BOBTAILED AND CURLY TAILED CATS
The normal tail has 21 - 23 vertebrae on average with the normal range being 18 - 28 vertebrae. It is on average 25 cm (10 inches) long, but can range from 20 cm (8 inches) to 30 cm (12 inches) with a few exceptional specimens having 35 cm (14 inch) tails
There are various mutations affecting the tail and in 1940 American zoologist Ida Mellen wrote of oddities in cats' tails including kinked, bobbed, curled and even double tails. Curly tailed cats were known in China in the 12th Century (probably bobtails) and ringtail cats were known in the USA sometime prior to 1940. In 1868, Darwin wrote in The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication "Thropughout an immense area, namely the Malayan archipelago, Siam, Pegu, and Burmah, all the cats have truncated tails about half the proper length, often with a sort of knot at the end."
Tailless and cats have occurred periodically through random mutation. They have been reported in Bosnia, Burma, China, Crimea, Java, Malaya, Denmark, Nova Scotia and Thailand though some of these will have been bobtails. Bobtail cats occur throughout Asia and into Russia, with more recent mutations occurring in the USA. In a 1949 study, Searle found no kinked tails in London cats. He studied Singapore's cats in 1959 and eventually concluded that stubby-tailed cats were common in Singapore, but in general was rare in Europe except for the Manx breed where the tail was often completely absent. The Manx and the Asian bobtails are due to different mutations. Research indicates that the “tailless gene” has 4 alleles i.e. there are four different versions of the same gene. The Manx breed is based on one of those mutations, and that mutation can have side effects such as spina bifida. The PixieBob is based on a different mutation of the same gene; that mutation has a different appearance from the Manx mutation. The American Bobtail, which occurred spontaneously in a different geographic area, may be based on the same, or a different mutation of the same gene. The Kurilian Bobtail is due to an incomplete dominant gene. However, the similarly named Karelian’s bobbed tail is due to a recessive gene, as is the Japanese Bobtail.
The bobtailed mutation is not related to the Manx mutation. It has occurred independently in various geographic areas. It is widespread in Asia and parts of Russia. An Abyssinian Bobtail has been reported in non-pedigree Abyssinian-type cats (location not specified). A Spanish bobtail has also been reported. Cats with knotted, shortened, kinked and pom-pom tails are relatively common in Tenerife and the Canary Islands, the mutation apparently having become established due to the isolation of the gene pool (tourists frequently mistake the trait for breakage). Similar mutation have occurred spontaneously in the USA. There are also purported Bobcat hybrids that have inherited the short tail from the wild parent. According to leading feline geneticists, the genes governing tail conformation are located on a mutation hotspot.
According to an earlir anatomist, Sir Richard Owen, and to Professor H N Moseley, the kink in the Siamese's tail (a mild form of the bobtailed trait) was the relic of a prehensile tail, possibly inherited from civet ancestors (though neither civets nor genets had prehensile tails)! Others asserted that the kink was due to intercrossing the Siamese with the "common strain" however Lilian J Veley wrote in 1926 that this could be discounted since there was no other cat known in Siam, "common" or otherwise that had ever possessed an original kink, making it a folly to try to eradicate the trait. Presumably Ms Veley had not encountered the numerous bobtailed and kink-tailed street cats in Thailand. In "Our Cats" of May 1901 there was information on the Siamese's tail from interviews with the King of Siam and his Private Secretary. While the cats in the Royal Palace apparently had no kinks in their tails, occasionally a "tramp cat of Malay origin" strayed in and the resultant crossbred cats had kinked tails.
In 1783, Willian 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. […] The Madagascar cat is said to have a twisted tail." Another writer and traveller, 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 […] Its contortion is due to deformity of the bones of the tail". Joseph Train had also mentioned th Malayan cats, comparing them with the Manx: "The Manks rumpy resembles some what in appearance the cats said by Sir Stamford Raffles to be peculiar to the Malayan Archipelago." Sir Stamford Raffles' name is closely associated with Singapore.
