Rusty-Spotted Cat: Meet the Smallest Exotic Cat in the World

Rusty-spotted cat stalking her prey in nature

Known as fierce hunters and huntresses of the forest, rusty-spotted cats are considered the smallest cats in the world.

However, their fascinating size is just one of many things that make them unique and interesting creatures.

If you are curious to know everything about rusty-spotted cats, this article will guide you through every aspect. 

I will answer some common questions, including their history and origin and if it’s possible to own one of these majestic, exotic cats. 

What Is a Rusty-Spotted Cat?

Rusty-spotted cat sit in sand and dense vegetation

A rusty-spotted cat is a small wild cat that is approximately half the size of a normal domestic cat. They are extremely active and agile felines that typically live solitary in the wild. For some time, these shy yet ferocious animals have been studied and protected from extinction. 

Domestication of the rusty-spotted cats is also seen as an option but remains to be a controversial topic. Even though most cat owners claim that it is possible, their wild nature may manifest eventually after some time.

The following sections will give an in-depth description of the appearance and other characteristics that make this cat such an eye-catcher.

Rusty-Spotted Cat Size and Weight: Is Rusty-Spotted Cat Really the World’s Smallest Cat?

Kittens, puppies, and other baby animals are always adorable. Some breeds are even purposely bred as mini or teacup versions. The smaller they are, the more charming they get! 

However, there are naturally small animals that take cuteness to the next level! The rusty-spotted cat is one example. 

As full-grown cats trapped in a kitten’s body, these tiny creatures weigh only around 1.8 to 3.5 pounds with a length of roughly 14 to 19 inches (not including the tail).

Compared to the popular cat breed, British shorthair, a rusty-spotted is distinctly smaller. British shorthairs can grow as high as 12 to 14 inches and weigh 7 to 17 pounds.

With its slender body, a rusty-spotted cat can easily fit the palm of an adult hand. Without a doubt, they are the smallest wild cat in the world, holding the spot beside the black-footed cat.

Rusty-Spotted Cat Characteristics: What Does a Rusty-Spotted Cat Look Like?

Rare rusty spotted cat lies on a trunk

Aside from its size, the rusty-spotted cat has a captivating appearance. Looking like a washed-out, mini version of a jaguar, these cats have predominantly gray, short, and soft fur that has rusty brown spots visible on the upper body. 

Horizontal dark streaks can be seen on the legs and chest, while the belly and undersides are mostly white.

The rusty-spotted cat’s head is short and rounded. The inner edges of their eyes are beautifully marked with two white streaks. Reddish-brown streaks are usually seen on each cheek while the chin and cheeks appear white. 

Their large, piercing eyes are normally in the shades of gray, brown, and amber. Unlike most domesticated cats, they have short, rounded, gray ears that have light-colored basal ear spots. 

Rusty-spotted cats have short legs and black-soled feet. Their tails are moderately long and appear rustier in color than the body, with no visible marks.

Rusty-Spotted Cat Distribution and Habitat: Where Do Rusty-Spotted Cats Live?

Rust-spotted cats are mainly found in the moist and dry deciduous forests, rocky hill slopes, grasslands, bamboo forests, and rocky areas of Sri Lanka and Southern India. 

Although they generally thrive in the wild, they have recently been found to inhabit agricultural areas and even abandoned houses, along with other small cat species.

Because of the large rodent population in these areas, many rusty-spotted cats choose to occupy these places where they can also escape larger predators such as foxes and jackals.

In the forests, they can easily feed on birds, insects, frogs, lizards and other small animals. 

Although they hunt most of their prey on the ground, they also take advantage of their excellent climbing skills and darting movements to hunt tree squirrels and small mammals. 

Due to the depletion of wildlife, these wild cats began to integrate and adapt to human-inhabited farmlands.

Watch this video to see a rusty-spotted cat in its natural habitat:

World's smallest cat 🐈- BBC

Rusty-Spotted Cat Ecology and Behavior: Are Rusty-Spotted Cats Nocturnal?

Observed to hunt their prey at night, rusty-spotted cats are thought to be primarily nocturnal. Because of their sharp vision, they can easily attack vulnerable animals during the night. 

During the day, they will find a safe place to sleep, preferably where they can be covered. Hollow logs, big tree branches, and areas with dense vegetation are just some of the places they choose to rest. 

They may have some brief periods of activity throughout the day, but they usually conserve their energy for another night of hunting. However, if the rusty-spotted cat is sexually active, it will be seen more during the daytime.

It is also important to know that a rusty-spotted cat will not act like your typical domesticated cat. While most stray cats are afraid of people in general, some of them can easily be approached and petted. 

