The Top 10 Smallest Cats in the World

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: April 28, 2021
Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: April 28, 2021


Domesticated cats are some of the most popular pets in the world, but did you know about the range of small cats? We often think of huge beasts when we think of wild felines and small versions when we think of domesticated cats. But just as house felines can be big, their wild counterparts can be small, with some being as tiny as kittens even when they’re fully grown. In fact, over 80% of the world’s species of wild cats are small and about the size of their domesticated counterparts. While big cats get most of the press because they’re so fearsome, the small ones have other things going for them. Here are the 10 smallest cats in the world you will be amazed to know about and might want to see to believe, and not just because they’re so cute.

#10 Smallest Cats: Pallas’s Cat (Otocolobus manul)

Smallest Cats: Pallas's Cat
The Pallas’ cat has the longest and densest fur.

The infamous “grumpy wildcat” is known for its facial expressions and being fierce yet fluffy at the same time. It is shy and rarely seen among the rough montane grasslands and shrublands of Central Asia, where its habitat range includes Russia, Tibet, Mongolia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Its coat of long grey fur makes it appear much larger than it actually is.

Population status: Decreasing
IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
Head-and-body length: 46 to 65 cm (18 to 25 1⁄2 in)
Tail length: 21 to 31 cm (8 1⁄2 to 12 in)
Weight: 2.5 to 4.5 kg (5 lb 8 oz to 9 lb 15 oz)

#9 Smallest Cats: Bay, Borneo, Bornean Bay, Bornean Red or Bornean Marbled Cat (Catopuma badia)

Smallest Cats_ Bornean Marbled Cat
The Bornean Marbled Cat’s long bushy tail provides the balance needed for moving around in trees.

A rare small wild species that are outnumbered by other wild cats on its native island of Borneo, which is divided into Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. With the remains of one first mistaken for those of an Asian golden cat, but actually much smaller in size, it was determined that both had a common ancestor that diverged for 4.9 to 5.3 million years — way before Borneo geologically separated from mainland Asia. Both are also related to the marbled cat and rather than classifying the bay and Asian golden cat in the genus Catopuma, it was suggested to classify them in the genus Parfodelis with the marbled species.

Population status: Decreasing
IUCN Red List status: Endangered
Head-and-body length: 49.5–67 cm (19.5–26.4 in)
Tail length: 30.0- to 40.3-cm
Weight: 3–4 kg (6.6–8.8 lb)

#8 Smallest Cats: Margay (Leopardus wiedii)

Smallest Cats: Margay
One of the smallest species, the Margay, can hang from a branch of a tree by one back foot.

This native to Central and South America is one of the most acrobatic species out there, equipped with a very long tail for balancing on branches and flexible ankle joints to allow it to descend head-first. It can also mimic the calls of the pied tamarin (a small monkey) while seeking to ambush the same as its prey. With camouflaging coloring, this small animal spends the majority of its life in trees and is very hard to spot in its native habitat range from Mexico to Brazil and Paraguay.

Population status: Decreasing
IUCN Red List status: Near Threatened
Head-and-body length: 48 to 79 cm (19 to 31 in)
Tail length: 33 to 51 cm (13 to 20 in)
Weight: 2.6 to 4 kg (5.7 to 8.8 lb)

#7 Smallest Cats: Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)

Smallest Cats: Leopard Cat
The Leopard cat has slightly webbed toes which facilitate swimming and movement on the slippery ground.

The leopard cat turns out to be a separate species from the Sunda Leopard Cat on Borneo and Sumatra, so it’s not as common to its native habitat in South, Southeast, and East Asia, with countries including Russia, China, India, and Pakistan. The largely tree-dwelling species hunts rodents and insects and is the third smallest wild cat in Asia.

Population status: Stable
IUCN Red List status: Least Concern
Head-and-body length: 38.8–66 cm (15.3–26.0 in)
Tail length: 17.2–31 cm (6.8–12.2 in)
Weight: 0.55–3.8 kg (1.2–8.4 lb)

#6 Smallest Cats: Sand or Sand Dune Cat (Felis margarita)

Smallest Cats_ Sand Dune Cat
Sand Dune Cats are fearless snake hunters and also one of the smallest cats.

A very shy and mysterious small wild animal, the sand cat is the only species that lives in the true desert — namely, those in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. It’s been recorded in Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Chad, and Egypt. Although its prey is mostly small rodents and birds, it can kill venomous snakes like sand vipers. Its thick, sand-colored fur serves not only as camouflage but protects it from the cold at night, while the black hairs on its feet shield its toes from the scorching sand and its long, low-set ears give excellent hearing.