HC Brooke reported seeing three spotted tabby Malay cats in Holland in the 1880s and some very similar specimens at the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris around the same time. "The tails of these [Paris] cats, about three or four inches long, were tightly screwed, or at least the tail formed three complete revolutions. The 'screw' tail, as also the spotted type of colouration, appear to be becoming very rare." In 1889, Mr O Gould had apparently taken four Siamese to Ceylon and soon Ceylon was "overspread" with their progeny, known as "Gould's Cats" and many had kinked tails in spite of there being no Malay cats for them to interbreed with. Lilian J Veley wondered if the Malay cat's kink had come from the Siamese rather than the other way round (she considered the Siamese to be the older type). She also implicated the Korat "a blue variant of the Siamese, to which our 'blue-pointed' freaks are due."
Jean Bungartz described several bobtailed cats in his 1896 book "Die Hauskatze, ihre Rassen und Varietäten" (Housecats, Their Races and Varieties) in " Illustriertes Katzenbuch" (An Illustrated Book of Cats). He noted that according to Brehm Martens, on the Sunda Isles and in Japan there were cats with different lengths of tail. Kessel had told Weinland that there were short-tailed cats on Sumatra. Bungartz added that the cats of Cochinchina had only a short, curled tail and the Madagascar cat had a turned, knotted tail.
R Shelford, former Curator of the Sarawak Museum wrote in his book "A Naturalist in Borneo" "It may be mentioned here that the domestic cat of the Malays is quite a distinct variety [...] it is a very small tabby with large ears and a body and hind-legs so long that it lacks all grace. The tail is either an absurd twisted knot or else very short and terminating in a knob; this knotting of the tail is caused by a natural dislocation of the vertebrae so that they join onto each other at all sorts of angles." The length of hind-leg was a trait shared by the Manx, leading some cat-fanciers to believe that the two were related.
Miss Lowndes, daughter of the novelist Mrs Belloc Lowndes described a Malay kitten that she had acquired. It had recently arrived, along with its mother, from the Straits Settlements. "It has a triple-kinked tail. It is, unfortunately, not of the spotted kind, but these seem to be very rare nowadays." More information was provided by Mr Boden Kloss, Director of the Raffles Museum and Library at Singapore "The tail which distinguishes these cats may be clubbed or kinked, very short or of medium length, and the animals themselves of many colours - plain, piebald, or patterned." He also wrote "A fair proportion of the cats of Singapore seen in native villages are short-tailed animals with a kinked tail. There would [be], I should say, three or four kinks. In colour they may be tabby, or boldly black and white. As a point of interest it may be noted that Felis planiceps [Flat-Headed Cat], one of the wild species of the peninsula, tends to resemble the domestic Malay cat in the matter of tail." The cat writer HC Brooke, who had an interest in the Malay cat, wrote that F planiceps and the domestic cat were unlikely to be inter-fertile.
Mr H O Forbes had exhibited a bobtailed Malay cat to the Liverpool Biological Society and shown the cause of the knotting to be the development of wedge-shaped cartilages between the tail vertebrae. Forbes attempted to link the Malay bobtails to the bobtailed cats found in part of Portugal. In the 1920s, Forbes wrote "My remarks referred to the interest I had in exhibiting the creature's skin from the occurrence in the East of what I had noted as extremely common in the cats of Portugal when I lived there about 1876. The kink, I was told was then believed to have become hereditary, from a custom long practised by the Portuguese of pinching or breaking the tails of the new-born kittens, and it would be of special interest if it could be established that the kink in the Malayan cats' tails had been communicated to them through those imported by the early Portuguese into the East. If I can trust my memory the tail of this cat, though short and kinked had the full number of vertebrae, some of them reduced and wedge shaped." Others disputed his theory as the trait had been reported in the Malay cat since at least 1783 and no amount of tail-pinching would cause the trait to become hereditary!
