Sand Cat Key Facts

*   Inhabits deserts   *   Large triangular ears   *   Thick furred pads   *

Sand cat (Felis margarita)
Sand cat (Felis margarita) by Terry Whittaker

Sand Cat Information

SCIENTIFIC NAME Felis margarita


NAME ORIGIN The Sand Cat was discovered in 1858 and was named after the French expedition leader General Margueritte. The other common
name is the 'sand dune cat'.


SIZE The Sand Cat is the second smallest of the small African wild cats, weighing up to 3kgs, about the size of a very small domestic cat.

IDENTIFICATION The diminutive Sand Cat is stocky with short legs and a long tail. The light brown coat has greyish fur on the back and paler fur
below, with a few stripes on the limbs and tail. To adapt to desert conditions the cat has large triangular ears to detect underground vibrations made by prey, and thick fur on their foot pads to protect them from the extreme temperatures.


BEHAVIOUR The solitary Sand Cat feeds mainly on small desert rodents, hares, birds, reptiles and insects. They rarely drink water and obtain sufficient moisture from their prey. The cats dig burrows or extend other animals' burrows where they live to escape the harsh desert conditions.

SAND CAT - Species Spotlight by Big Cat Rescue
Sand Cat Distribution Map
Sand Cat Distribution Map
Reproduced with permission from the book Cats of Africa

Sand Cat Distribution

The Sand Cat occurs only in the desert regions of the Sahara, the Arabian Peninsular, Iran, Turkmenistan and Pakistan.


Click through on the map for the updated Sand Cat distribution.

Sand Cat Description

SIZE The Sand Cat is the only slightly larger than the Black-footed Cat (the smallest African cat) weighing up to 3.4 kgs. Males are larger than females.  

BODY The small body is stocky with short legs and a relatively long tail.There are mats of dense fur, up to 2 cm thick, on the pads of the feet. These help protect against both the extreme desert heat and cold temperatures, and also assist with walking on the loose sand.  

COAT The light brown coat has greyish fur on the back with some feint markings and plain pale fur below. There is striping on the limbs and usually two dark bars on the forelimbs. The long tail has a few dark rings towards the end and a black tip.

Sand Cat Physical Characteristics
Sand Cat Physical Characteristics
Image Credit: Sand cat walking across sand
© Alain Dragesco-Joffe / Animals Animals
Image Source ARKive with permission
Sand Cat Facial Characteristics
Sand Cat Facial Characteristics
Image Credit: Sand cat ssp. harrisoni head detail
© Steve Downer /
Image Source ARKive with permission

HEAD The Sand Cat has a wide face with thick white fur around the mouth and chin. There are feint diagonal red lines from the outer and inner corners of the eyes towards the edge of the face.

The large triangular ears are set low on the side of the head and have thick white hairs inside. The back of the ears are brown on the base and have a black tip.


AGE In the wild - unknown. In captivity - up to 14 years.

More Sand Cat Information and Fact Sheets

1. ARKive Wildlife Imagery and Fact File - Sand Cat Photos and Videos  

2. International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) - Sand Cat Fact Sheet  

3. IUCN Cat Specialist Group (CatSG) - Detailed Information and Academic Reference List - Sand Cat Information

Arkive video - Sand cat in desert habitat