Latest News - A Tail of Two Kitties - a look at domestic cats and Scottish wildcats

A Tail of Two Kitties - a look at domestic cats and Scottish wildcats

To the distant or untrained eye, the differences between some species of domestic cat and the Scottish wildcat are not terribly easy to spot.

There are various breeds of tabby cat which bare more than a striking resemblance to their wildcat cousins.

Take for instance a humble, short haired tabby. They can quite often be found with stripes down their flanks and rings on their tails. If they are male they can also be very large animals indeed. We often are approached by cat owners who believe their pet has some wildcat ancestry.

However, closer inspection reveals some key differences. The rings are rarely thick and are often diamond shaped and thinner than those seen on a real wildcat. The black dorsal line which runs along the back of the wildcat and stops at the base of the tail continues down the length of the tail in a domestic cat. The tail can also be tapered and not blunt at the end like a wildcat.

And those nape stripes, four wavy versions of which can be spotted on Felis silvestris silvestris (Scottish wildcat), are more numerous on a domestic animal. (see pic of an example of a Bengal cat below)

The Bengal cat too has many of a wildcat’s characteristics, such as an obviously ringed tail, but again it is thin and tapered at the bottom and the beautiful flank stripes are often spots, although some clear stripes are often seen on the hind legs.

The Bengal again has more than four napes stripes but from a distance could easily be mistaken for one of Scotland’s most endangered animals.

This is where things get complicated for farmers and estate owners who can legally kill feral cats found on their land, but as the Scottish wildcat is a protected species - as well as an endangered one - real care must be taken when it comes to identification during predator control activities.

Crucially, domestic cats can display characteristics that, when taken alone, suggest wildcat. A wildcat will show wildcat traits across the full range of characteristics we use to score them, though not necessarily perfectly matching all characteristics due to natural variation in the wildcat’s appearance.

The rule of thumb should be if in doubt, presume it is a wildcat and leave it alone. Keepers may consider monitoring the animal using camera traps and report the evidence to us here at Scottish Wildcat Action.

There are other breeds which also share some similar characteristics to the Scottish wildcat, such as the Li Hua, Highlander cat, Egyptian Mau or the Toyger of the Cornish Rex breed.

The size of the Scottish wildcat’s skull and indeed brain is just another consideration, which sets these expert hunters apart from our domestic moggies. In fact the Scottish wildcat is also reputed to be untameable and as wild as its name suggests.

One of the key messages we at Scottish Wildcat Action want to convey is the importance of neutering domestic cats. Hybridisation is still the biggest threat to the Scottish wildcat and the more domestic and feral cats that are neutered the better news it is for wildcats on the ground.

We urge everyone to ensure their pet cat is neutered, micro-chipped and vaccinated. Our Supercat campaign is at the very heart of this drive so make sure your cat is a Supercat – saving the day for Scottish wildcats.

Find more information on our website

Egyptian street cat. Photo: Craig Robertson

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I'm responsible for the delivery of Scottish Wildcat Action’s Communications plan, PR, marketing and promotion of the project's key messages through our website and social media channels. My role also involves working with the media.


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