Black-footed Cat Physical Characteristics

Black-footed Cat Physical Characteristics


The Black-footed Cat is one of the smallest cat species in the world, less than half the size of an average domestic cat. Males are larger than females.


The Black-footed Cat is very similar looking to a long-haired domestic cat and has a short thin tapering tail. It has a large broad head relative to its small body and often flattens its ears. The short tail has black rings and a black tip. The pads of the feet are black (which is where the species name comes from) and have long black hairs. The hairs help silence the approach of the cat, as well as protecting its feet from the heat of the ground.


The coat is pale and has numerous small dark spots all over it. The spots sometimes join to form stripes or bars, especially on the legs. The coat pattern is unique for each cat and can be used to identify individuals. The base colour ranges from reddish-fawn in the southern parts of its range to much paler in the northern drier regions.

Black-footed Cat Facial Characterstics


The face of a Black-footed Cat has a typical domestic cat appearance with diagonal black lines running the outer corner of each eye across the cheeks. The chin and throat are white and there are two or three distinct dark bands on the chest.


The plain ears are slightly rounded and are the same base colour as the rest of the body. When the Black-footed Cat is stalking or threatened, the ears are flattened to keep a low profile.


Black-footed Cat Facial Characteristics

Wild Cats of Africa Poster
Wild Cats of Africa Print by Roger Hall

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Black-footed Cat Identification

When catching a glimpse of wildlife in the bush it is often difficult to identify an animal, especially if lighting is poor, or you do not see the full animal. Here are some pointers to help you confirm whether what you saw was a Black-footed Cat.

Black-footed Cats are very small, less than half the size of a domestic cat, so it is very rare to see these cats in the wild. They are also primarily nocturnal and very difficult to spot at night and can be easily confused with other small mammals. Distribution is key as these cats only occur in a very small range in southern Africa. The only other  small cat species they could be mistaken for is the African Wildcat - especially if it is a juvenile. However the Black-footed Cat has distinct spots whereas the African Wildcat is plain with maybe some indistinct striping. Size wise an adult African Wildcat is as large as a housecat, so is much bigger than a Black-footed Cat.

Black-footed Cats may be confused with genets, as these animals also have a spotted coat, however genets have very long tails, long pointed snouts and large ears.

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