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10 Small Exotic Cats That Are Kept As Pets

A Geoffroy's cat.
A Geoffroy's cat. | Source

Small Wild Cats As Pets

Exotic pets are a hugely diverse group of animals that range from betta fish to Bengal tigers, therefore It is often erroneously assumed that all exotic (or non-domesticated) cats in captivity pose the same threat to the populace as would a lion or leopard. In reality, there are a few small cat species which most people are not even aware exist that make reasonable pets for the right owners.

Tigers, lions, and cheetahs often steal the spotlight in wildlife documentaries and zoos, which can become a problem for the unknown small cat species that are in desperate need of public attention due to their threatened statuses in the wild. However, nearly all of the smaller to medium sized cats that are sometimes kept as pets in the United States are not of the endangered or threatened status, and given their small size and natural history, they are not an animal that would seek to prey on humans.

For pet owners expecting the behavior of domesticated dogs and cats, exotic cats might seem like 'challenging' animals. The differences between owning exotic cats and the typical domesticated cat is much like comparing a sky diver to a golf player. However, for more adventurous pet owners, with the right income, living situation, and permits (or laws not regulating the ownership of the animal), they can be exceptionally rewarding. Electing to care for animals like these is life changing and it is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Before Considering Any Exotic Cat as a Pet, Read These General Rules

For those considering an exotic cat as a pet, make sure you do ample research. As a general rule, know that exotic cats:

  • Mark their territory by spraying. This can include furniture, walls, and their owner.
  • Require large outdoor caging and/or a room dedicated to the animal.
  • Should see a vet experienced with zoo animals, this can become a considerable expense.
  • Range in purchase price from $1500-$20,000.
  • Are illegal in most states, or require permits and licensing often not given to pet owners.
  • May prevent you from traveling.
  • Have a very difficult time being re-homed!

Now that we have out of the way, scroll down and continue reading about 10 small exotic cat species that can be kept as pets.

1. Servals

A serval taking notice.
A serval taking notice. | Source

Servals, which originate from Africa, are probably one of the more popular exotic cats kept in the US.

  • Every once in a while, a pet serval (or Savannah cat, discussed further below) escapes from a residence and is labeled by the news media as a 'cheetah', which it superficially resembles due to its spotted markings and long legs in comparison to its body. The serval however has large pointed ears like a fennec fox and is much shorter than the bigger cat that it shares its range with in the wild.
  • Often people will take a look at a serval and assume it to be a threat to the life of its caretaker, but this medium–sized cat is only interested in small animal prey like birds, rodents, and perhaps a small antelope species.
  • Servals will flee the presence of the average-sized (and perhaps below) humans and have not been recorded killing any member of our species as of yet.
  • As one can guess, a bite from a serval is something that should be avoided. All exotic cats can pose this danger if they feel threatened or cornered.
  • Servals are aloof, quiet, and may be tolerant of other pets when raised in the home.
  • They are also easier to confine, not being avid climbers.
  • Servals are often used as educational animals; you might have sees them being walked on a leash and demonstrating their amazing jumping ability to an audience.
  • Servals are prone to weight gain without adequate exercise and enrichment, so this species needs an owner who'll encourage this.

Video: Serval Cat

2. Bobcat

Bobcat in the wild.
Bobcat in the wild. | Source

Bobcats are a stocky, medium-sized cat native to North America. Bobcats may have the best companion animal personality of all the exotic cats because they bond strongly with their owners. However, the catch is that bobcats actually do possess the strength to kill an adult human (has not occurred in recent history from what I can find). They are short, but they are muscular, and they do have success hunting fully grown deer in the wild, making one suspect that they can easily fatally attack humans. Fortunately, this does not seem to have occurred with any captive-bred pet, but it does reveal that this animal should be heavily supervised around children (or kept away from them).

The video below shows just how lovable a naturally solitary, bold, top-level predator like a bobcat can become when it is captive-raised. Bobcats can even be friends with deer when raised with them since kitten-hood.

