The Andean Mountain Cat is a small wildcat. It is one of only two felids for which no subspecies have been classically described (the Bay Cat is the other). Fewer than 2500 individuals are thought to exist. This cat is one of about two dozen small wildcat species found around the world. In comparison to their larger cousins which may have millions of dollars dedicated to conservation efforts, conservation efforts exist on budgets in the thousands for small wild felids like the Andean mountain cat.
While it is about the size of a domestic cat, it appears larger because of its long tail and thick fur. Like snow leopards, the coat of an Andean mountain cat is silvery-grey in color, with a white underside and numerous dark spots and stripes. There are black rings around the tail and limbs.
Body length ranges from 57 to 64 centimeters (22 to 25 in), tail length is 41 to 48 cm (16 to 19 in), shoulder height is about 36 cm (14 in) and body weight is 5.5 kilograms (12 lb).
The tail is long, thick and blunt without tapering. It is approximately 2⁄3 of a cat's body length, and has 6–9, wide dark rings. The front paws have dark narrow stripes that do not form complete rings. The nose is black or very dark in coloration. Distinct dark lines run along the sides of the eyes and the tips of the ears are rounded.
There is a difference between the coloration in juvenile and mature Andean cats. The markings on the coat are darker on juveniles, especially those on the sides of the body. The markings are smaller and more numerous. This can cause confusion and mistaken identification with the pampas cat.
The Andean mountain cat's preferred high-elevation montane habitat is fragmented by deep valleys, and its distribution is likely to be further localized by the patchy nature of colonies of its preferred prey, mountain viscachas (Lagidium spp).
While the Andean mountain cat's main prey is likely the mountain viscacha, it is also probable that mountain chinchillas were previously important prey of the Andean mountain cat before their populations were drastically reduced due to hunting for the fur trade.