybrid cats allowed
  • Maine – hybrid cats allowed
  • Massachusetts – fourth generation hybrids and later are allowed; although hybrids are not allowed in Boston
  • Maryland – hybrids allowed, as long as the cat weighs 30 pounds or less
  • Michigan – hybrids allowed
  • Minnesota – hybrids may be allowed with a permit; although Minneapolis, for example, does not allow them
  • Mississippi – hybrid cats allowed
  • Missouri – hybrid cats allowed
  • Montana – hybrid cats allowed
  • Nebraska – hybrid cats allowed
  • Nevada – hybrids allowed as long as they’re fourth generation or later
  • New Hampshire – fourth and later generation hybrids allowed
  • New Jersey – hybrid cats allowed, but must have paperwork to prove their origins
  • New Mexico – hybrid cats allowed
  • New York – hybrids allowed
  • North Carolina – restrictions vary from county to county, and many towns and cities have separate ordinances
  • North Dakota – hybrid cats allowed
  • Oregon – hybrid cats allowed
  • Ohio – domestic cat-sized hybrids are allowed
  • Oklahoma – hybrids acceptable as long as they weigh less than 50 pounds
  • Pennsylvania – hybrid cats allowed
  • Rhode Island – hybrids require a permit
  • South Carolina – hybrid cats allowed, with some local restrictions
  • South Dakota – hybrid cats allowed
  • Tennessee – domestic cat-sized hybrids allowed
  • Texas – laws here vary from county to county
  • Utah – hybrid cats not allowed, as long as they’re recognised by The International Cat Association
  • Vermont – hybrids of fourth generation or later are allowed
  • Virginia – hybrids require permits
  • Washington – hybrids allowed, although Seattle prohibits them
  • Wisconsin – some counties allow hybrids, some don’t
  • West Virginia – hybrids allowed in most counties
  • Wyoming – hybrid cats allowed

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