They also adore dogs and are highly affectionate. Do not think that bobcats are perfectly harmless, as they can have their aggressive moments, and they should, like the others, have a large outdoor cage to retreat to during the periods when they become moody. Being escape artists, these cages should be sturdy and well-designed with a top.

Video: Dangerous Bobcat Protects a Deer

3. Caracal Cat

A walking caracal cat
A walking caracal cat | Source

Caracals are a type of lynx that much resemble servals when it comes to personality.

  • When fully grown, caracals reach a height of 16-17 inches at the shoulder and weigh 30-50 pounds. They are known as the ‘desert lynx’ and are found in parts of Africa and Asia.
  • Like servals, hissing comprises a lot of how they communicate, which can sound threatening, yet caracals are similarly or perhaps more well-mannered than servals. This means that they have a somewhat traditional cat-like attitude, and play and interact with their owners on their terms only.
  • They are not a pet of which a human can initiate affection at any moment. When caracals do play, they are rambunctious and destructive with average household objects and furniture.
  • The life expectancy of caracals is 17 years in captivity (12 in the wild.)
  • Like servals, they will eat 2-3 pounds of meat a day.

Caracal cat lying on the ground.
Caracal cat lying on the ground. | Source

4. Canadian and Siberian Lynx

Siberian lynx lying in the grass.
Siberian lynx lying in the grass. | Source

The Canadian lynx is a thickly-furred feline with a range that stretches across the northern parts of North America (Canada, Alaska, and some parts of mainland US.)

  • These cats possess adept climbing ability, and prefer to be at high points in the home.
  • Unlike a bobcat, they may not form a devoted relationship with their human, but their temperamental fits are less severe. They have been described as easygoing, and are good with strangers, but not as eager to go on walks.
  • Due to their extravagant coat, they shed prominently. Their enclosures should be designed to accommodate a climbing animal.

The Siberian lynx is a bit different from the Canadian lynx.

  • Adult Siberian lynxes reach about 24 inches at the shoulder and weigh 40-80 pounds (weights vary with gender).
  • These animals are very energetic and playful, love walking on a leash, and have a dog-like personality. Their active nature may require a spacious house with no breakable valuables present.

5. Ocelot

Small and elusive, ocelots are rare in private collections.
Small and elusive, ocelots are rare in private collections. | Source

Ocelots are a small wild cat from South America (although they can occur as far north as Texas.)

  • They have large glassy eyes and beautiful markings, making their appeal as a pet obvious.
  • Famously, an ocelot was kept as a pet by Salvador Dali. However, they are now rare in the pet trade and very difficult to acquire (if it is still possible).
  • Ocelots are also, in comparison to the other wild cats, more challenging to maintain as pets. Unlike the more relatively social cats, ocelots will not pay attention to disciplinary commands and have a pungent odor.
  • Ocelots emit a disturbing-sounding mating 'growl' that can be heard in the video below.

Video: Pet Ocelot

6. Fishing Cat

Fishing cat.
Fishing cat. | Source

As the name implies, this cat loves to play in water.

  • Fishing cats are not as common in the ‘pet’ trade either, generally only existing in USDA licensed facilities because they are a felid tag (a wildcat advisory group) managed species. Kapi'yva Exotics maintains the only private collection of these animals (they are accredited by the Zoological Association of America).
  • The 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists fishing cats as endangered. They have been introduced to the private pet trade in other countries, however (probably through illegal or unethical means.)
  • Due to their uncommon presence as pets there is little information about them available.

7. Geoffroy's Cat

Geoffroy's cats play fighting.
Geoffroy's cats play fighting. | Source

Geoffroy's cats are small cats native to the southern and central regions of South America.

