Winged cats are caused by one of three conditions. The most
common is longhaired cats having matted fur. Felted mats of
fur can form along the body and flanks if a longhaired cat is not
properly groomed. When the cat runs, the mats flap up and down giving
the impression of wings. These can be very uncomfortable for the cat and
can harbour dirt, feces and parasites. Extensive mats must be removed by
a veterinarian shaving them off.
The second most common cause of winged cats is a
skin condition called Feline cutaneous asthenia which is related to Ehler-Danlos Syndrome (elastic skin) in humans. The third condition is a
form of conjoining or extra limbs. These non-functional or poorly functional
extra limbs would be fur covered and might resemble wings.
There are more than 138 reported sightings of winged cats. There are 28
documented cases (with physical evidence) and at least 20 photographs and one
video. There is at least one stuffed winged cat, but this may be a nineteenth
century fake or "grift". An undated taxidermy specimen in poor condition can be
found in a museum in the Niagara Valley. It has bony structures near its
blades covered with flaps of skin. These might be extra limbs.
Historical Winged Cats
The earliest report of a winged cat is from Henry David
few years before I lived in the woods there was what was called a 'winged cat'
in one of the farm-houses in Lincoln nearest the pond, Mr. Gillian Baker's. When
I called to see her in June, 1842, she was gone a-hunting in the woods, as was
her wont ... but her mistress told me that she came into the neighborhood a
little more than a year before, in April, and was finally taken into their
house; that she was of a dark brownish-grey colour, with a white spot on her
throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a fox; that in the
winter the fur grew thick and flattened out along her sides, forming strips ten
or twelve inches long by two and a half wide, and under her chin like a muff,
the upper side loose, the under matted like felt, and in the spring these
appendages dropped off. They gave me a pair of her 'wings,' which I keep still.
There is no appearance of a membrane about them. Some thought it was part flying
squirrel or some other wild animal, which is not impossible, for, according to
naturalists, prolific hybrids have been produced by the union of the marten and the
In the 19th century, a winged cat at the centre of a custody dispute
with one party claiming him to be their cat, Thomas, and the other claiming
it to be their feline, Bessy.
In "Animal Fakes and Frauds" (1976), Peter Dance described a 19th
century winged cat that was preserved and offered for sale in the early
1960s. Its wings had grown when the cat was very young. It had been
exhibited during the 19th century by a circus owner, but when its original
owner demanded its return the cat mysteriously died. It was stuffed, but has
not been properly examined.
A "flying cat" was reported in
India in 1868. It was shot by Mr Alexander Gibson and the skin was exhibited
at a meeting of the Bombay Asiatic Society. Gibson believed it to be a cat,
but others claim it to be a bat or flying fox.
In August 1894, a cat with wings resembling those of a duckling was
being exhibited by Mr David Badcock of Reach,
Cambridgeshire, England. It was later stolen and turned up in Liverpool,
England, but had shed its wings.
In 1897 a
tortoiseshell cat with pheasant-like wings projecting from each side of
its 4th ribs was shot and killed in Matlock,
Derbyshire. The story was reported in the High Peak News of Saturday 26
June 1897. Witnesses claimed the cat used its wings outstretched to help run
London's Strand Magazine reported a ‘winged cat’ or kitten belonging to
a woman living in Wiveliscombe, Somerset,
England. Cat show judge HC Brooke, also described it in the weekly magazine
"Cat Gossip" in 1927: This cat had growing from its back two appendages
which reminded the observer irresistibly of the wings of a chicken before
the adult feathers appear. These appendages were not flabby, but apparently
gristly, about six or eight inches long, and place in exactly the position
assumed by the wings of a bird in the act of taking flight. They did not
make their appearance until the kitten was several weeks old.
Unfortunately someone attempted to cut off the wings with fatal consequences
for the cat.
In 1933 or 1934, a winged black and white cat was captured in
England by Mrs Hughes Griffiths. She claimed it used its 6 inch wings to aid
in jumping long distances. It was exhibited for a while at Oxford Zoo.
In 1936, a winged cat was found on a farm near Portpatrick,
It was a white longhair and the wings were flaps 6 in (15 cm) long and 3 in
(7.5 cm) wide on its back. They flapped up and down when the cat ran. This
is consistent with badly matted fur.
In 1939, "Sally," a black and white cat with a 24 inch wingspan from
Sheffield, England, was sold to a Blackpool
museum of freaks.
During World War II, an overweight black-and-white cat in Ashford,
became a local attraction because of the wings which sprouted from its
shoulders. This also seems a case of matted fur.
In June 1949, a 20 lb cat with a 23 inch wingspan was shot dead in
Professor Rendahl of the State Museum of Natural History said the wings were
a deformity of the skin which happened to take the shape of wings.
In 1950, a tortoiseshell cat called Sandy with "sizeable" wings was
exhibited at a carnival in Sutton,
Nottinghamshire. Sandy had not previously grown wings so this seems a
case of matted fur.
In either 1950 or 1959,
papers reported Juan Priego's grey Angora cat, "Angolina," had grown a pair
of large fluffy wings.
In May 1959, a winged Persian cat was caught near Pinesville,
West Virginia. The finder, Douglas Shelton, named it Thomas, but after
the cat made headlines Mrs Charles Hicks claimed it was her lost cat, Mitzi.
When the cat was produced in court, her wings had fallen off and turned out
to be extensive mats of fur.
