Here are three images of winged cats. The best discussions about winged cat come from two sources (1) Dr Desmond Morris in his book Cat World and (2) Sarah Hartwell on her website messybeast.com. Sarah Hartwell provides a massively detailed discussion on the subject. Many thanks Sarah.
Dr Desmond Morris wrote his article on winged cats before or during 1996 and since then we’ve learnt to understand better what winged cats are about. One thing they’re not about is cats with genuine wings. These are not flying domestic cats and I think pretty well everyone on the planet, by now, realises that.
Desmond Morris refers to several examples of winged cats. I have picked up on two of them because they are illustrated on Sarah Hartwell’s website and I use the photographs on this page. I’m sure that Sarah won’t mind me doing it.
The first one I’d like to mention is a winged cat from Somerset, England dating from 1899. Dr Morris says that the cat was a tabby living in the village of Wivelscombe. He writes that the cat had “two fur-covered phalanges protruding from its back which flapped about when the cat ran”. The photograph of it appeared in the November 1899 issue of Strand magazine and caused a minor sensation.
The second example of a winged cat was said to have been exhibited in the 1930s at the Oxford Zoo (closed in 1939). I take this to be the illustration of a winged cat from Summertown, Oxford in 1933.
The most common reason for images of winged cats is that the cats have matted fur (see above). Sometimes the matts become so large and long that they can flap around on the body. Indeed not uncommonly there are cases of cat neglect and abuse featured on the Internet in which cats have been seen dragging around several pounds of matted fur behind them.
Besides matted fur and cat neglect due to not grooming a longhaired cat, other causes of winged cats are (1) supernumerary limbs due to a conjoined twin and (2) elastic skin due to a condition called Feline Cutaneous Asthenia – FCA. This is also referred to as ‘weak skin’ which affects people as well as cats (but extremely rarely). This information comes from Sarah Hartwell.
Dr Desmond Morris, who as mentioned wrote his piece on the subject before or in 1996, was somewhat perplexed by winged cats. His main suggestion was that the cause was a feline genetic mutation. An alternative was a recurrent congenital deformity. His third suggestion was that all of the winged cats written about were because of a widespread deception.
It appears that on all counts he was not quite correct but then he did not have the chance to inspect the cats which would surely have lead to an accurate explanation as he is a brilliant zoologist. Although news media tended to sensationalise the story of winged cats, making suggestions and exaggerating claims which put the idea into the minds of readers that these may indeed be cats with genuine wings. Some people are obsessed with freakshow animals which can lead to them believing what would normally be the unbelievable.