The BC SPCA is opposed to the keeping, breeding, sale, display or trade of hybrid wild animals (including exotic species), such as, wolf-dogs, savannah cats, zorses (horse-zebra) and other wild-domestic crosses.
Interbreeding between a wild and a domesticated animal negates thousands of years of domestication. This results in animals who are difficult to train and handle, present challenges for animal care workers (e.g., veterinarians and animal control officers) and have limited options for re-homing if a guardian is no longer able to care for them. These animals often experience poor welfare and exhibit signs of stress and frustration when their needs are not met.
The BC SPCA acknowledges that there are many wild-domestic hybrids currently living in homes but does not support ongoing breeding of these animals. Guardians of wild-domestic hybrid animals must strive to meet the Five Freedoms by employing husbandry practices and providing species-specific enclosures that meet their environmental, dietary, social and behavioural requirements, as well as by seeking appropriate veterinary care.
The BC SPCA encourages the adoption of legislation, regulation and policies that prohibit their importation, breeding, display and sale, protect their welfare, and minimize their risk to the environment and human health and safety.
Approved by the Board of Directors – February 2023
(replaces Wolf-Dog Hybrids, August 2009)
Given the unique needs of wild-domestic animal hybrids, animal welfare organizations are not equipped to handle and house them, and this places strain on their limited resources. Indeed, many animal welfare and protection organizations worldwide are opposed to wild-domestic hybrids out of concern for the welfare of the animals, the environment and public safety (ASPCA, 2022; Edmonton Humane Society, 2016; Ottawa Humane Society, 2021; RSPCA Australia, 2014; RSPCA UK, 2014).
As they retain their wild instincts, wild-domestic animal hybrids require special consideration for handling, housing and veterinary care beyond the general care given to their domestic breeds (Eckermann-Ross, 2014). Prospective hybrid guardians may overlook or neglect the needs of the wild species, resulting in behavioural problems including aggression, health issues and escapes, overwhelming guardians (ASPCA, 2022; Bussière et al., 2022; Eckermann-Ross, 2014; UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 2022). While these issues may be manageable when animals are younger and smaller, guardians may struggle with behavioural changes associated with reaching sexual maturity at the same time the animal is growing larger and stronger. The BC SPCA is opposed to non-therapeutic procedures (e.g., declawing, removal of canine teeth) for behavioural reasons that are often used to make wild-domestic animal hybrids more manageable.
Hybrid animals vary in their “wildness” depending on their genetic composition. While it may be possible for some fourth-generation (F4) animals to be housed and homed following standard protocols, first, second and third-generation (F1-F3) hybrids are especially difficult given their wild nature, behaviour and health issues (The Wildcat Sanctuary, 2022). Animal shelters and other animal care organizations are faced with the difficult task of determining if animals are a wild hybrid. Animals who can be confirmed 100 per cent wild animals as defined in the BC Wildlife Act are subject to existing legislation for possession.
Hybrids cannot easily be identified by visual examination alone. In many cases, animals marketed as varying levels of hybrid are simply domesticated animals with little to none of their wild counterpart genetics. Genetic tests are available for animals such as wolf-dog hybrids, but are sometimes inconclusive (ASPCA, 2022; UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 2022). Due to the close genetic relationship between dogs and wolves, hybrids may be undetectable by these tests beyond three generations (UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 2022). For their own welfare and for public safety, suspected hybrid animals should undergo thorough behavioural assessments to assess their suitability to be placed in a home or accredited sanctuary. The absence of validated assessments contributes to the challenge of identifying appropriate homes, and unfortunately, there is often limited capacity for animal care organizations or accredited sanctuaries to take in these animals due to their wild nature and specialized needs. Even zoos, sanctuaries and other permanent captive settings may struggle to meet the physiological, emotional and behavioural needs of the animals (see: Wild and Exotic Animals in Zoos, Aquariums and Other Permanent Captivity).
Wild-domestic animal hybrids are often difficult to contain in an average home or enclosure setting, and pose a risk to their keepers and the public, as well as native wildlife and pets if they escape (Dickman et al., 2019). Escaped animals may also be at risk of being involved in vehicle collisions, resulting in injury or death for the animal and/or people involved in the collision.
