Are sand cats dangerous to humans?

People ask whether sand cats are dangerous to humans. You have to provide a common-sense answer. If we accept that the phrase “dangerous to humans” means that a sand cat can cause harm to humans then the answer to the question in the title must be, yes. But it depends how you interact. There is a video of a sand cat in captivity being teased with catnip. The sand cat responds by rolling over. It is a respectful interaction.

Think about a feral cat, an unsocialised domestic cat, and the kind of harm that that animal can cause a human if you tried to pick him up against his will. It is likely that you’d be badly scratched and bitten. The cat would cause you harm and I would say that wrestling with a feral cat is dangerous. The same could be said about the sand cat, I’d guess. There are no stories about sand cats mauling people! But they are unsocialised cats. That automatically means they are likely be fearful and defensive around humans. But see the paragraph below for an alternative viewpoint.

Sand cat at home
Sand cat at home. Not possible I am afraid. Image: PoC.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Despite the introduction the sand cat is called ‘docile’

It seems that the sand cat in the wild behaves in a way indicating that this species is not fearful of humans. Some scientists have picked them up from outside of their burrows when approached from behind. So, these experiences would indicate that the sand cat is not as likely to scratch or bite a person as suggested in the introduction. However, young adult sand cats bred in captivity are more aggressive than wild-caught animals.

This is a wild cat

Although the sand cat is diminutive and looks very much like a cute domestic cat, they are a wild cat at heart with all the usual aggressivity, courage, dynamism and athleticism which all the wild cats possess.

Perhaps the problem for the sand, in the eyes of people, is that they do indeed look like cute domestic cats. This appearance belies their natural aggressivity when required. This is a cat that can successfully attack, kill and eat venomous snakes without fear or uncertainty. They regularly kill horned and sand vipers. They hunt all night long and are prodigious eaters.

No doubt you can tame a sand cat or semi-domesticate one but you won’t be living with a domestic cat if you tried to do that. Although a sem-domesticated sand cat will be more pliable and tolerant. There is another point worth making which is very particular to this small wild cat species.

Unsuited to captivity

In general, the sand cat is said to be particularly unsuited to captivity. In 1966 when the species was discovered in Pakistan, a number of animals were captured and shipped to zoos in North America and Europe. There was a burst of captive sand cat breeding resulting in a significant increase in the numbers in zoos.

They were attractive exhibits, as you can imagine, but the zookeepers discovered that sand cats are very difficult to keep healthy in zoos. As is the case for the black-footed cat, the sand cat is sensitive to both coldweather and high humidity. They are also highly susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) and rhinitis.

Although a few have survived in captivity for several years, wild-caught sand cats often die within a year of being brought into captivity. Fifteen out of eighteen sand cats imported from the Nushki Desert died of feline enteritis despite being vaccinated against the disease (source: H. Hemmer 1977 – Biology and breeding of the sand cat). It almost seems that when you bring a sand cat from the wild into captivity it is a death sentence for them.

I am against wild cats as pets

The question in the title implies that some people think about buying and living with a sand cat as a pet. I hope this page deters them. It is an unviable idea. It is far better to leave them in the wild and to protect them there. That sentiment applies to all the wild cat species in my honest opinion. It is time to put away the immature idea that wild cats make good exotic pets.


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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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