  • Geoffroy's cats are one of the smallest wild cat species on Earth, at only 4-8 pounds when fully grown, and obviously are no public safety threat to humans.
  • Given their adaptations to native country, they can survive extreme heat and cold conditions.
  • They are also relatively rare in the pet trade and their gene pool is unfortunately limited in captivity. This particular cat is used to make an extremely rare hybrid called the safari cat (discussed below).
  • The Geoffroy's cat's CITES status is Appendix 1, meaning their trade is strictly regulated, but allowed. Despite their extremely small numbers in the wild, they are being phased out in zoos due to lack of room for small cat species. Private owners can assist.
  • This is a cat that, like the ocelot, can be rather timid and less social, therefore making it a poorhouse pet choice as it would require a lot of privacy and little noise pollution. These shy cats can become aggressive in addition to their nervousness, and these qualities may amplify when they reach sexual maturity.

9. Jungle Cat

Jungle cat.
Jungle cat. | Source

Jungle cats are native to Asia, Sri Lanka, Egypt, and they are the largest living Felis species.

  • This is another wild cat species used to produce hybrids with domesticated cats (‘chausie’, ‘jungle bob’).
  • In the wild, this species lives approximately 12-14 years while living 15-20 years in captivity.
  • Jungle cats are also nervous cats that are uncommon in captivity like the ocelot and Geoffroy's cat.
  • They are also fragile cats that would require privacy in a quiet household (or be maintained in a well-sized outdoor enclosure for most of the time).
  • They are not endangered, but their populations are in decline.

10. Asian Leopard Cat

Asian leopard cat.
Asian leopard cat. | Source
  • Asian leopard cats are shy and elusive in nature, being nocturnal and wary of people. They are also poor house pets and do best with substantial time to themselves (and their own large enclosures). They can still be tame enough to interact with their caregivers, but only if they are frequently interacted with.
  • Asian leopard cats are the animal responsible for the existence of the very popular Bengal cat. Bengals are legal in most states depending on the generation.
  • Some subspecies of leopard cat are endangered and require impossible to obtain permits. These subspecies are not legal to own as pets and leopard cats are required to have documentation that proves they don't belong to this endangered group.

Hybrids

Hybrids are not ideal for those who do not want an active cat, but perfect for those who do. Savannah cat pictured above.
Hybrids are not ideal for those who do not want an active cat, but perfect for those who do. Savannah cat pictured above. | Source

List of Exotic Cat Hybrids

  • Savannah cat or Ashera cat (serval x domesticated cat)
  • Chausie (Jungle cat x domesticated cat)
  • Jungle bob (Jungle cat x pixie bob, which is a domesticated cat breed)
  • Bengal cat (Asian leopard cat x domesticated cat)
  • Safari cat (Geoffroy's cat x domesticated cat, usually Egyptian Mau or ocicat)

Are Hybrid Cats Bad Pets?

There are hybrid cats that are more challenging than domesticated cats, and they are certainly not for everybody just like all other pets. This hardly invalidates them as an option for some people who want what they have to offer as pets. Just as border collies are energetic and are not for a person expecting the energy level of a basset hound, Hybrid cats are more 'dog-like', making for a more active and outgoing pet, perfect for fans of dogs, felines, and the challenges that come with the husbandry of non-domesticated animals.

Many sites often state that all hybrid cats make bad pets—this is utter nonsense. This claim is perpetuated by organizations that oppose all animals (typically with an exception for domesticated animals) in captivity for ideological reasons regardless of whether or not the animal thrives.

Hybrid cats consist of many species and many generations—it is ludicrous to state collectively that every feline falling under the definition of a hybrid exotic is a bad pet when there are even some hybrids that have such low percentages of wild blood that they are unmistakably domesticated cats with a bit more personality and interesting fur patterns.

A Summary of Exotic Cats as Pets

Cat Name
Litter Box Usage
Social or Well-Mannered?
Destructive Tendencies?
Rare?
Asian leopard cat
Likes to eliminate in water.
No
n/a
Yes
Bobcat
Fair, can even be toilet-trained, but some spray.
Bonds strongly with owners and other pets it's raised with.
Will shred furniture if not de-clawed. Should have baby-proofed house.
No
Canadian Lynx
Excellent, likes going in water.
Yes
Sheds and climbs. Is high energy.
No
Caracal
Fair, with work.
Fair
Yes, will climb on and chew furniture.
No
Fishing cat
n/a
n/a
n/a
Yes
Jungle cat
n/a
No
n/a
Yes
Ocelot
Probably fair.
No
Eats 'furry' things (socks, underwear.)
Yes
Serval
Infrequent
Moderate
Average
No
Siberian lynx
Good
Fair
Yes
No
NOTE: Animal personalities vary. Some qualities may change with spaying and neutering (or they might not).

