What’s the world’s smallest cat? Meet the tiny felines barely bigger than a ruler

Vying for first place in the smallest cat in the world category are the rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) and black-footed cat (Felis nigripes), which are very close in size, measuring 35-48cm and 35-52cm in length respectively.

The smallest cats in the world

Each cat is the smallest species on its continent – the rusty-spotted cat is found in Asia (India, Sri Lanka and a small part of Nepal) is the smallest cat in Asia, whilst the black-footed cat (also known as the small-spotted cat) is found in southern African (including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe) is the smallest cat in Africa.

Both species are thought to be nocturnal, feeding mainly on rodents and small birds – though black-footed cats are known to prey on Cape hares which are heavier than the cat.

The best cat hunter

Black-footed cats hit their targets 60 per cent of the time, making them the most successful feline hunters and the second-most successful of the mammals (following African wild dogs in first place with 85 per cent).

Black-footed cat walking under a log at night in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. © Gallo Images/Dave Hamman/Getty
Black-footed cat walking under a log at night in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. © Gallo Images/Dave Hamman/Getty

Ongoing studies of black-footed cats have revealed that the species feeds on 40 different vertebrates. It catches and eats up to 14 individual small animals each night, and is able to catch birds in flight – jumping up to 1.4 metres in height to do so.

Though they are named to be black-footed, it’s actually only the soles of their feet that are black or dark brown.

Whilst the black-footed cat is usually solitary (with the exception of females with kittens), little is known about the behaviour of the rusty-spotted cat.

Black-footed cat is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and the rusty-spotted cat is listed as Near Threatened.

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This article by Megan Shersby was first published by Discover Wildlife on 24 October 2023. Lead Image: Rusty-spotted cat on a tree branch (in captivity). © Colin Langford/500px/Getty.

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