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Recently there was a story about some people in Texas who brought three bobcat kittens home and then called animal control after the bobcats bit them.

It's also happened once in California where a Maine Coon cat was mistaken for a bobcat, and once in Virginia with a Bengal cat.

How would one tell the difference between bobcat kittens and regular house cat kittens?

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The domestic cat and the bobcat look completely different, so it would be fairly easy to distinguish them. The bobbed tail cannot be relied on by itself, as there is a domestic breed of cat called the Manx that has a naturally bobbed tail, as well. However, this breed is a bit rare compared to all of the other breeds of domestic cat, which have a naturally long tail, so it does make for a good first rubric.

Other than a bobbed tail, Manx cats look identical to their domestic brethren [1][2]:

Manx cat and domestic cat, for comparison

Bobcats, on the other hand, look more like their cousin, the lynx [3][4]:

bobcat and lynx, for comparison

There's also the component of size. Bobcats start life larger than domestic cats, and grow to a larger size in adulthood, with bobcat kittens weighing approximately 125 grams when measured at a few days old [5]. Contrast that to the weight of domestic kittens at around the same age being about 100 grams [6].

Regarding Maine Coon kittens, yes, they have similar ears to bobcats, but it would again be difficult to confuse them, because of the other facial features (they lack the "mutton chops" that bobcats and lynx have) and the elongated tail [7][8]:

bobcat kitten and Maine Coon kitten, for comparison

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_cat
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobcat
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynx
  5. Breeding Habits of Bobcats in Utah, Jay S. Gashwiler, W. Leslie Robinette, Owen W. Morris, Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 42, Issue 1, 20 February 1961, Pages 76–84
  6. Moik, K., & Kienzle, E. (2011). Birth weight and postnatal growth of pure-bred kittens. British Journal of Nutrition, 106(S1), S32-S34. doi:10.1017/S0007114511003333
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maine_Coon
  8. https://www.bpzoo.org/rescued-bobcat-kittens/
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Bobcats have short stubby tails. The typical house cat has a tail almost the length of its body.

Bobcats have a specific color pattern. House cats have all kinds of colors and patterns due to the human selection and lack of natural selection.

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