Lee Pickett: Cats and dogs don’t interbreed, but other species do | Four-legged friends and more

Q: Can cats and dogs mate with each other?

A: No. Their anatomy, physiology and reproductive behaviors are too different.

However, interspecific reproduction occurs in some other animals.

Surprisingly, there are over 40 examples of crosses involving different species of wild cats, such as lions and tigers, or domestic cats and wildcats.

The three most common breeds of cats produced by breeding a domestic or companion cat with a wild cat are Bengal (domestic cat crossed with an Asian Leopard cat), Savannah (domestic cat crossed with an African serval) and Chausie (domestic cat crossed with a jungle cat).

Domestic dogs, wolves, and coyotes can also breed with each other.

Horses and donkeys pass each other. A mule is a cross between a female horse (called a mare) and a male donkey (a jack). A hinny occurs when a male horse (a stallion) is mated to a female donkey (a jenny).

Bird breeders crossbreed finches with other species, such as canaries. The hybrid offspring is called mule.

Falconers cross different species of falcons to produce birds with hybrid vigor that make them better hunters.

Amazons, conures and macaws all interbreed. Different species of domestic ducks interbreed and domestic ducks breed with wild species.

Backyard birds sometimes cross paths. For example, black-capped chickadees breed with Carolina chickadees where their ranges overlap.

Other species that interbreed are whales and dolphins, cattle and buffaloes, different species of snakes (like a boa and a python), and different species of crocodiles.

African killer bees are the product of crossing African bees with honey bees in an effort to create bees that produce abundant honey and can tolerate heat.
Some offspring from interspecific breedings, especially males, are infertile. But others may continue to reproduce and establish a new species.

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Q: My ferret, Zippy, accompanies me everywhere, even to my college classes, riding in my backpack. Should he use heartworm prevention like our dog? I live in New Jersey, where we have heartworms.

A: Most ferreters know that their pets need to be vaccinated to prevent rabies and distemper, but they don’t realize that their ferrets also need to be protected against heartworms, which are transmitted by mosquitoes.

Like dogs and cats, ferrets can develop heartworm if an infected mosquito bites. Because a ferret’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels are tiny, even a single heartworm can cause significant damage.

Clinical signs of heartworm disease include lethargy, coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, hind leg weakness, and exhaustion after minimal exercise. Death is all too frequent.

Treatment options are limited and problematic, so it is best to prevent heartworm infection. You can do this by applying Advantage Multi for Cats to Zippy’s skin once a month throughout the year. This product also kills fleas.

Other heartworm preventatives sometimes used to protect ferrets against heartworm infection include Revolution, Interceptor and Heartgard Plus.

Dogs and cats also need monthly heartworm preventative treatment throughout the year. Many products are available for them. Most also kill roundworms and hookworms, intestinal parasites that can infect humans; some heartworm preventatives also kill fleas and ticks.

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— Lee Pickett DVM practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Click here to ask him questions for his weekly column. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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