Exotic Pet Care: Bobcats as Pets
Keeping a bobcat as a pet? Many websites and organizations would be appalled at the mere thought of owning such an ‘exotic pet’, exclaiming that these animals all “belong in the wild” and that keeping one in a domestic setting is obvious animal cruelty.
However, bobcats actually make excellent pets for the right owner. The trouble is deciphering what the 'right owner' of a small exotic feline is. Exotic pet owners are not a typical breed of caretaker. They must be willing to fully anticipate issues like spraying, aggression, the need for outdoor enclosures, and other modifications to accommodate potentially destructive behavior.
Bobcats in the wild
The elusive bobcat is actually technically less “exotic” than domesticated cats in most states, if ‘exotic’ is defined as "not native to the United States". Bobcats are native to many areas in North America, including most states in the U.S, in which they are also the most abundant wild feline.
They are highly successful at spreading across a broad range of habitats because they are highly adaptable to varying conditions. Although they prefer dense forests, sometimes the cats can even be found in swamps, deserts, and even urban settings
Bobcats are known for taking large prey relative to their size. Despite reaching a height around that of a medium-sized dog, they often hunt animals like deer with impressive skill. With such a capability, this may call for labeling bobcats as "potentially dangerous" to humans, however, outside of animals infected with rabies, there are few, if any, incidents of bobcat attacks, as well as no recorded deaths from them, wild or captive.
In fact, bobcats are considered to be the ‘easiest’ exotic feline to start with if care of high-maintenance animals is your preference. Hand-raised animals are just simply not the same animals as those that roam in the wild, so pet bobcats are not "wild".
If a potential owner is willing to understand the non-domesticated behavior of an exotic feline species, bobcats are one of the more rewarding exotic mammals to own and keep content in captivity.
What to expect from a pet bobcat
While many owners of exotic animals may cite positive exceptions to the general ‘rules’ of exotic animal care due to the experiences of raising their own pets, it is highly important to maintain a degree of flexibility when considering keeping high-maintenance animals. Do not hold them to the same expectations as dogs and cats.
In general, bobcats are considered to have the best personality of the exotic felines (other small to medium sized exotic cat species that are kept as pets include lynx species, caracals, servals, ocelots, Geoffroy’s cats, fishing cats, Asian leopard cats, and jungle cats). While wild bobcats are unfriendly and bold predators, the dynamic dramatically changes when these animals are hand-raised from babyhood by humans.
The animals are curious, affectionate, and are not as 'on edge' as their wild counterparts. One keeper even keeps their pet bobcat with their pet muntjac deer, proclaiming that bobcats, when raised with other animal species, will accept those animals into their family; hence why they can keep what normally would be a wonderfully suitable prey animal for the cat.
There are certainly a lot of downsides to taking on the ownership of exotic pets like bobcats. In fact, one bobcat owner had this to say about their house pet:
"If you are willing to put up with your house being destroyed, furniture torn to shreds on a daily basis, remodeling your house to include double door entries at all exits of the house. Ripping up carpet and replacing with hardwood or tile and or using throw rugs that you don't mind being destroyed then they will make a great pet for you."
This quote provides a good idea of what a bobcat owner can expect to go through. Exotic pet owners often get a bad rap due to some people who do not expect to adapt to their animals' needs and impulsively or naively adopt animals that they are not equipped for.
Bobcats require specialized vets that have experience with wildlife and exotic animals. They also should be fed a raw food diet that needs to be researched to ensure proper nutrition from organ meats, bones, muscle meat, and any other supplementary forms of nutrition in addition to whole prey items. Live feeding is not only unnecessary, it is inhumane.
Pet Bobcat Enrichement
Ideally, bobcat owners should have indoor and outdoor housing for their animals. Some bobcat owners have doggie doors that lead to decently-sized enclosures outside. Such cages should be tested for durability.
While they can be affectionate family members, bobcats can also be feisty at times or have bad bathroom habit. They need a safe place to retreat to so that they can have their own space, like a small dog run. It is just a good idea in general to have a designated space for any exotic cat.
If the bobcat is expected to spend a lot of time in a cage or be a fully caged pet, large sizes and enrichment are especially essential.
Escape prevention is also a priority with exotic feline ownership. Non-domesticated animals often don't return like most domesticated cats, and more importantly, despite the lack of statistical evidence, the public will view an escaped bobcat as a safety threat and your animal, if spotted, may be executed on sight.
Usually after such events occur, even if the animal is safely returned and no one is injured, there will be an onslaught of animal rights activists and uninformed members of the public that will campaign for exotic pet bans as a result.
Exotic cat owners should strongly consider modifying their homes to accommodate double door entrances. These structures are similar to what is used in public live butterfly homes; such doors lead to a small room in which you can safely lock the animal into the house before you exit. These are imperative to prevent escapes.
For most homes this is an expensive undertaking or a lot of work to customize yourself, but for committed pet owners, as bobcat owners should be, it is worth it in the long run.
Bobcats are not legal as pets without a permit (only provided to educators, zoos, research, animal sanctuaries ect.) in most states. Recently, many states are joining the ranks of outlawing everything feline except domesticated cats despite minimal public safety issues.
Bobcats are not legal to own in California, Connecticut, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Hawaii and Maine. There are certainly more states than these that are listed.
Other states may vary, and those interested should always call their state's Department of Agriculture to confirm what the truth is. After that, they should check with their city or town's regulations, and even if their neighborhood has animal restrictions by code.
Always research any new pet, yet this goes quadruple for exotic felines of any type. Get in touch with people who own them by visiting message boards, or if you know of any, talking to bobcat owners or people who have worked with them in facilities.
Volunteering at a zoo or animal sanctuary is not a requirement, but experience with exotic animal behavior is always a big help in assisting your decision on whether or not to take the plunge with exotic animal care. Remember that these animals can live to be 15+ years old, and re-homing for most exotics can be stressful for you and them. Bobcats will be kittens for a brief period of time, so choose wisely.