Animals Named Cat That Aren’t Actually Cats

Caitlin Dempsey


A juvenile fisher cat on a log in a forest.

Despite their lack of any actual feline characteristics, certain animal species have “cat” included in their names.

From the fisher cat to the civet cat and the polecat, these creatures have nothing to do with our domesticated feline friends. It can be a source of confusion and curiosity, leading to the question of why some animals are named in this way.

In this article, we will explore some interesting and unexpected animals with “cat” in their names.


The bearcat (Arctictis binturong), also known as the binturong, is a large, arboreal mammal that is native to the dense tropical forests of Southeast Asia. Despite its name, the bearcat is not a bear nor a cat, but is instead a member of the Viverridae family, which also includes civets and genets.

The bearcat has a long, bushy tail, shaggy fur, and strong, sharp claws that help it climb trees. It has a distinctive face with large, round ears and a short snout, and a prehensile tail that can grasp branches to help with climbing. Bearcats have a broad diet that includes fruit, insects, small mammals, and birds.

A bearcat standing on a tree branch next to some ivy.
The bearcat (Arctictis binturong). Photo: © Natalia Sidorova/

Bearcats are generally solitary animals and are active at night. They are excellent climbers and spend most of their time in trees, where they build nests or rest on branches. They use a variety of vocalizations, including grunts, hisses, and snorts, to communicate with other bearcats.

Civet cat

The civet cat, also known as the civet, is a small, carnivorous mammal mostly found in tropical regions of Asia and Africa. Civet cat is actually a loose term that is used for over a dozen different species, mostly from the family Viverridae. 

Despite its name, the civet is not actually a cat but this grouping of animal gets its name from their cat-like faces but have a long, typically pointed muzzle that resembles an otter or a mongoose.

Civets have a distinctive appearance, with a long, slender body and short legs. They have a cat-like face with a pointed snout and sharp teeth, and a long, bushy tail. Their fur is typically brown or gray with black markings.

A nighttime shot of a civet cat with dark grey and black fur and stripping in the lower half of the body.
The African civet (Civettictis civetta) at night in Moremi Game Preserve, Botswana. Photo: © Martin Mecnarowski/

Civets are omnivorous and feed on a variety of foods, including small mammals, birds, insects, and fruits. They are also known for their ability to digest the pits of certain fruits, which they pass through their digestive system and excrete as a substance called civet coffee, which is highly valued for its unique flavor.

Civets are primarily nocturnal and are known for their excellent sense of smell and hearing. They are generally solitary animals and are more active during the wet season.

Unfortunately, some species of civets, such as the African civet and the binturong, are threatened by habitat loss and hunting. Civets are also sometimes hunted for their meat or for use in traditional medicines or perfumes. However, some species, such as the common palm civet, are more adaptable to human presence and can even be found in urban areas.

Fisher cat

The fisher cat (Martes pennanti), also known simply as the fisher, is a carnivorous mammal that belongs to the weasel family (Mustelidae).

Despite its name, it is not actually a cat and has no relationship to domesticated cats. Fisher cats also don’t fish — the name comes from their resemblance to the European polecat, sometimes known as the “fichet” in French, the earliest European settlers named them fishers.

Fisher cats are native to North America and can be found in the forests of Canada and the United States, particularly in the northeastern part of the continent. They are solitary animals and are mostly active at night, though they may also be active during the day.

A juvenile fisher cat on a log in a forest.
A juvenile fisher cat. Photo: © hkuchera/

Fisher cats are known for their hunting skills and are an effective predator in the forest ecosystem. They primarily feed on small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, but can also take down larger prey like porcupines and beavers. They have sharp claws and teeth, and are agile and fast, making them formidable hunters.

Fisher cats are also known for their distinctive vocalizations, which include screeches, growls, and hisses. They are generally not a threat to humans, but may attack if they feel threatened or cornered.

Fisher cats populations have been impacted by habitat loss and trapping.

Throughout much of their former range in northern California, Oregon, and Washington, fishers have vanished. In California, there are just two remaining native populations, one in the southern Sierra Nevada and one close to the California–Oregon boundary.


The polecat, also known as the European polecat (Mustela putorius), is a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) that is native to Europe. It is a medium-sized mammal with a long, slender body and a distinctive black and white fur pattern.

Polecats are more closely related to dogs than they are to cats.

Polecats are carnivorous and feed primarily on small mammals, such as rodents, rabbits, and hares. They are also known to eat birds, fish, and insects. They are active at night and have excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell, which they use to hunt their prey.

A European polecat looking off in the sun next to a rock and some grass.
Polecat (Mustela putorius). Photo: © chris2766/

Polecats are generally solitary animals, although they may occasionally come together in groups during the mating season. They are agile and can climb trees, swim well, and run fast, which helps them avoid predators and catch prey.

In the past, polecats were widely hunted for their fur, which was prized for its softness and durability. This, along with habitat loss and persecution by farmers due to their predation on poultry, led to a decline in their populations in many areas. However, conservation efforts and legal protection in some countries have helped the polecat populations recover in some areas.

It is worth noting that the term “polecat” is sometimes used to refer to the domesticated ferret, which is a close relative of the European polecat and is sometimes used for hunting rabbits and rodents. However, the two animals are distinct species and have different physical and behavioral characteristics.


Arboleda, E. R. (2018). Discrimination of civet coffee using near infrared spectroscopy and artificial neural network. Int. J. Adv. Comput. Res8(39), 324-334.

Blandford, P. R. S. (1987). Biology of the polecat Mustela putorius: a literature review. Mammal Review17(4), 155-198.

Fisher – Lassen volcanic National Park (U.S. National Park Service). (2021, February 19). (U.S. National Park Service).

Schwartz, M. K. (2015, May 20). The Fisher: Secret phantom of mature forests | Rocky Mountain research station. US Forest Service.

Zielinski, W. J., Kucera, T. E., & Barrett, R. H. (1995). Current distribution of the fisher, Martes pennanti, in California. California Fish and Game81(3), 104-112.


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Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.