Have you considered any of the cats listed here as a pet?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I would like to but it's illegal
  • I would if my situation were suitable
See results without voting

More by this Author


Comments 41 comments

tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 2 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

Excellent hub page!! Having been a breeder of hybrids I am so glad you emphasized that organizations that oppose hybrids as pets spew utter nonsense against these breeds. Anyone who has been seriously involved with cats of all kind will tell you the horror stories about out of control pets are not by any means attributed only to hybrid breeds and there is a far greater percentage of instances of problem and/or feral cat behaviors outside of hybrid breeds in the general cat populations. By the way some breeders use only the wild cats from the original two breeds (the Jungle Cat and bobcats) to produce Jungle - Bobs. And you might include pixie-bobs (domestic/bobcat hybrid) separately in your list of hybrid breeds. GREAT HUB PAGE!!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks, I'm glad you appreciate this tsadjatko. I didn't know people combined Jungle cats and bobcats, however I'm quite certain that pixie bobs have no bobcat in them, because bobcats genes are too unique (this claim has also been made about main coons). I read that no bobcat marker genes were detected on them.


tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 2 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

I stand corrected Melissa! I was familiar with Pixie-Bobs when they first originated as a Bengal breeder I knew was getting into them. I never read anything about them and testing or revelations - originally they were passed off as a cross with the bobcat . You know I never thought any of the pixie-bobs I saw really looked that much like a bobcat. Glad you are up on things!


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

What a brilliant hub and as well as voting up, across and sharing I am also going to save. Being a cat lover and also being owned by two cats(mother and daughter) this was indeed a treat. Thank you for sharing.

eddy.


CooperScape 2 years ago

The video of the captive-raised bobcat with the deer is incredible, as are the videos of the serval and "growling" ocelot. Very educational.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Glad you liked it so much Eiddwen thanks!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

I agree CooperScape, thanks for commenting.


catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 2 years ago from the South

Great hub! That is so interesting about the ocelots growl! They are all so beautiful. I have not even heard of some of these cats...very informative!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thank you catgypsy.


ZookeeperByNature profile image

ZookeeperByNature 2 years ago

This article comes as a life saver as I was just researching this topic. Unfortunately, all the exotic cats are either impossible to find or listed as a "dangerous wild animal" in Texas which is pitiful. In fact, according to vague Texas law, all Savannah cats are listed as dangerous as well, which is utmost disappointing.

What I want to know next though, is if there are any exotic cat lobby organizations (like USARK is for reptiles) or if there's any way I can move to have this law rewritten to exempt savannah cats or *hopefully* have servals removed.

Speaking of USARK, have you heard of their recent lawsuit over the three banned pythons and the yellow anaconda? You should do an article about that. That's a strong move coming from the exotic pet community. Here's to hoping they win the lawsuit!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

No I haven't heard of that, thanks. Disappointing to hear, as I thought Texas was more lax. There are some organizations that lobby for private exotic cat owners, such as: http://www.felineconservation.org/ and http://www.usza.us/...the latter was started by someone who I am not a fan of. This one as well: https://www.facebook.com/UAPPEAL.


Sherri 2 years ago

I love your hub! I was wondering if you would write an article about the proposed ban in Florida and California? We would love your help! Exotic and hybrid cat owner's everywhere would be extremely grateful.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Hi Sherri, can you show me more about this ban?


Everyday Miracles profile image

Everyday Miracles 2 years ago from Indiana, USA

Bobcats are looking more and more appealing. Such gorgeous animals, but they do have quite an attitude.


Colleen Swan profile image

Colleen Swan 2 years ago from County Durham

I love cats and enjoyed reading your hub. Great pictures. I shall stick with my tabby for now.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Colleen!


