How This Trope Varies by Species and Breed
"Big Cats" Pantherinae
Probably the biggest exception to this trope. Lions are often portrayed as heroic because of the whole King of Beasts thing in the Western world (Europe first and the Americas later on). The males mane contributes greatly to the whole King of Beasts thing. Lions have portrayed positively even when domestic cats (Felis silvestris) in Europe have been pegged as demonic familiars to witches and burned to the stakes. However, as there have been plenty of tyrannical kings throughout history and the due to the lions King of Beasts portrayal in the Western world, the two tropes have been put together at times. This often takes the form of a good king lion and an evil king lion who is a pretender to the throne.
Have a similar reputation to lions in many Asian cultures. In Western works, tigers are portrayed as the Unpleasant Animal Counterpart to lions— if a lion and a tiger are on opposing sides, the lion will usually be the hero and the tiger will usually be the villain. There is a certain amusing irony at play here, though - a tiger's roar, considered to be much more 'vicious' compared to the lion's deep, booming roar, is often used as a Stock Sound Effect to represent all big cats, including lions!
Often portrayed as the Unpleasant Animal Counterpart to a cheetah.
"Small Cats" Felinae
CheetahsRarely portrayed as villainous, most likely because they do not come off as particularly "threatening" compared to other large cats.
Cougars/PumasThey are portrayed as Super-Persistent Predator that attacks you unprovoked in stories featuring them, which is not entirely Truth in Television. note
In European and American culture, often depicted as sinister or at least morally ambiguous, especially when contrasted with dogs and mice. In medieval Europe, cats as a whole were assumed to be demonic, and were thus persecuted. In more recent years, this portrayal tends to vary somewhat. In general, what moral pegging a cat character is given is often dependent on its breed or its fur color.Persians, Siamese cats, Sphinxes, and other stereotypically "fancy" breeds are the ones most likely to be depicted as villainous, often being shown as evil even by cat standards. Black cats also tend to be portrayed as evil in fiction, due to the superstition about them bringing bad luck. By contrast, mixed-breed cats, especially tabbies, are more likely to be good or at least neutral.Kittens are also more likely to be good than adult cats, since they are seen as cute and harmless and therefore innocent. Even works that otherwise subscribe to this trope (i.e. Tom and Jerry) will often make an exception for kittens.