can sand cats be pets

As true wild cats, they are not adapted for living alongside humans. Occasionally people do attempt to keep them as pets; however, their respiratory tracts are specialized for extremely dry environments and are prone to illnesses (like sinus infections) outside of the deserts where they naturally live.

What are Sand Cats?

The sand cat (Felis margarita) bears a resemblance to the orange tabby, but it also has an abnormally large oval head. Their captivating eyes and two stripes on their front legs further indicate that they are not your typical cats. These tiny cats are native to the sand deserts of Southwest Asia and Northern Africa. They are labeled Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. These solitary and reclusive cats are uncommon for people to see in the wild and exist in low densities. Their populations may be threatened by habitat fragmentation.

Sand Cats as Pets: What’s it Like?

Right now, sand cats are incredibly uncommon in the exotic pet market. Aside from hybrid animals, servals are arguably the most well-known exotic cat species. Other popular species include lynxes, bobcats, and caracals. In contrast to those creatures, very few sand cats are kept in captivity, though some people have had the chance to own one. As of 2018, one vendor was asking $7000 per cat and higher for the animals. It was stated that these animals were raised on a breeding farm. In the past, some people have also brought in sand cats from other nations. Sadly, one owner of a sand cat lost their kitten due to what they believed to be an inbreeding deformity. This owner suggested that the cats behavior was reptilian. Another owner of a sand cat had better success keeping their pet alive and had a more positive opinion of their pet. It was characterized as having a “shy and very excitable domestic cat” personality and a “charming” temperament. Exotic pet species frequently exhibit behavioral variation, so you never know what you’re going to get.

It is currently impossible to provide a reliable impression of sand cats’ personalities as pets because they are extremely rare in the pet trade and even in zoos. Like any animal, the cat’s suitability as a pet will depend on a variety of factors. These variables include the animal’s upbringing and socialization, its genetic makeup, whether it was born in captivity, and the age at which it moves in with its owner.

Tambako the Jaguar (CC BY-ND 2.0) Via Flickr

Unfortunately, exotic cats are illegal in most states. Although there are smaller species of sand cats that are not more dangerous than domestic cats, most laws prohibit these animals due to the lethality of large cats. Sand cats fall under the category of wild cats. A few states that do not prohibit exotic cats (excluding certain native species) are Texas, Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida (provided a free Class 3 pet permit). If someone is serious about adopting an exotic cat, they should double check the regulations in their state, county, city, and any other governing body. These are not the only states where exotic cats are probably allowed.

Tambako the Jaguar (CC BY-ND 2.0) Via Flickr

Sand cats are somewhat challenging to maintain in captivity. Different from other exotic and domestic cats, these creatures may be sensitive to humidity levels. Originating from the arid regions of Africa and Asia, sand cats may be susceptible to respiratory infections in the majority of homes. To address this, it might be a good idea to keep the environment more dry by providing heating in a sealed enclosure.

Sand cat studies and other facts

This species is extremely difficult to study in the wild, thus there is a lot we don’t know about it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about it. Here are some sand cat facts:

  • Master of camouflage: Sand cats are almost undetectable to predators and prey because their fur color blends in perfectly with their desert environment.
  • Built-in “sand shoes”: Their wide, hairy feet spread their weight over the sand like snowshoes, minimizing footprints and protecting them from bitter cold.
  • Large ears that resemble radar dishes give sand cats extraordinary hearing that allows them to pick up even the smallest sounds made by prey that is hidden beneath the sand.
  • Experts in water conservation: These arid cats can survive for weeks at a time without drinking because they get most of their water from their prey.
  • Burrow dwellers: Sand cats frequently use other animals’ abandoned burrows as shelter, offering shade from the hot desert weather and a place to relax during the day.
  • Expertise in digging sand: They possess the ability to excavate tunnels to either pursue their prey or establish their own hiding places.
  • Nighttime temperatures in the desert cause sand cats to become more active, and they can roam up to five hours at a time. 6 miles (9 km) in search of food.
  • Feline communication: Despite being solitary animals, sand cats can communicate with one another through a range of vocalizations, facial expressions, and scent marking.
  • Climbing skills: Although they live on the ground, sand cats are adept climbers and have been seen ascending steep rock faces in pursuit of food.
  • A mysterious existence: Sand cats are among the most mysterious feline species because of their elusiveness and isolated habitats, which have made it difficult to study them in the wild.

Modern research is also uncovering new things about sand cats. For instance, a 2023 study found that sand cats venture far more than previously thought, and their range is greater than expected.

DNA studies also suggested that sand cats evolved as an individual species some 2-4 million years ago, making them a relatively new species. Observations have also found that the sand cat has a pretty unique way of moving around. They walk with their belly close to the ground and take occasional leaps. When they start running, however, they produce impressive bursts of 30-40 km (19-25 miles) per hour. That’s comparable to an Olympic runner’s sprint.

We still don’t know a lot about this fascinating and mysterious species. It should come as no surprise that researchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike are still enthralled with the sand cat. These tiny, desert-dwelling cats have made the most of the few resources available to them in the dry climate by adapting remarkably well to their harsh surroundings.

To guarantee the continued survival and well-being of this fascinating species, persistent research efforts by committed scientists and conservationists are crucial, despite their elusive nature and the difficulties associated with studying them in the wild. With enhanced comprehension of the distinct behaviors and ecological requirements of sand cats, cooperative efforts can be made to devise and execute efficacious conservation tactics.


Can you have sand cats as a pet?

Feline fans may be very disappointed to hear that a sand cat is not suited for domestic life. So no, you should not have a sand cat as a pet because it’s not the best environment for these animals and is likely against the law. According to Big Cat Rescue, 35 states have banned keeping big cats as pets.

Are sand cats nice to humans?

Sand Cat Facts They can go for weeks at a time without water, getting moisture from their prey instead. These cats are not endangered and live across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. They are not aggressive to humans and can be kept as pets, but require special care.

What is the lifespan of a sand cat in captivity?

Lifespan: Wild lifespan is unknown, but sand cats can live to 13 years in human care. Diet: Primarily small rodents, but also lizards, birds, snakes, and insects. Habitat: Dry, arid habitats in three distinct ranges: parts of the Sahara, the Arabian peninsula, and western Asia.

What do sand cats need to live?

Sand cats prefer a very dry, arid habitat with little vegetation, for which they are well adapted. They are sand-dwelling creatures, inhabiting dry plains and rocky valleys where conditions are extreme.