A reader sent me an interesting photo a couple of weeks ago. The photo features what looks to be a large, dark and very strange looking cat of some kind. As you will see, the cat is very unusual looking and the reader was hoping for some help in identifying exactly what kind of cat was roaming about near her home.
The photo was actually snapped by the reader’s father at his place of employment, a plant near Mount Pleasant, Texas. As if often the case with these types of photos, there is little in the picture to provide scale so determining the size of the cat with any real accuracy is impossible. Having said that, the cat appears to me to be larger than an average house cat and very long-legged. No tail is visible in the photo, though it is difficult to say absolutely if it is not present or, possibly, tucked between the back legs of the animal. Stranger still, the cat seems to be almost completely hairless. While I have seen multiple animals, ranging from coyotes and foxes to raccoons suffering from hair loss due to mange; I have never observed a wild cat in that condition.
Cats can, and do, get mange. Mange is caused by parasites and cats can suffer from several different types. By far the most common form of feline mange is called Feline scabies (Notoedric mange) but cats can also get Sarcoptic mange, Cheyletiella mange, Otodectic mange (ear mites) and Demodectic mange. Symptoms vary, depending on the type of mange contracted, but some that are common almost across the board are weight loss, brown marks on the nose and ears, scabbed patches on and near the head and neck, patchy hair loss, very thin fur and scabs and “crusty patches” on the body. It is rare to see a domestic cat with near total hair loss as owners recognize the symptoms fairly early on and get their animal to a vet for treatment. A wild cat would be a different story, however, as there would be no treatment for an animal suffering with this condition. Certainly, mange has been a real problem among the wild canids of Texas over the last ten years or so, resulting in a host of “chupacabra” sightings. I, myself, have seen a coyote, completely devoid of hair, in the Sam Houston National Forest. Since several types of mange can affect felids as well as canids, it is only natural to think it could be a growing problem for our wild cats as well. The reason that it has not been observed, in my opinion, is that cats are so much more elusive than canids. They simply are not seen very often.
Now, back to the photo. Based on all of the above, my best guess is that the picture shows a common bobcat (Lynx rufus) suffering from a terrible case of mange. The long-legged appearance of the cat and the seeming lack of a long tail all but cement this animal’s identity in my mind. The lack of fur certainly give the bobcat an odd and alien appearance, but I believe a bobcat is exactly what we are looking at in this photo.
It just goes to show that nature always has a surprise or two for us. It also points out the need to always keep a camera handy. You just never know what you might come across out there.