Sandra Scarrow 2 years ago

Interesting article, Jungle cat hybrids make wonderful pets, they are the only hybrid in the same genus ( Felis) as the domestic cat and are fertile earlier generations than other hybrids. We love ours, they are personable clowns, who fetch and love water.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks for stopping by Sandra.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 20 months ago from New York Author

Hannah, you're the one going on about declawing, I made no statement about it, so why are you tussling about that subject with yourself? Do you know how much I care about the opinion of someone who can't stop spewing romantic, empty rhetoric to try to convince me I'm wrong? This much -->.

Also, your links are stupid. Come on, I've been doing this too long. So stop.


Hannah 20 months ago

"Will shred furniture if not de-clawed. Should have baby-proofed house."

That implies that declawing is a reasonable solution. Also, I'd like to ask how my links are stupid, and how that is a valuable and reliable argument against valid facts. My links come from reliable sources, one being from Animal Planet and one from an actual wild cat sanctuary; both ACTUAL experts on animals. You base your argument off of opinion; I don't see you sourcing any of your arguments. Basically, you're coming back to a sourced, educated argument with: "your links are stupid, I've been posting on a website for longer than you so I'm obviously right". I have sources, you don't.


Hannah 20 months ago

I don't even need to prove to you that you're wrong; I can rest assured knowing that your readers are able to see these links and get their hands on CREDIBLE sources.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 20 months ago from New York Author

Hannah, please refrain from leaving multiple posts.

I missed that, I did a Ctrl F for declaw and it didn't show up because I left out the '-'. Regardless, that statement means what it means, a serval will destroy your furniture if not declawed. It's just a fact. I don't condone it. I can remove that if you want.

Your links are stupid. One in particular, I dissected and destroyed. (https://www.aspca.org/adopt/adoption-tips/exotic-a...

Give this a read: http://captiveanimallogic.blogspot.com/2014/12/dip...

Would you like me to make posts about ALL of your other links as well? This is why I do it; when people direct me to those stupid links, I can just provide a link to my blog instead of having to arduously go through all the failed points in them. FAR FAR FAR from credible.


Hannah 20 months ago

Your "source" leads to another blog that appears to be run by you, seeing as the person who runs it is named Melissa. Even if it's NOT run by you, it's not a credible source. Again, I trust the opinions of experts, not opinionated bloggers. Also, this: "Where to begin? What exactly is dangerous about any of those things!? Keeping a cat in a fish bowl is cruel, not dangerous. Keeping a hamster in a horse stable is stupid, not dangerous (you’ll lose that hamster). Feeding rabbit chow to a dog is also stupid, as it will lead to malnutrition if fed that in the long term, but it certainly isn’t ‘dangerous’. Training a snake to sit? Go ahead and try, they can’t really sit given they have no legs. But that’s NOT dangerous.

"

I can honestly only say that this is just silly. You know the point it's trying to make, and so do all of the other readers.

"The word ‘black panther’ is like saying ‘black melanistic bear’; the term panther automatically denotes ‘black’ because it’s not an actual species. The foolish author is clearly unaware of basic animal knowledge (a reoccurring theme in this series) yet they’ve taken it upon themselves to declare to knowledgeable pet keepers that what they’re doing is wrong for no valid reason."

"Black Panther" is a commonly used term. Stating that an author from the ASPCA lacks basic animal knowledge is astounding, foolish, and, to be quite honest, pretty amusing to me.

Go ahead, send me more "sources"; I'm sure they'll be links to more opinionated, uneducated blogs; perhaps even one of your own again. Sourcing your opinions with your OWN articles makes zero sense and does not provide valid, scientific proof of your points.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 20 months ago from New York Author

Hannah, it IS run by me, and if you aren't willing to to look at my refutations, you can get your garbage off my blog.

"You know the point it's trying to make"

Yes, the point is that 'omg that sounds weird' so it's wrong and 'dangerous'. Keeping a hamster in a horse stable or feeding rabbit chow to a dog is in NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM comparable to exotic pet ownership. It is an utterly idiotic point expressed in an even more idiotic way.