Population status: Stable
IUCN Red List status: Least Concern
Head-and-body length: 39–52 cm (15–20 in)
Tail length: 23–31 cm (9.1–12.2 in)
Weight: 1.5–3.4 kg (3.3–7.5 lb)

#5 Smallest Cats: Oncilla or Little Spotted Cat (Leopardus tigrinus)

Smallest Cats: Oncilla
The body of the Oncilla is covered with beautiful fur that can be tan or ochre in color.

The Oncilla has a habitat range spanning from Costa Rica and Panama in Central America to southern Brazil. Compared to other small wild species, it hunts small mammals, birds, and reptiles, but prefers doing so on the ground rather than in trees. It is the second smallest species in the Americas after the Guiña or Kodkod. The northern oncilla and the southern oncilla species are distinct and do not interbreed with each other.

Population status: Decreasing
IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable
Head-and-body length: 38 to 59 centimetres (15 to 23 in)
Tail length: 20 to 42 centimetres (7.9 to 16.5 in)
Weight: 1.5 to 3 kilograms (3.3 to 6.6 lb)

#4 Smallest Cats: Flat-headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps)

Smallest Cats: Flat-headed Cat
The Flat-headed cat looks similar to a civet and it is adapted to partially-aquatic living.

This particular species owes its strange appearance due to physical adaptations for its semi-aquatic lifestyle, with a flattened forehead, partially webbed feet, and very long, sharp canine teeth. Unfortunately, it is one of the most endangered cats in Southeast Asia.

Population status: Decreasing
IUCN Red List status: Endangered
Head-and-body length: 41 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in)
Tail length: 13 to 15 cm (5.1 to 5.9 in)
Weight: 1.5 to 2.5 kg (3.3 to 5.5 lb)

#3 Smallest Cats: Guiña or Kodkod (Leopardus guigna)

Smallest Cats: Guiña or Kodkod
The Kodkod, are excellent climbers and can climb trees that are 3 feet in diameter.

This is the smallest species in the Americas, with a habitat range of Central and Southern Chile, plus bordering areas of Argentina. Although it’s an agile climber, it prefers hunting on the ground for small mammals, birds, lizards, and insects.

Population status: Decreasing
IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable
Head-and-body length: 37 to 51 cm (15 to 20 in)
Tail length: 20–25 cm (7.9–9.8 in)
Weight: 2 to 2.5 kg (4.4 to 5.5 lb)

#2 Smallest Cats: Black-footed or Small Spotted Cat (Felis nigripes)

Smallest Cats: Black-footed cat
The Black-footed cat is the smallest cat on the African continent, and also one of the deadliest.

This native to South Africa is the smallest of its kind in the entire continent. Known for having the highest hunting success rate among all cats, it was once referred to as the “deadliest cat on earth” and can consume up to 14 prey items in one night.

Population status: Decreasing
IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable
Head-and-body length: Females 33.7–36.8 cm (13.3–14.5 in); males 42.5 and 50 cm (16.7 and 19.7 in)
Tail length: Females 15.7 to 17 cm (6.2 to 6.7 in); males 15–20 cm (5.9–7.9 in)
Weight: Females 1.1 to 1.65 kg (2.4 to 3.6 lb); males 1.6 to 2.45 kg (3.5 to 5.4 lb)

#1 Smallest Cats: Rusty Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus)

Smallest Cats: Rusty Spotted Cat
The Rusty-spotted cat is the smallest wild cat in Asia and rivals the black-footed cat as the world’s smallest wild cat.

The rusty-spotted cat competes with the black-footed one in tiny size, and it wins the prize. It’s about the size of an 8 week-old kitten. Both have been confused for washed-out versions of the leopard cat and are smaller than a domestic animal. Native to the deciduous forests of India and Sri Lanka, it is notable for its big eyes, tiny, agile body, and a 50/50 lifestyle on the ground and in trees.

Population status: Decreasing
IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened
Head-and-body length: 35 to 48 cm (14 to 19 in)
Tail length: 15 to 30 cm (5.9 to 11.8 in)
Weight: 0.9 to 1.6 kg (2.0 to 3.5 lb)

Conclusion

Big size isn’t everything, and these cats in the world prove it. It isn’t just kittens who are tiny; some felines are naturally very small as a testament to the variety in the cat family. Although most people focus on them because they’re cute, there are definite advantages to being shy, reclusive, small, and even tiny in the harsh environment of the outdoors, and that’s the ability to hide, be agile, and suitable to a diet of plentiful insects and rodents. Whether they’re adorable pets or wild survival experts, small cats can make it just as well as, if not better than, their larger counterparts.

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