California State University, Northridge

Do Bobcats Make Good Pets? NO!

written by a student in May, 1997

Sometimes in life we are bored with the usual domestic animals. My friend was browsing through the World Wide Web and saw ads for unusual domesticated feline animals. He began communicating and had them fax him pictures of different animals. He was extremely interested in the bobcat. They then faxed him three sheets of different types of bobcats. He picked out two that he liked. The company said that he could have a bobcat within three months because they needed to breed the animals. He mailed them a thousand dollars, then he had to purchase a book that was 300 dollars and buy a month's worth of raw meat that cost 200 dollars. This check had to be mailed and received before that animal was sent. The animal was supposedly taken from New York and brought to Los Angeles.

The bobcat kitten was gentle in nature and demanded time from its owner. It was to be treated like any other cat, but it wasn't a cat. The bobcat wouldn't leave its owner's side and proceeded to whine every second that the owner left. It destroyed all the furniture and within two weeks, it was already outgrowing its surroundings.

The main problem was dealing with the severe mood swings the bobcat displayed. One minute the animal was docile and the next minute it would turn on you. During the first month of its life, it was gentle to anybody. But after the first month, any new person entering the apartment would be viciously attacked. And if the owner tried to discipline him, the animal would become violent. You could see that after a month and a half, the animal's docile behavior had changed.

Then the bobcat became sick. The raw meat was giving the animal severe constipation and it would no longer eat the food. Then another problem arose: how do you take an illegal animal to the vet? Luckily, he had a friend that he took the animal to. The doctor said that the animal was really sick and should never have been fed raw meat. My friend then called the company to tell them what happened. They said that his contract stated that if the animal becomes sick, they have to take it back. So, three days later, they came and took away the bobcat. No refund.

In the end, it was all a scam. They knew that the animal would become sick and that's why it was written into the contract. The question is, how can there be a legal contract involving an illegal animal that binds the purchaser into giving the animal back?

No bobcat should ever be domesticated. I wonder what happened to that animal - I hope it wasn't destroyed. Some animals shouldn't be pets!

Note from Dr. Hardy:

It saddens me greatly to learn of well-meaning people who break the law [it is illegal to own native wildlife in California without special permits!] in order to obtain exotic pets, only to lose money and put themselves (and the animal) in jeopardy. The above experience of my student and her friend is based on the false assumption that "tame" means "domesticated." While some wild animals can be tamed - i.e., the tree squirrel that takes peanuts from one's hand - they are clearly very different from fully-domesticated animals, like cats and dogs. The same squirrel will show its true wild nature if you try to pick it up! And although many zoo animals appear to be very tame, they also make terrible (and sometimes very dangerous) pets since they are not domesticated either!

Many wild animals - like the above bobcat - will appear to be tame when they are very young. But they are and will always be wild animals. And as they mature, most "tame" wild animals will begin to exhibit behaviors that are really inappropriate in house pets - viciously attacking unfamiliar humans, for example. Of course, there are individual dogs and cats who also show vicious behavior, but it is usually due to their prior experience (or lack of) with humans rather than any natural tendency.

So why don't domestic kittens show docile behavior one minute and the next minute "turn on" the owner? The explanation lies in what it means to be "domesticated." The domestication of the first house cats, is commonly thought to have taken place 4500 B.C. when the African wild cat Felis silvestric lybica was tamed by Egyptians. They were first used to keep granaries free of rodents and as retrievers in the hunting of birds; only later were they used as companions or pets.

Through the thousands of years of careful breeding and selection, behaviors that are appropriate for housepets have been retained in the domestic cat (usually referred to as Felis catus). The closely related European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestris, was never domesticated and today is a wild animal as unsuited as a housepet as is the bobcat.

If the above student had asked MY opinion, I would have recommended that her friend spend his thousand dollars to purchase an Egyptian mau or an Abyssinian kitten, breeds that are thought to have descended from the ancient domestic cats of Egypt. They would have had a lovely cat and a wonderful housepet instead of some very bad memories. And we can only wonder what happend to the poor bobcat!