Legislation and regulations
The keeping of most wild animals as pets in B.C. is illegal under the provincial Wildlife Act; however, hybrid animals are not protected by this legislation or the provincial Controlled Alien Species Regulation. Similarly, hybrid animals are largely not addressed in protections set out for domesticated companion animals. The BC SPCA supports provincial regulation changes to address this gap. In the interim, municipal governments can explicitly prohibit the keeping of wild animals or wild-domestic hybrids as pets by adopting bylaws with a “positive” list of allowable animals instead of a list of prohibited species (sometimes referred to as a “negative” list) (BC SPCA, 2022). Positive lists are easier to understand and enforce, as the lists are much smaller, including only those species that are allowed. Before a species can be added to a positive list, there needs to be sufficient justification that the animal makes a suitable pet and, until such time, the species is prohibited. With negative lists, however, species are often only prohibited in response to problems such as a threat to public health or safety, an inability of shelters to accommodate the species, or a lack of readily available, scientific husbandry and housing information. Adopting positive lists allow governments to keep up with a constantly changing industry, while negative lists require continual review and updating and cause difficulty keeping pace.
Background updated February 2023
Wild and Exotic Animals Kept as Pets
Wild and Exotic Animals in Zoos, Aquariums and Other Permanent Captivity
Responsible Companion Animal Sourcing
Cosmetic and Other Non-Therapeutic Alterations
ASPCA. (2022). Position statement on hybrids as pets. https://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-policy-and-position-statements/position-statements-hybrids-pets
BC SPCA. (2022). BC SPCA model animal responsibility bylaws. https://spca.bc.ca/programs-services/working-for-better-laws/model-municipal-bylaws/
Bussière, H., Gilbert, C., Titeux, E., Diederich, C., & Sleurs, S. (2022). Bengal and savannah hybrid cats: do they behave differently from other domestic cats? Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 48, 80. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.JVEB.2021.06.013
Dickman, C. R., Legge, S. M., & Woinarski, J. C. Z. (2019). Assessing risks to wildlife from free-roaming hybrid cats: The proposed introduction of pet savannah cats to Australia as a case study. Animals, 9(10), 795. https://doi.org/10.3390/ANI9100795
Eckermann-Ross, C. (2014). Small nondomestic felids in veterinary practice. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 23(4), 327–336. https://doi.org/10.1053/J.JEPM.2014.07.016
Edmonton Humane Society. (2016). Wolf/dog hybrids. https://www.edmontonhumanesociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/EHSPosition_WolfDogHybrid.pdf
Ottawa Humane Society. (2021). Wild or exotic animals as companions. https://ottawahumane.ca/about-us/media/position-statements/
RSPCA Australia. (2014). RSPCA Policy A06 Breeding of companion animals. https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/rspca-policy-a06-breeding-of-companion-animals/
RSPCA UK. (2014). RSPCA policies on animal welfare. https://www.rspca.org.uk/documents/1494939/7712578/RspcaPolicies.pdf/abaa8964-9d49-6d85-c4e3-4e8dccf0af08?t=1559058681637
The Wildcat Sanctuary. (2022). What is a hybrid wild cat and do they make good pets? https://www.wildcatsanctuary.org/education/species/hybrid-domestic/what-is-a-hybrid-domestic/
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. (2022). Wolf-dog hybrid test. UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/test/wolf-hybrid
Companion animals: Domesticated animals who have been selectively bred to live and thrive in mutually beneficial relationships with humans and who are kept primarily for the purpose of companionship.
Domesticated animals: Species that have been selectively bred by humans over hundreds or thousands of generations in order to alter their genetics to create animals who are dependent, docile, predictable and controllable, and who no longer occupy an ecological niche in the wild.
Exotic animals: Species that are non-domesticated, non-indigenous wild animals, whether captured from the wild or captive-bred.
Five Freedoms: A concept first developed by the Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals.
The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:
1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
2. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
3. Freedom from distress
4. Freedom from discomfort
5. Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.
The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms form the basis of the Society’s Charter and describe conditions that must be fulfilled in order to prevent the suffering of all animals in human care. The Society acknowledges that these freedoms are not enforceable and that absolute provision of these freedoms may not be possible, but strongly encourages all animal guardians to strive to provide them.
Hybrid wild animals: Individual animals who are the offspring of wild/exotic animals who have bred with either domesticated animals or other species of wild/exotic animals (e.g., wolf-dog hybrids, savannah cats).
Welfare: An animal’s quality of life. An animal’s welfare depends upon both his/her physical health and affective state.
Animals experience good welfare when they are able to experience positive feelings arising from pleasurable activities and the fulfillment of behavioural needs, and when they are free from poor physical health and negative feelings (e.g., pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear and frustration).
Wild animals: Species that have not been domesticated. Wild animals have evolved in complex ecosystems resulting in mutual interdependencies with other animals and the surrounding environment. Wild animals may be exotic or indigenous, and wild-born or captive-bred.
* Normally, the BC SPCA prefers the term “companion animal” to the term “pet” as it signifies the mutually beneficial relationship that can exist between domesticated animals and humans. However, given that exotic animals are not domesticated, the term “pet” is used in this position statement instead.