The Scottish wildcat is a beautiful and elusive creature that looks remarkably like our own domesticated cat.
But, no matter how much we might dream of taming one, we can’t ignore the fact that this is a wild beast. But just how different are they?
Below, we will look at the important differences in size and physical features between the Scottish wildcat and domesticated cat.
This includes their general size but also a more detailed look at their physical attribute.
We will also consider the issue of interbreeding between Scottish wildcats and domesticated cats, and the impact this has on identification and the survival of the species.
Scottish Wildcat Size Vs Domestic Cat, what is the difference exactly?
The Scottish wildcat is also known as the Highland Tiger
Britain used to be home to plenty of large cats and other creatures that just wouldn’t be able to survive there any more.
Cave formations across Southern England and other excavations revealed the bones of Cave Lions. Lynx would have roamed freely through the forests.
In fact, there are calls to bring the lynx back in suitable areas that could sustain a population. (1.)
But, loss of habit and the expansion of human populations means that there are few large predators any more.
One creature that clings on in Scotland is the wildcat. Yet, even these creatures are in trouble.
The Highland Tiger is aptly named because it is a fearsome predator that can take on prey across the Highlands of Scotland. However, it is not the apex predator.
Wildcat remains have been found in eagle nests. Also, limited habit and issues of cross-breeding threaten the species.
Scottish wildcat size Vs domestic cat.
The size difference between wildcats and domesticated cats is noticeable when you put the two side by side.
But, the physical differences go further than just weight and length. The legs, skull and tail of these animals also differ.(2.)
The size of the wildcat.
Generally speaking, the Scottish wildcat is around 25% bigger than a domestic cat. The length of a male wildcat from head to body is between 48 and 68 cm.
They are a more powerful, stockier animal than our domesticated cats simply because they need to be to survive out in the forests. These animals are skilled hunters.
The size of the wildcat will always seem that much more impressive because of the density of their fur.
Domestic cats don’t need the same sort of coat when they live in comfortable homes with central heating.
Wildcats can grow 30,000 hairs per square inch in winter to shield them from freezing temperatures and snow.
The wildcat’s powerful legs.
You should find that the legs of a wildcat are longer and stronger.
This means that they can develop more powerful thigh muscles for jumping, running and climbing after their prey. (3.)
Again, domesticated cats can afford to do without because there is no need for such strength.
They aren’t running for their lives from predators or hunting down a critical meal. Another interesting feature here is the rotating wrist.
This is something seen in arboreal animals that are at home in the trees. It gives them greater agility when climbing.
The wildcat’s thicker tail.
The tail then measures between 26 to 33cm, which is in proportion with the length of their body.
This long, thick tail is important because it helps them balance while climbing trees in the forests.
Our domesticated cats also have similarly long tails and you will see them use them in a similar way when walking along ledges and fences.
But, a domestic cat’s tail is more tapered.
The wildcat’s broader skull.
Then there is the head of the wildcat. The skull is bigger on this wild animal so you get a wider head. This is most apparent if you ever get to see a wildcat face on.
They look as though they have bigger cheeks and a much more rounded head. This particularly noticeable in wildcat kittens and this proportion is pretty cute.
The reason for this could be partly due to their intelligence. They are smart cats with strong instincts.
Efforts to tame kittens never go well. A wider skull also means more room for powerful jaws and large eyes.
The jaws are strong enough to clamp down on prey and ensure that they are formidable predators.
70% of their diet is rabbits so they need a good grip around the back of the neck. There are even tales of them taking deer fawns.
Your domesticated feline friend would not be able to do that. Large eyes mean better night vision, which is essential for nocturnal hunting trips.
The Scottish wildcat is different from the African wildcat.
When comparing the Scottish wildcat to the domesticated cat, we have to remember that they are not direct ancestors.
There are different species of wildcat across the world, including the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica).
The Scottish wildcat is Felis silvestris silvestris and has different traits due to its habitat and behavior. The Scottish cat is a much stockier animal with that denser coat and very distinctive markings.
The African wildcat doesn’t need this sort of coat because of the hotter climate. Therefore, it looks a lot more like the domesticated cat with a slimmer figure.
It is this African cat that is the ancestor of our domestic cat. The proportions and body size are more similar to those of domestic cats.
The head to body length of males is typically between 47 to 59 cm, making them shorter in length than the Scottish wildcat.
Females are smaller at 40 to 56 cm. There isn’t much difference in the size of the tail, with the African cat’s tail measuring around 27 to 37 cm.
The size of a Scottish wildcat can depend on its sex.
A female wildcat will be smaller than the male, with a sleeker build. The weight of a male cat can vary.
While the average is 5kg, it isn’t unheard of for them to reach over 7kg. Meanwhile, the females weigh around 4kg.
This often means that they are about the same size as a male domesticated cat.
So, if you were to put a male domesticated cat next to a female wildcat, you might struggle to tell the difference at first.
However, there is an added problem if you were to have a male and female in close proximity.
The two can cross-breed, which is deeply concerning for the survival of the Scottish wildcat as a pure species.
Hybridisation makes it difficult to tell cats apart, which is a bigger issue for conservation efforts.
The sad truth is that there aren’t that many pure wildcats out there any more.
Hybridisation is one of the leading threats to the survival of the wildcat as a species. There are conflicting ideas about the current status of the animal in Britain.
While it is clear that it has become extinct in all but Scottland now, there is uncertainty over the size of the population. Some estimate that there are around 400 individuals out there.
Wildcat breeding programs in zoos, such as Edinburgh, help to maintain numbers as best they can.
However, others question how many of those animals are truly pure wildcats because of that issue of interbreeding with domesticated cats, with suggestions that only 35 pure animals remain.
Therefore, you could find hybrid animals that don’t conform to the size, shape and other features of the species.
In turn, is difficult for conservationists to determine if they have a pure wildcat in the habitat they manage.
Camera traps should be a great way to determine the numbers and range of individual animals.
But it isn’t always clear if they are pure or hybrid animals. Also, it can be difficult to determine if a shot or trapped cat is a pure wildcat or hybrid.
You can read all about the different types of cat breeds here.
How can you tell the difference between pure Scottish wildcats and hybrid animals?
The best way to tell is to look at the markings on the coat and the tail. This is easier said than done with a live animal on a camera trap.
The wildcat has much bolder, unbroken markings with thick stripes across the back and legs.
There are also four broad stripes on the nape, no spots on the rump and a dorsal stripe that stops at the root of the tail. That tail is thicker with a blunt black tip and broad bands.
Conservationists that can determine these factors can probably say that they have a 100% pure wildcat.
If they have a large cat with a wide face and long legs, but the stripes are broken and the dorsal stripe continues down the tail, it is probably a hybrid instead.
Scottish wildcat size vs domestic cat: how to tell the difference.
In short, there are common traits with pure Scottish wildcats that make them distinct in size and form to domestic cats.
The longer body, muscular legs, wide head and thick blunt tail should help when telling the difference.
If you spot a cat with these features, and the pure markings mentioned above, you have a true Highland Tiger.
After reading all about the Scottish Wildcat Size Vs Domestic Cat size differences, you may also enjoy reading our article about how to clean up cat pee easily.