What Is a Cat?

When you think of a cat, you might think of lions on the savannah of the Serengeti, camouflaged tigers guarding their prey in the jungle, or perhaps just the lazy, but loving, domestic cat resting on your couch. Although wild, large cats and small domestic cats have their differences, they share up to 95% of their DNA.

Cats (Felidae)

Domestic cats belong to the biological family felidae. Relatives such as lions, cheetahs and servals are also found there. Felidae can be divided into two subfamilies: pantherinae (spiders), which contains most of the larger felines, such as lions, tigers and jaguars, and felinae (spiders), where we find i.a. domestic cats, cheetahs and servals.

Researchers have succeeded in looking at the DNA of domestic cats and have shown that there is very little difference between them and their wild cousins. It is not surprising when you consider that many domestic cats can easily survive without their owners.

Unlike dogs, which are considered completely tamed, cats are only seen as partially tamed. Some cats are much more dependent on humans than others, but some are very similar to their wild cat cousins.

Hybrid cat breeds

Hybrid cats are a perfect example of cats that are seen as domestic animals, but who share a larger part of their gene set with a wild cat. Hybrid cats can survive in the wild, but are most often seen in selective breeding programs where people make lots of money selling these mixed breeds. In Sweden, it is forbidden to breed or own hybrids between domestic cats and wild cats, as well as crosses between these hybrids and wild species.

Raise hybrid cats

Hybrid cats have become incredibly popular in recent years, and new breeds are often seen emerging. The most common hybrid breed is probably the Bengal, which is a cross between an Asian leopard cat and a domestic cat.

A Bengal that has a parent who is a leopard cat and one that is a tame Bengal is called an F1 Bengal. F stands for ‘branch’, which simply means son or daughter, and the number represents the number of generations the cat is separated from the leopard cat. An F3 Bengal thus has a grandparent who was a leopard cat. The first three generations (F1, F2, F3) are seen as early generations or basic Bengalis, and are not suitable for exhibition. From F4 onwards, the cats are sometimes called SBT (Stud Book Tratidion), which means that they are at least 4 generations away from Asian leopard cats, and a result of purebred breeding between two Bengals. These cats are known for having the elegance and beauty of a feral cat, with a domestic cat’s personality, albeit with some lovable whims. Some love e.g. water! In Sweden, it is allowed to own hybrid breeds after F4, so if you are considering getting one, it is important that you look at the pedigree and see how far behind the cat has blood from wild cats.

Hybrid cat breeds and their wild ancestry

  • Bengal (Asian Leopard Cat)
  • Caracat (Felidae)
  • Chausie (jungle cat)
  • Safari (Geoffroys cat)
  • Savannah (serval)

Raise cats that look wild

In addition to hybrid cats, there are also cats that have been selectively bred to look wild, but have not been crossed with feral cats. Just like hybrid cats, these are becoming more common, thanks to their exotic look.

One breed that has received a lot of space in the media is toyger. The name is a combination of tiger and the English word for toy. These cats have no tiger DNA, but their striped fur and small ears could fool anyone.

Cats that look wild, and the cats they look like

  • Ocicat (ozelot)
  • Pixie-bob (bobcat)
  • Serengeti (serval)
  • Toyger (tiger)
  • Cheetoh (bred to have a ‘wild’ look)

How to tell the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat

When approaching an unknown cat, it can be quite difficult to tell if it is a feral cat or a homeless domestic cat. To determine the differences between the two, we compare them below.


A wild cat is a cat that was either born in the wild or has not had human contact for a very long time. Wildcats differ from stray cats because they are very suspicious of humans, and usually can not be tamed. This means that they are not suitable for living indoors, and feel better about living freely. Often these cats live in groups in the same area, with the same food source. There are many charities that catch these cats, neuter them and then release them again to control the population. However, it is unusual to see such groups of cats in Sweden.

It is very difficult to tame these wild cats, and they feel much better living in their group, but kittens born on the street can be socialized and become good pets.

Wild cats have very little contact with humans, so if you approach them they will be very scared and probably back off. However, it is not the best way to see the difference because many of these cats have learned that humans are a good source of food (not literally!).

It is especially common in areas with a lot of tourists. However, you can often see in body language whether a cat is tame or not. Wild cats very rarely show any physical signs that they feel comfortable or happy in your company.

They will not meet your gaze and will stay very low, or sit with their tails around them like a shield.

Ownerless cats

An ownerless (or stray) cat has previously had an owner, but has in one way or another gotten away from him. Fortunately, these cats can often get new homes, as they will quickly get used to humans again if they get a good home.

Ownerless cats are more likely to approach you or your house than a wild cat. They will probably not run away when you approach them, and some will even agree to be petted. They also often meet your gaze, and can show with body language that they feel good in your vicinity, such as walking with their tail stretched. Ownerless cats will also yawn more often, while wild cats will not yawn or spin.

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