Whiskers, purrs and long tails are what come to mind when we think of cats. So a bobbed-tail kitten might cause a degree of confusion and even a bit of alarm. However, this trait is relatively common and is even a hallmark of several championship level cat breeds.
Dominance and Its Price
The most famous bobbed-tail cat breed is the Manx. Though it's not the oldest, it's been recognized the longest by show cat organizations.
The Manx (longhaired versions are sometimes known as Cymrics) originated on the British Isle of Man. Its bobbed tail comes from a dominant gene -- a mutation from inbreeding among the small population of island cats.
Kittens may be born with a depression instead of a tail, a short tail or a normal long tail; however, only completely tail-less Manx are considered show quality.
Sadly, these tend to have health problems. Their lack of tail can leave the end of the spinal cord exposed, causing pain and injury if it comes into contact with a surface, or if the hind end is unsupported when the cat is held. Some also have bowel control issues from disrupted muscle and nerve connections.
A Common Recessive
Bobbed tails from a recessive gene are far more common than Manx-type tail-lessness and do not have associated health problems. In fact, recessive bobtails tend to be exceptionally healthy and hardy. These bobtails have developed into separate breeds independently in several areas of the world. Many of these are so-called "natural breeds" -- they arose as cats adapted to a natural environment, without any intentional breeding on the part of humans.
Natural bobtail breeds usually develop on islands. They can have short, corkscrew shaped or pom-pom shaped (rabbit-like) tails, but their tails are always shorter and have fewer vertebrae than long-tail breeds. Natural bobbed-tail cats have tails so unique they've been compared to human fingerprints, and they can often wag and move their tails to express emotions.
A Wild Side
Bobbed-tail kittens are sometimes the result of an indiscretion on the part of a house cat with a wild cat. The gentlemen in question are bobcats or lynx, both of which are the same genus as the domestic cat, which means that interbreeding is possible even though they are different species. These kittens tend to be larger than domestic kittens and may have behavior and socialization issues. Litters are usually only two babies.
The most famous natural bobbed-tail breed is the Japanese bobtail, which may have developed more than 1,000 years ago. There is also the Kurilian bobtail, from an archipelago between Russia and Japan, and the Mekong bobtail, as well as local populations of true-breeding bobbed-tail cats reported from throughout Asia.
The American bobtail is sometimes listed as a natural breed, but was developed purposely from bobtail kittens discovered by breeders. The same is true for the very wildcat-looking pixie bob breed. Initially, breeders of both claimed that their cats descended from bobcat hybrids, but changed their tune when cat associations refused to recognize wildcat hybrids. There are a few breeds (the American lynx breed group) that openly acknowledge hybrid descent, but these are not recognized by cat associations.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.