In 1966, a winged cat from Alfred,
Ontario, Canada was
killed and was examined by scientists at Kemptville Agricultural School. The
wings were nothing more than matted fur. The cat was also suffering from
In the October/November 1967 issue of the
Cats Protection League's periodical "The Cat", Cecily Waddon reported
matted Persian whose felted fur resembled wings and flapped when the cat
In 1970, J A Sandford of Wallingford,
Connecticut saw a winged cat in a neighbour's garden. The
orange-and-white longhaired cat was positively waddling due to large
wing-like growths hanging from its midsection. The owner claimed it was
how the cat shed its fur in summer. The fur was matted into rectangular pads
about 5 inches long by 4 inches wide. Some claim it to be a case of Feline
Cutaneous Asthenia, but it is a textbook case of matted fur.
In 1975 the
Manchester Evening News published a photograph of a winged cat which had
lived in Banister Walton & Co builder's yard at Trafford Park, Manchester,
England during the 1960s. It had a pair of 11 inch long fluffy wings
projecting from its back. The skin of its tail was flattened into a broad
flap. Workmen reported that the cat could raise its wings above its body,
suggesting the deformity contained muscle as well as skin. This sometimes
happens with Cutaneous Asthenia.
In 1986 a winged cat was reported in
Anglesey, Britain, and later shed its wings suggesting they were mats of
fur. In April 1995, Martin Millner spotted a fluffy winged tabby in
Backbarrow, Cumbria, England. In 1998, a black winged cat was to be found in
Northwood, Middlesex. Its wings were 2-3 inches back from the shoulder blades, 8 inches long, 4
inches wide, 1 inch thick and flapped as the cat ran.
In 2004, at Bukreyevk (near Kursk), Central Russia, a winged ginger stray tomcat named Vaska was drowned by superstitious
villagers according to the local Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
Feline Cutaneous Asthenia
Cutaneous asthenia ("weak skin") is a skin deformity characterised by
abnormal elasticity and stretching of the skin. Pendulous wing-like folds of
skin form on the cat's back, shoulders and haunches. Even stroking the cat can
causes the skin to stretch and tear. The flaps may include muscle fibers
allowing some movement, but the cat cannot flap them in a bird-like manner
though the wings may bounce up and down when the cat moves.
Cutaneous asthenia is caused by a collagen defect. Collagen is the protein
that binds the cells of the dermis
together. It is also called dermatoproxy and hereditary skin fragility
or cutis elastica ("elastic skin") and is found in humans (Ehlers-Danlos
Syndrome or EDS), dogs, mink, horses, cattle and sheep. In cattle and sheep it
is called dermatosparaxis ("torn skin"). In horses a similar condition is
called collagen dysplasia. The skin is also abnormally fragile. The skin
flaps peel or slough off very easily, often without causing bleeding. This
explains why cats with the condition suddenly "molt" their wings.
recessive autosomal (non-sex linked) form of feline cutaneous asthenia has
been identified in Siamese cats and related breeds. In the homozygous state it
is apparently lethal.
In 1970, Peter Pitchie, a vet in Kent, England,
attempted to spay a 5 month old female tabby cat. When he injected the
anesthetic, the cat's skin immediately split. When he shaved the cat's flank
for the spaying incision the skin split again. Further splits occurred when
he tried to sew up the first two. He eventually sutured all the splits using
a round-bodied needle and despite their dramatic formation they healed
In 1974, a 4 year-old tom cat with "fragile skin", was taken to Cornell
State Veterinary College Small Animal Clinic for investigation. Dr DV Scott
noted that its skin was exceptionally thin and velvety in texture. It was
hyperextensible (extremely stretchy) and had a criss-cross network of fine
white scars from previously healed tears. When fur was clipped from a
foreleg to gain a blood sample, the skin peeled away. Peeling was found to
occur whenever the slightest pressure was applied anywhere to the cat’s
skin. Investigation showed that the collagen fibres in the cat's skin were
In 1975, an adult female cat examined by W.F. Butler of
University’s Anatomy Department was found to have very fragile skin on its
body. It had abnormally low levels of collagen in the skin of its lower
In 1977, Drs Donald F. Patterson and Ronald R. Minor of the University
Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine studied a young
short-haired gray tomcat which had severely lacerated its skin through
normal scratching. Its skin was found to be delicate and easily torn. It was
also abnormally elastic and the skin of the back could be extended to a
distance above the backbone equal to about 22% of the cat's entire body
length. They wrote a paper on the subject and included photos of the cat
with its skin gently stretched into "wings". Because of the difficulties in
caring for a cat with an incurable skin fragility problem, the donated it to
the veterinary school. It was mated to 4 long-haired female cats and several
of the offspring inherited cutaneous asthenia.
An undated veterinary report describes a 6 month old non-pedigree tomcat
which presented with two skin wounds on the right hand side of its body. The
skin in the affected areas, and the skin on its back, was hyperextensible,
smooth and easily torn by just a small amount of pressure. Microscopic
examination revealed abnormally low levels of connective tissue.
Cats with the condition cannot be grasped by the scruff as this may tear
away. The syndrome is also linked to slipping joints. Dietary supplements may be
needed to promote skin healing and regrowth. Antibiotics may be needed to combat
infection when skin has split or torn.
Winged Cats in Popular Culture
A Kircher engraving from 1667 depicted a demonic creature with a cat's head,
bat's wings and human torso. Cats and bats were both associated with the devil
(in Christianity) and demons were sometimes depicted as bat-winged cats.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Forgotten Realms role-play game and related
fantasy novels depicted shy winged cat-owl hybrids as the pets of wizards.
In the videogame Final Fantasy V, many random encounter enemies resemble
Winged cat angel figurines are popular among cat owners in the USA.
Winged kitten figurines called "flittens" are produced by Greenwich Workshop
in the USA. These show cute kittens with butterflies' wings. Bradford Editions
produce "Almost Purr-fect Angels" winged cat figurines.
"Catwings," a series of children's picture books by
Ursula K. Le Guin, features several winged cats.