Are winged cats real?

Domestic cats with appendages that look like wings are real but domestic cats with genuine wings are not real. There have been many cases of winged cats. It doesn’t take long to find them on the Internet. A good example is a cat who lived (presumed now deceased) in China’s Sichuan province1. The owner, Feng, said that he grew wings because of stress due to harassment by female cats. I’m afraid she is fantasising without wishing to be unkind. Although the wings look impressively like the real thing in the photograph.

Winged cat in China
Winged cat in China. This is one of the more impressive examples and it is well known. Photo: Daily Mail.
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The only topic worth discussing in respect to winged cat is how the wings are created. What exactly are they if they are not the real thing? Interestingly, I can’t find a single definitive, scientific assessment which tells us precisely what they are but there have been many theories. Back in 1992 Dr Morris in his feline encyclopaedia, Cat World, proposed three, (1) they were part of a widespread deception, (2) they were caused by a strange mutation occurring spontaneously from time to time, or (3) they are some sort of recurrent congenital deformity. He favours the rare genetic mutation. He was unable to examine the cats and therefore couldn’t be conclusive.

The best expert on this topic is Sarah Hartwell and on her website she states that there are several possible causes of winged cats. Most commonly they are the result of extensive mats of fur which hang from the cats until the whole mat falls off. These masses hang from the cat’s sides. When the cat runs the “wings” flap around perhaps giving the impression that they are real. Cats with hyperthyroidism are more prone to matting.

She proposes another explanation which is “elastic skin”. This is an hereditary deformity of the skin. It causes “pendulous wing-like folds of skin on the cat’s back or shoulders”. The cat can’t control the “wings”. They do not flap. This condition is caused by a genetic mutation. The condition is called “feline cutaneous asthenia” (FCA). It means “weak skin”. The skin is easily torn, often with little or no bleeding. The flaps of skin may peel or slough off easily without bleeding. This is not malting fur but the skin falling away. Humans can suffer from “human cutaneous asthenia”. There are two other possibilities (1) taxidermy frauds or freakshow “grifts” and (2) supernumerary limbs – a form of conjoining limbs. These are non-functional growths which might resemble wings.

The Wikipedia author(s) also put forward some causes. The most common they state is matting in long-haired cats. The author of this section on the Wikipedia website of the causes of winged cats is written by Sarah Hartwell in my opinion and therefore there is no reason for me to repeat what I’ve stated above. It confirms her authority on this topic.

Apparently, there have been more than 138 reported sightings of animals claimed to be winged cats. There is an element of sensationalist tabloid journalism involved which muddies the waters.

The conclusion has to be that there are no genuine winged cats which is common sense and to be expected. There are several possible causes as stated, and the media has confused matters by exaggerating or faking the news. Also, people like to believe in these things as there is still an element of old Victorian voyeurism at play here. There is this continuing desire to look at freakshows and be astounded and astonished by strange creatures. These combination of factors promoted winged cats and the possibility that they were real.

1. Sichuan is a southwestern Chinese province that contains a stretch of Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze (Wikipedia).

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