How to Tell A Bobcat from a House Cat

Mistaken identity seems to be a recurrent theme in our phone calls and messages. Many of you likely recall the viral story about our bobcat patient Arwen, whose finder mistook her for a stray domestic kitten and made an unintentionally hilarious post attempting to rehome her.

In much more frustrating cases, we’ve had people cuss us out for not taking “bobcats” that were normal domestic cats. We’ve also had comments on our posts attempting to inform us and our supporters that our bobcat patients are actually house cats and that we somehow never noticed. Um. 🤦🏻‍♂️

As frustrating as these cases can be, it’s easy to see how these mistakes happen. Bobcats and house cats are fairly close relatives and it’s not uncommon for house cats to occasionally have spots or bobbed tails or tufted ears. Complicating matters even more, bobcats in our area are the smallest in the world and it’s not uncommon for females to weigh only 8-10 pounds, well within the normal size range for a house cat.

So here’s what to look for if you’ve found a kitty (or accusing a rescue of fraud) and you’re trying to find out if you’re looking at the Classic or Extra Spicy flavor of cat:

Bobcats essentially always have spots. These can take the form of leopard-like rosettes (a dark ring with a lighter center), or bold solid spots, or misty freckles. Occasionally a bobcat may have mostly solid fur with spots only on the belly. Bobcats never have tabby stripes and only extremely rarely appear in solid black or solid white.

A bobcat’s tail usually has four caudal vertebrae (tail bones) though some have more. While domestic cats can sometimes have bobbed tails, bobcats never have full-length tails. (There are a couple of photos of bobcats with long tails, but these are likely hoaxes or extinct genetic defects.)

Bobcat tails are always white or very light gray on the underside, with a black tip on the top half of the tail. This characteristic is rarely, if ever, seen in house cats, and one of the most consistent ways to tell the two species apart.

Take a look at the cat’s ears, too! A bobcat’s ears are black with a white marking. These are false eyes that help intimidate rivals while a bobcat is crouched to eat, and they help bobkittens find Mom by giving her a visible target to follow. This trait never occurs on fully domestic cats, but can appear on hybrid domestic cat breeds like Savannahs and Bengals.

Finally, look at the animal’s build. Bobcats are beefy apex predators with much more visibly muscular jaws and legs than house cats, which tend to be lean and sleek.

While it’s easy to mistake bobcats for domestic cats, it’s not too hard to learn what to look for! If you’ve got any “what kind of cat is this?” pics you’d like us to help you identify, feel free to drop them here and we’d be glad to help.

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