The bobtail is a natural mutation in cats
Like the tailless cat (Manx and Cymric), a bobtail is also a mutation, but not at all related to the Manx mutation. Although it has been noted in various parts of the world, the bobtail mutation is widespread in Asia and parts of Russia.
In 1783, William Marsden, Fellow of the Royal Society and late Secretary to the President and Council of Fort Marlborough, wrote in The History of Sumatra of the Malay Cat: “All their tails imperfect and knobbed at the end.” In The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Darwin wrote, “throughout an immense area, namely, the Malayan Archipelago, Siam, Pequan, and Burmah, all the cats have truncated tails about half the proper length, often with a sort of knob at the end.” Another writer and traveler, Mivart, had corroborated the statement regarding the Malay cat, of which he said the tail “is only half the ordinary length, and often contorted into a sort of knot, so that it cannot be straightened.” Joseph Train had also mentioned the Malayan cats, comparing them with the Manx: “The Manks rumpy resembles somewhat in appearance the cats said by Sir Stamford Raffles to be peculiar to the Malayan Archipelago.”
A kink in the tail
Through the ages many more scholars described seeing bobtail cats in Malaysia and the area today called Singapore. The bobtail trait ranges from a normal-length tail with a distinct kink, through to a short twisted pom-pom and just about anything between those two extremes. The degree of kink is variable and the vertebrae are affected so that the tail cannot be straightened. It is often possible to feel a bony knot inside the kink where vertebrae have fused. Many of the early Siamese cats had kinked full-length tails and this is still seen in Siamese-type cats in Thailand today. Colourpoint cats were kept by Thai royalty and legend has it that a princess entrusted her rings to a palace cat while she bathed. She threaded them on the cat’s tail and the cat knotted her tail so the rings did not fall off. The kink therefore marks where she knotted her tail. Unlike the Manx mutation, there appear to be no detrimental effects.
A normal cat’s tail has 21 to 23 vertebrae, while tails ranging between 18 and 28 vertebrae are not uncommon. The normal feline tail has an average length of 25cm, but tails also range between 20 and 30cm, with a few exceptional specimens having been recorded at as much as 35cm.
Tales about tails
The Malaysian folklore includes many tales about Asian bobtailed cats. One such story states that if a kitten’s tail is cut off and buried under the doorstep, the cat will not stray from home. In another it is told that monks cut off the tails of cats so that the cats do not go to heaven. A cat with a stumpy tail is not perfect and imperfect creatures cannot go to heaven. Why on earth refuse cats a heavenly hereafter?
What happened to the Oriental Bobtail?
During the late 1980s the Cat Association of Britain finalised the standard for a breed called the ‘Oriental Bobtail’. The breed standard states that it is a cat of oriental (or foreign) conformation and coat, but with a bobbed tail. Unfortunately this breed seems to have disappeared from the scene.
One Bobtail that is alive and well is the Japanese Bobtail, a breed known around the globe. Found in both shorthair and semi-longhair varieties, Japanese Bobtails have appeared in ancient Japanese art dating back to the 6th century. They were probably taken to Japan from China, where curly tailed cats were fairly well-known. Once the pet of Japanese nobles, it eventually spread to the general population but was not considered anything more than a common street cat. It attracted the interest of American breeders in 1968 and was soon recognised as a breed
Bobtails have been found in Singapuras, probably tracing back to part-tailed foundation cats, as there are numerous Bobtails in Singapore. In Russia, where the bobtail trait is also widespread, several new bobtailed breeds are currently under development. The Karel Bobtail (Karellian) is a shorthaired/semi-longhaired breed, while the Kuril Bobtail (Curilsk) is a smallish, compact and cobby cat with a short (5-13 cm) ‘bob’ or ‘pompon’ tail. The Thai-Bob (Thai Bobtail) is a medium-sized Russian breed resembling the Traditional style (apple- or round-head) Siamese in all non-mitted colourpoint varieties. The Toy-Bob or Toy Bobtail is a Russian miniature breed, no larger than a normal three to four-month-old kitten. They are well-muscled little cats, with short straight or curved tails (about 3-7cm). Malaysia also has bobtail cats, similar to the Japanese Bobtail, but no formal breeds. In the USA, the American Bobtail was recognised in the 1960s when a bobtailed cat with a dominant gene mutation was discovered in Arizona. Several other unrecognised breeds and combinations are known around the world, some of which are frowned upon by the international cat fancy. An example is the so-called Munchbob, a combination of the Munchkin and Bobtail, producing a cat with short legs and a short tail.
Text: Johann Theron
Photography: Robynrg, Inna G, Ekaterina Cherkashina, Utekhina Anna, dien and Nataliya Kuznetsova