EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS, ΦΒΚ
A “DAT?” DAT’S an impossibility!
This cross is often alleged in the popular press. That dogs will mount cats is amply demonstrated on YouTube, for example, in the video at right. In most such cases, mating is between female cats and male dogs (though, a correspondent states that “I have personally witnessed the farm tomcat regularly bound to one of the farm terriers.”).
But what about actual hybrids? Dog x cat is one of the most controversial mammalian crosses because both of these animals are common household pets and, since everyone is familiar with these two animals, it is perhaps the most popular combination with hoaxers. Here, however, we'll try to focus on a few of the most reliable reports available.
In the last hundred years, Journal of Heredity appears to be the only professional journal to have reported cat-dog hybrids. The two brief accounts (Sternberger 1937a, 1937b) are accompanied by photographs of the alleged cat-dog mix (pictured at right). However, photos can be altered to create a hoax. Authentication of such a wide cross would require a specimen. The alleged sire was a fox terrier. Sternberger claimed the mating was serendipitous and that the cat later gave birth to a hybrid. Moreover, he asserted that the hybrid itself produced offspring.
The following account is the most reliable I have seen, given that the cat in question was kept closely confined, and in that the report appeared in a scholarly journal and cites several respectable eyewitnesses.
In the March 6, 1879 meeting of the Reale Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere (the Royal Lombardo Institute of Sciences and Letters, Milan, Italy), Professor Alessio Lemoigne, a veterinary anatomist, read a paper about what he thought were two real cat-dog hybrids, Accoppiamento fecondo di un cane con una gatta (Fertile mating of a dog with a cat), from which the following excerpt is taken (pp. 212-213):
It’s well established that cats will nurse puppies, often without prompting, and that bitches will do the same for kittens (see the two videos immediately above). Usually the target seems to be an individual puppy or kitten, or even a litter, neglected or abandoned by its own mother. Generally speaking, mother cats and dogs who have lost their own litters are especially prone to adopt the young of other animals, even those not of their own kind.
The fact that dogs will raise kittens and that cats will raise puppies is especially significant in the present context because most mammals (and birds) imprint on the type of animal that raises them, that is, when they reach sexual maturity, they will choose to mate with that type of animal (read a discussion of imprinting elsewhere on this website).
Mr. Antonio Marenghi, a lawyer and resident of Milan, 4 Via Arco, a most cultured and polite individual, has a female cat born in April 1873, given him when she was very young. Her name is Lala. [physical description of cat omitted] Always kept in the house, she at all times exhibited a great reluctance to leave the apartment, which is on the fourth floor with a single entrance off the stairway, and has no other communication with other places. The door to the apartment is always kept closed. This reluctance became absolute when she, still being very young, was kicked in the jaw by a brute passing in the hall, so hard that she scarcely recovered from it.
[description of wound omitted]
Thereafter she never went out, neither by day or night, and remained in complete isolation from other cats. She lived there in perfect harmony with a little female dog and with the birds, which in that house abound. She always sleeps with the lady of the house. Unlike other cats, she has always shown a marked fondness for dogs. It seems that cats do have their amusing aberrations! When a dog of any kind, enters the apartment she will immediately give him a caressing welcome. Not stopping at caresses, I am told that she sometimes takes this friendliness to an extreme that exceeds good behavior, and runs to the kitchen to search for, and if necessary steal, some appetizing treat, which she lays at the feet of a guest, astonished by such generosity on the part of an accustomed foe.
[Account omitted here of the cat’s troublesome yowling while in heat, which prompted the owners’ repeated, unsuccessful attempts to induce her to mate with other cats. However, she attacked all strange cats brought into the apartment.]
Therefore it was impossible to get her to mate with a cat, and when in heat she had to be contained by medication. For this reason she had had no offspring prior to the strange event reported here, of which the particulars are provided by three witnesses, trustworthy through both their personal respectability and the agreement of their testimony. [large omission here] In the winter of 1876 the cat was in heat, and in these circumstances it happened that a friend of the owner, Mr. Orseniga Francesco, a silk dealer (8 Via S. Paulo), paid a call and brought with him a little mongrel dog.
[description of dog omitted]
Then, a thing unheard of occurred! With her age-old enemy, Lala gave up her fair chastity, which she had been known for until that day, an intact Amazon among felines. Mr. Marenghi, his wife Fraquelli Caterina, and Mr. Orseniga rushed to the scene in response to her cries and the two animals were separated only with difficulty.
The earliest report of such hybrids that assiduous search has as yet revealed appeared in the French publication Le Mercure Galant in 1698 (pp. 178-180). According to that account, a female cat gave birth to four young ones. Two were normal kittens, but the other two were puppies, except that they had the ears, tail, and paws of a cat.
It is most certain that the cat did not leave the house, neither before or after the mating, that after 24 hours she ceased to be in heat, and that after about nine weeks she gave birth to two offspring.
One of these was monstrous and, unfortunately, was thrown into the street. Nothing have we been able to learn of it other than that it looked like a dog, with a naked muzzle, long ears, a pelt of curly white hair, and small dark spots on the head. This information, however, is vague, and they only remember that it impressed them as a monstrous being.
The other was a handsome male kitten, which has now become a splendid adult tom cat, which does not differ in appearance from other cats, other than a slight tendency of the hair to curl and form sharp tufts. For the rest, he is white with stripes like his mother, but the stripes are thinner and paler. Like her, he has a black mark on the lower lip, but not as dark.
His name is Zarin. [description of Zarin’s personality omitted] His mother suckled him and cared for him, and when he reached adulthood, became his mate. In consequence she twice became pregnant, and the second time delivered four kittens.
However, it is noteworthy that when she was not in heat, she did not enjoy the company of her mate, but still was rapturous if presented with a dog. …
This story has an irrefutable importance, on account of the number and the reliability of the witnesses, the amount of detailed information, and the possibility of verifying all the facts since the animals and persons named are all available. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy]
Of course, it may be that the animals described in this account were not cat-dog hybrids. It’s possible that the mother cat did somehow come into contact with a male cat and that she then gave birth to one normal kitten and to another that was deformed in such a way that it reminded the owners of a dog. It’s even conceivable that the births were parthenogenetic, though that seems exceedingly unlikely. It could be, too, that it was simply all a hoax, despite the respectable reputation of the reporter. The simplest explanation, however, is that they were in fact cat-dog hybrids. Certainly, the monstrous individual fits the bill. And even the other, which looked like an ordinary cat, might have been a hybrid given that hybrids sometimes closely resemble only one of their parents instead of combining the traits of both.
The following is a list of reported dog crosses discussed on this site. Some of these crosses are much better documented than others (as indicated by the reliability arrow). Moreover, some are extremely disparate, and so must be taken with a large grain of salt. But all have been reported at least once.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
Human Origins: Are we hybrids?
On the Origins of New Forms of Life
Cat-rabbit Hybrids: Fact or fiction?
Georges Cuvier: A Biography
Prothero: A Rebuttal
Branches of Biology