Rusty-spotted cats are exactly the opposite. They may live near humans but will be shy to show themselves and always keep a safe distance.

As wild animals, they are also very territorial with arboreal tendencies and usually mark their space with their own urine. 

This will serve as a warning sign for other cats not to go on their territory. Rusty-spotted cats are known to do this even when in captivity.

Rusty-Spotted Cat Lifespan and Health Issues: How Long Do Rusty-Spotted Cats Live?

Living in the wild, it’s hard to predict the life expectancy of a rusty-spotted cat. They may have shorter lifespans since they are easy prey to bigger forest animals. They may also catch diseases from other animals or be poisoned by what they eat.

However, rescue facilities have recorded that rusty-spotted cats can live from 12 to 18 years when in captivity.

But just like other animals, rusty-spotted cats can suffer from infections or diseases that can shorten their lifespan. Some of these health issues include:

  • Bacterial Infections: Since they are known to eat birds and farm chickens, they might become infected with salmonella and E. coli which are both harmful microorganisms that cause food poisoning in both humans and cats.
  • Toxoplasmosis: Rusty-spotted cats with weak immune systems may also catch a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis. This causes the cat to experience fever, loss of appetite and lethargy.
  • Rabies: These cats can be infected by rabies through the bite of a carrier animal such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes. This affects the central nervous system and may cause weakness, paralysis, or behavioral changes.

While these health issues that result in life risk and diseases are mainly from their natural habitat, wildlife rescues are trying to conserve and increase their numbers. 

Since there is a possibility that captivity will prolong their life, make sure to take care of them if you have one.

READ NEXT: Poodle Cat: A Complete Guide to These Curly-Haired Cats

Rusty-Spotted Cat History and Origin: Where Do Rusty-Spotted Cats Come From?

Adult rusty-spotted cat standing on branch

Rusty-spotted cats or Prionailurus rubiginosus are from the genus of spotted wild cats found in Asia. 

There are five species recognized under this classification including the leopard cat, Sunda leopard cat, flat-headed cat, the fishing cat, and the rusty-spotted cats. 

There are two subspecies of the rusty-spotted cat. These are the Prionailurus rubiginosus rubiginosus from India and the Prionailurus rubiginosus phillipsi from Sri Lanka. 

There are no reported differences in terms of appearance between these two species except their origin.

Originally found in these countries, rusty-spotted cats were first sighted in a wildlife sanctuary in Central India, specifically in Maharashtra. 

Since then, many researchers have had multiple sightings in different parts of India, as recent as 2018.

Sightings in the lowland rainforest of Sri Lanka were also recorded in 2016. These two distinct populations of wild cats were known to survive in both dry and wet zones of the forest area.

In 2012 and 2016, rusty-spotted cats were also seen in separate locations in Nepal, increasing the known range of the species.

Rusty-Spotted Cat Conservation

Most exotic animals are not safe from the threats of humankind and natural occurrences. In an effort to preserve their species, conservation measures are being taken by different wildlife sanctuaries. 

Studies regarding the cat’s biology and habitat are constantly carried out to come up with an appropriate conservation plan. Camera trapping is an effective method of monitoring the activities and behavior of such rare species.

Equipped with motion sensors, these camera traps are used to observe the rusty-spotted cat without the need for human interference. 

Through them, researchers are able to learn what food they eat, how they mate and also estimate their population.

This becomes the basis of their breed’s conservation plan, and hopefully, in the near future, we’ll be presented with a concrete program on how their numbers will be preserved.

How Many Rusty-Spotted Cats Are Left in the World Today?

As of today, there are only around 10,000 rusty-spotted cats in the world, as reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

This organization is responsible for monitoring the status of the natural world and proposing measures to protect the earth’s biodiversity.

Only 56 cats are held in captivity in different zoos around the world, where they are trained and studied. 

This video will show you how a rusty-spotted cat behaves during feeding time in the zoo:

Rusty-Spotted Cat (VERY FEISTY!)

Because of their number, this species of cats are now classified as “near threatened,” which means that they are vulnerable to being endangered in the near future.

Even though they are still at a lower risk of extinction, it is still crucial to see to it that they are preserved. 

This is to ensure that future generations will not only learn about them in textbooks but still be able to lay their eyes on these wonderful creatures.

Is the Rusty-Spotted Cat Endangered?

Although they are still at the ‘near threatened’ status, there is still a high chance that the rusty-spotted cats will become endangered in the years to come. 

