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Winged Cat

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Winged Cat

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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 shoulder 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 Thoreau: A 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 domestic cat.

  • 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 faster.
  • In 1899, 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 Oxford, 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, Wigtownshire, Scotland. 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 Attercliffe, Sheffield, England, was sold to a Blackpool museum of freaks.
  • During World War II, an overweight black-and-white cat in Ashford, Middlesex 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 northern Sweden. 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, Madrid 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 rabies.
  • 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 moved.
  • 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.

A 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.

Veterinary Reports

  • 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 without complications.
  • In 1974, a 4 year-old tom cat with "fragile skin", was taken to Cornell University’s New York 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 abnormal.
  • In 1975, an adult female cat examined by W.F. Butler of Bristol 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 back.
  • In 1977, Drs Donald F. Patterson and Ronald R. Minor of the University of 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 cats.

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.

For more information on Winged Cats, visit this Messy Beast information page: http://web.archive.org/web/20050223162447/www.messybeast.com/winged-cats.htm


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