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Small Wild Cats
Characteristics, History, and Health

Small Wild Cats

Sub-family Felinae

In the main cat family called Felidae, there are two sub-families: Pantherinae and Felinae. The sub-family Felinae is further classified into the genus Prionailurus, in which we find many, but not all, of the Small Wild Cat species. It is important to note that these cats are not pets; they belong in the wild in their natural habitats where they can ideally live, hunt, and reproduce without interference from humans.

Main Info
Coat Pattern
Variety of patterns
Coat Length
Variety of lengths
Health Issues
  • Species-dependentSpecies-dependent

Main Characteristics of Small Wild Cats

Small wild cats do not compare in size to big wild cats, but do share characteristics such as an array of stunning looks, a powerful, muscular build, and paws with sharp claws. Their keen senses make them adept hunters of smaller prey in the wild, and they are found throughout the world in a variety of habitats. Small wild cats face similar threats to their survival in the wild as big cats do, such as habitat loss, illegal hunting and fur trading, and other encroachment by humans that affects their ability to live, hunt, and reproduce.

Small Wild Cats Classification

All living cat species belong to the family Felidae. "Family" is a branch of taxonomy—the system of scientific categorization or classification of biological organisms, such as plants and animals. Families are further classified into sub-families, then genus, then species.

Felidae includes everything from the Small Wild Cats of the genus Prionailurus to the domestic cats of the genus Felis. The Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), Mainland Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Sunda Leopard Cat (Prionailurus javanensis), Flat-headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps), and Rusty-spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) are all different species in the genus Prionailurus of the sub-family Felinae. Learn more about the genus Prionailurus in this resource about Small Wild Cats classification.

Small Wild Cats Origin

According to O'Brien et al. (2007), the evolution of the entire Felidae cat family began around 25 million years ago, and this led to eight main lineages of Felidae. This includes the Leopard lineage of six different Asian small wild cats, five from genus Prionailurus and one from genus Otocolobus (Central Asia).

The Leopard lineage is said to be the second youngest, originating when it split from a common ancestor of modern cats, the Pseudaelurus species, a little over six million years ago together with the Felis lineage (also known as the domestic cat lineage). The Felis lineage split off again around 3.4 million years ago, making it the youngest and most recent lineage in the Felidae cat family that holds the domestic cat (Felis catus) that we've all come to know and love. View a depiction of the evolution of the cat family tree that led to today's categorization of small wild cats.

Small Wild Cats Traits

Wild Cats, even small ones, are innate predators. Similar to big wild cats, it can be easy to recognize some of the hunting and play behavior that is also seen in our own domestic housecats. However, they are still wild cats, which makes them dangerous to humans and they should never be underestimated. Small wild cats are beautiful creatures that are not meant to be pets, and are always best left undisturbed in their natural habitats. Depending on the species, small wild cats display a variety of vivid coat patterns and colors.


Serpell, J. A. (2000). Domestication and history of the cat. The domestic cat: The biology of its behaviour, 2, 180-192.

O’Brien, J. S. and Johnson, W. E. (2007). The evolution of cats. Scientific American July 2007: 68-75.

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