8 Cat Breeds with Wild Roots
Treating a wild cat as a pet is not a good idea, but throughout history, some have taken servals, caracals, fishing cats, ocelots, and even lions and tigers into their homes. The desire to own a wild animal can have consequences, so cat breeders have used their skills to develop cat breeds that fulfill the desire for an exotic cat without the danger.
Savannah cats are created by crossing a house cat with an African Serval. The original hybrid is called an F1 and is considered too "wild" to be a house cat. When you breed an F1 Savannah with another Savannah or another cat breed, the resulting kittens are called F2. Breeding F2 females produces a generation called F3, which still has a considerable amount of Serval genes, but three generations of domesticity. F1 females are retained as breeding stock, although the male hybrids are often infertile. Sometimes F2 or F1 Savannahs are bred with Servals to create Savannahs with a higher number of Serval genes. Or they may be bred with Savannah males of even later generations (F5 or F6). Male Savannahs are usually sterile in the first few generations.
The first Savannah hybrid was born in 1986 and named Savannah by breeder Judee Frank. That cat's traits inspired Patrick Kelly to team with Joyce Sroufe to develop the breed. A Savannah is the largest of all domestic cats, can leap great distances, and is illegal to own in some states. They are intelligent, curious, and often remind their owners of a dog. The International Cat Association (TICA) recognizes Savannahs as a championship breed.
Photograph by Tyler T.
The Bengal cat is a considerably older breed than the others in this list, but as a breed derived from a wild cat hybrid, it is worth a look. The Bengal breed, which developed from a cross between a domestic cat and an Asian leopard Cat, is also the starting point for other breeds in this list. There have been stories of naturally occurring crossbreeds in Asia from way back, with the oldest confirmed case in 1934. The breed as we know it began with geneticist Jean Sugden-Mills, who crossed ALCs with domestic cats in 1963. Twenty years of breeding resulted in the breed that was accepted as truly domestic by TICA. Bengal cats are large cats with distinctive markings. Generations F4 and beyond are considered to be good house pets.
Photograph by Gaynorjl.
Los Angeles cat breeder Judy Sugden has been working since the late eighties to breed a house cat that resembles a tiger. The result is the Toyger, a registered breed that has a lineage beginning with domestic shorthairs and Bengals selected for their markings. Toygers are now available from breeders all over the world. The breed is still in development, and TICA now has the toyger classified as a championship breed.
The Ocicat was named for its resemblance to an ocelot, but it has no actual ocelot, or any wild cat, in its family tree—at least since the breed was developed in 1964. Only its appearance earned it a spot on this list. Virginia Daly, a longtime Michigan cat breeder, was trying to get a Siamese cat with Abyssinian points. She bred together cats with Abyssinian, Siamese, and American shorthair lineages. A kitten named Tonga resulted, which had ivory-colored fur with golden spots. Tonga was not used for breeding, but the same parents later produced kittens with the same markings. Ocicats come in a variety of colors, but are known for their spots. The breed standards say an Ocicat should be heavier than it appears and be well-muscled. Ocicats are sociable and their behavior may remind you of a dog—such as the way many like to play fetch. The Ocicat is recognized by TICA as a championship breed.
The Chausie was developed from hybrids of the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus), the largest species of the genus Felis, found in Asia. They can grow up to three feet long and weigh 35 pounds, but are generally around 18 pounds. Like the hybrids that developed into the Savannah and Bengal breeds, the males of the first few generations are usually infertile, and the F4 and F5 are considered truly domestic and suitable for cat shows. TICA classifies the Chausie as a championship breed.
Photograph by Flickr user pawsforportraits.
The name "Cheetoh cat" probably brings up the image of the laid-back cartoon cheetah named Chester who advertises Cheetos. But it is also a fairly new breed of house cat. According to the International Cheetoh Breeders Association, the Cheetoh is an attempt to breed a cat that looks more like a wild cat than other breeds but is still a gentle house pet. Carol Drymon bred the first Cheetoh in 2001 by crossing a Bengal and an Ocicat. A Cheetoh is a vary large cat, with healthy males reaching 23 pounds. Such a large cat with leopard-like spots may scare strangers, but is quite tame and as safe around children as any other house cat. TICA considers the Cheetoh an experimental breed.
The goal of breeding the Serengeti Cat is to produce a cat that resembles the wild Serval but does not contain any Serval bloodline. The first Serengeti Cat was bred by Karen Sausman in 1994 by crossing a Bengal and an Oriental Shorthair. This "foundation cat" and its progeny have been bred with many other types of cats to improve the breed—but no Servals. However, its lineage does include the Asian Leopard Cat whose genes contributed to its Bengal Cat ancestor. Serengeti Cats have long ears and long legs like a Serval, and a neck that does not taper where it meets the head. They are agile, active, and vocal. TICA classifies this cat as an advanced new breed.
Photograph by Nathalie Bent.
The PIxiebob breed began as a result of natural mating. Carol Ann Brewer observed bob-tailed cats in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. She adopted one of these cats in 1985, who then mated with a neighbor's cat. She obtained more of the "legend cats," bob-tailed local cats that somewhat resembled bobcats, and are thought to be results of natural matings between bobcats and domestic cats, although no proof exists. Pixiebobs are tall cats with back legs slightly longer than the front legs. They have thick double coats that may be short or long. Breed standards allow for up to seven toes in a PIxiebob, the only championship breed allowing for polydactly. Pixiebobs gained championship status with the TICA in 1998. Although Pixiebobs are often stone-faced like a wild cat, they are loyal and make good pets.
You should, of course, check with specific breed organizations before you select a breeder or adopt an exotic show cat. A great alternative is to check with your local shelter for a cat that desperately needs a home.