"Black Panther" is a commonly used term."

Yes, by people who are UNEDUCATED about animals, as the author clearly is. The fact that you don't understand this shows that you are too. Even bloody Big Cat Rescue (anti-captivity extremists like yourself) says: "People commonly refer to black leopards or black jaguars as black panthers, but that is incorrect and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the cat species."

Go on, make excuses for the multiple errors I've called them out on, and ignore the fact that I rarely, if ever, make errors, because I'm not 'credible', but your comments won't be welcome here.


CennyWenny profile image

CennyWenny 19 months ago from Washington

Great article-very educational! I am definitely NOT up to a challenging pet like this but we knew someone with a bobcat kitten once, he was a real handful. I have always admired Bengals though, they seem so intelligent.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 19 months ago from New York Author

Thanks CennyWenny.


CMarie83 profile image

CMarie83 18 months ago from Arizona

Great read!


juderes profile image

juderes 18 months ago from cebu city, philippines

oh my God cats!


Fyre 17 months ago

Interesting article! I adopted a rescue cat a couple of years ago that conforms 100% to the TICA breed standard for the Chausie cat (Jungle/Abyssinian hybrid), and she has been an absolute joy as a pet.

Yes, she is timid, but she is also active and funny and full of personality. She has bonded with me quite strongly, but will allow my grown sons and my husband to pet her and play "ping pong" with her (we toss ping pong balls to her on her cat tree and she skillfully bats them away).

We also adopted a baby kitten that's of no particular breed - just an orange ball of fluff - and after 2 or 3 days of hissing she gradually began to "mother" him, and now they are truly best friends.

I would definitely recommend the Chausie cats as a pet!


adevwriting profile image

adevwriting 17 months ago from United Countries of the World

Informative!


courtney 14 months ago

Great article, but I have to add that caracals are not in the lynx genus.


iLoveMyGoats 13 months ago

Recent study shows that while these cats are sometimes called Desert or African lynx, on the molecular level they are in fact, NOT related to the lynx and are a monophyletic genus.


Terri Williams profile image

Terri Williams 11 months ago from Petersburg Indiana

Very interesting and informative. I had no idea that these breeds existed.


Snakesmum profile image

Snakesmum 10 months ago from Victoria, Australia

Very interesting article. We can't keep these species in Australia, but if we could, I would have been doing my research! It's great that some of the animals can be kept as pets, as they are endangered in the wild.


KOrazem profile image

KOrazem 9 months ago from Pueblo West

I recently acquired 2 kittens. They are simple domestic but immensely enjoyable. Your article is very well written and interesting.


Elly Jhon 9 months ago

They look like a Tiger, so cute


Dona 5 months ago

I have geo cat about month olds and I want to learn how to make make it to be pet able !!?


Dave 3 months ago

Great website! I found it very interesting the info on these cats. Now it's just about finding a breeder. Thanks!


Jeanette 2 months ago

The person who said that a pixie bob is part bobcat is mistaken. There have been no confirmed interbreeding between the bobcat and domestic cats. This rumor about a pixie bob being part bobcat was started so that breeders could charge more for their kitties. Early generation hybrid cats can make amazing companions , if you don't expect them to act like domestic cats . You adapt to them and train them with positive reinforcement. ( all cats respond to positive reenforcement ) . Don't ever declaw your hybrid cat ! They can be taught to use scratching posts . It takes a lot of patience. If you have an early generation chausie or jungle Bob you will have one smart cat that will give you years of love.


Lynn 7 weeks ago

Love this article i have had many exotic cat breeds over th years including servals and they are ajoy nothing can replace my time with them never had a problem not even furniture they had big encloser outside and come in and out as they pleased


Yamaneko 4 days ago

My biggest concern with any form of feline pet, is declawing. Declawing is barbaric, and should be banned universe-wide.

Let's rip every dog's teeth out as a comparison, just because they chew stuff up...

If you own a feline big or small, and consider declawing; please do an in-depth research, and understand the procedure and aftermath. Many will recoil from what they find out.

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