There are numerous factors that contribute to the rapidly declining population of the rusty-spotted cat, which includes the following:

  • Deforestation: This is the main reason why their species are close to becoming threatened. The majority of the rusty-spotted cats live in the moist forests of Sri Lanka, where deforestation is a major issue. When their prime habitat is destroyed, they either die or be forced to move to other places where the risk of danger is higher.
  • Illegal Hunting: Many illegal hunters capture and kill these wild cats for their skin, meat and teeth. Some of them are also sold in illegal pet trades.
  • Interbreeding With Domestic Cats: Some poachers purposely breed the rusty-spotted cats with domestic cats to be sold illegally. This causes the DNA to change and the genetics of the pure species to be lost in the offspring.
  • Insufficient Knowledge: Due to their aloofness, there is limited data about the number of rusty-spotted cats that are actively breeding. There is also no account of how many cats are being born annually. Despite the conservation efforts, there is still so much to know about these wild cats.

There are also cases where they are wrongly persecuted by locals as leopard cubs and sometimes killed by feral dogs.

Proper education and awareness are being done to villagers and farm owners that share their territory with rusty-spotted cats. With the right information, they can help protect them and give them a better chance at life.

Rusty-Spotted Cats as Pets: Can You Own a Rusty-Spotted Cat?

This is the question you’ve probably been waiting to be answered. I can’t blame you. After all, who wouldn’t want to keep these small, sweet-looking cats as pets?

Although not illegal, owning a rusty-spotted cat can be difficult and possibly dangerous. First of all, you will need a special permit or license to be allowed to keep them as pets. 

If you see these cats being sold online, there is a high chance that they’ve been illegally obtained and should be reported immediately.

As territorial creatures, their first instinct when they see humans in their vicinity is to attack them. 

Their instincts and behavior in the wild are deeply ingrained in their way of life. Forcibly trying to tame or domesticate them can lead to unpredictable and often aggressive tendencies.

Keep in mind that they are exotic animals and not domesticated cats. It is strongly advised to leave them alone to thrive in their natural habitat and just contribute to their preservation. After all, they are endangered cats.

READ NEXT: 11 Ways to Find Free Kittens in Your Area for Adoption (2021)

Frequently Asked Questions

Rusty-spotted cat standing in grass and turning her head back

How Fast Can a Rusty-Spotted Cat Run?

Just like ordinary cats, rusty-spotted cats can run fast, possibly even faster due to their size. 

Because of their agility and speed, they are given the title “hummingbirds of the cat family.” Hummingbirds are known as small and feisty birds.

They rely on this ability for hunting their prey on the ground, in bamboo thickets and for climbing trees. They can also easily run away from bigger, slower predators.

Are Rusty-Spotted Cats Good Pets?

As stated, rusty-spotted cats are not ideal pets because of their wild animal instincts. They will not act like your regular tabby and ask for cuddles. Instead, they will flee and hide when they see humans. When they feel provoked, they will claw or bite.

However, zookeepers have stated that after some introduction and training, rusty-spotted cats began showing more affection and look forward to socializing and doing other activities with the trainers.

With proper handling, there is a chance these wild cats can be tamed. Just note that these people are professionals with the proper skills to interact with wild animals.

Are Rusty-Spotted Cats Dangerous?

It is common to think that all wild animals are dangerous, and the rusty-spotted cat is no exception. But how true is it that they are dangerous?

Looking back at the temperament discussion, you can see that they are not dangerous at all. They are very withdrawn and are only labeled as pests by landowners because they hunt farm animals.

Like most domesticated animals, they will only show hostile behavior when they are provoked or shown physical aggression. 

The only difference is that they are more accustomed to living in solitude which explains their aloof behavior towards people.

As humans, we are more capable of hurting them than they can be to us. At the end of the day, they are animals who want to protect their home and their family. People should respect them and do what they can to keep them here for a longer time.

Final Thoughts

The rusty-spotted cat is a wonderful creature known for its tiny size. Considered the world’s smallest wild cat breed, they are only half the size of a normal, domestic cat.

There is still very little information about them, so it remains a challenge to plan conservation strategies for these small cats. What we do know is that it is not illegal to own them as pets, but the process involves a lot of screening and paperwork.

There is currently no testimony or evidence that rusty-spotted cats are kept as pets, although there have been reported cases of interbreeding with domestic cats. 

In any case, owning one will require extreme caution since these cats can exhibit aggressive tendencies.

Overall, they are solitary animals that prefer to be unbothered and left to live in their natural habitat.

John Carter

My name is John Carter and I absolutely love pets, especially cats and dogs. I've got a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and have several years’ experience working in animal shelters and rescues. My passion for animals started at a very young age as I grow up on a farm with several horses, cows, cats, chickens, and dogs on our property.

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