Kuantan, Malaysia. Feral male with perfect pom-pom tail.
From Lake Chini, Kuantan area, local domestic male with bobtail and extra toes (not visible). His offspring ranged from bobtail, kinked tail to two-thirds normal length tail.
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. The bobtail mutation is widespread throughout Asia, extending as far as Russia. It is well know that early Siamese cats had kinked full-length tails and this is still seen in Siamese-type cats in Thailand, but has been bred out of pedigree Siamese cats. Colourpointed 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 its tail so the rings did not fall off. The kink therefore marks where it knotted its tail. Unlike the Manx mutation, there appear to be no detrimental effects.
The Madura or Buso cats are a closed colony of bobtailed blue cats with green eyes which live on the tiny and isolated island of Ra'as off the coast of the Indonesian island of Madura (it is a 6 hour ferry ride from Madura to Ra'as). There are reckoned to be less than 100 of these cats and they are in danger of extinction, in part due to local beliefs that prevent the exportation of fertile cats. The Madura breed and its decline have been documented by Dr Ronny Rachman Noor (Faculty of Animal Science, Bogor Agricultural Universtity). The cats are known to the islanders as "Kucing Buso" (grey cat) and the true Madura cat is blue self, suggesting they may have come from Korat stock taken to the island on trading ships. There is some mythology surrounding the breed, just as there was about the "Royal Siamese". The true Madura cat, originating from Ra'as, may only be kept by high-ranking people such as religious leaders, high rank government officials and informal leaders. Anyone attempting to smuggle a cat from Ra'as will find their boat sinking. The cats' posture and the triangular facial shape are similar to the wild cat and leopard. The cats are large with a medium length tail with a visible bend or kink at the end. The fur is relatively thick. The true Madura cat is solid grey known as "buso" often with lavender nose leather. A few so-called Madura cats on Madura can be found with the brown sepia, mink and colourpoint patterns as well as blue bicolours due to matings with local cats. A brown mink "Madura cat" exhibited at a cat show in Surabaya was of Japanese Bobtail type. The declining numbers appear due to people trying to export the cat out of the island and to a high mortality rate among breeding cats, both on Ra'as and on Madura, indicating either a lethal gene or a high degree of inbreeding. Cats brought out from Ra'as are castrated due a local belief that the fertile Buso cat may only be kept at the Ra'as island (castration in itself may pose dangers of infection). To preserve this cat as a distinct type and avoid extinction, breeders would need to establish breeding lines which would mean obtaining unneutered cats. The restriction on who may own a true Madura cat also limits ownership and controlled breeding.
There are various tales associated with the Asian bobtailed cats. The Siamese tail kink, for example, was supposedly due to a princess threading her rings on the cats' tails for safekeeping and the loyal cats kinked their tails to keep the rings in place. Siamese were also believed to be royal palace cats. Likewise Madura cats may only be owned by people of high status. A Malaysia belief is that if a kittens tail is cut off and buried under the doorstep, the cat will not stray from home. Another is that monks cut the tails off 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. I examined a tabby cat brought back from Japan whose owner claimed that its tail had been cut off by monks during kittenhood. I found evidence of knots and kinks in the remnant of tail which told me it was a natural bobtail. Also, the tail ended quite normally in a black tip. This was a perfectly normal genetic bobtail, though the owner preferred to think she had rescued an abused cat.
In 1988, the Cat Association of Britain finalised the standard for the "Oriental Bobtail"; a cat of oriental (or foreign) conformation and coat, but with a bobbed tail. Since then, little or nothing has been heard of this breed.
The most famous bobtailed breed is the Japanese Bobtail found in both shorthair and semi-longhair varieties. This is due to a recessive gene. It has appeared in ancient Japanese art and has evidently existed back as far as the 6th century. It is claimed that it was introduced into Japan from China at that time, which corresponds to Ida Mellen's account of curly tailed cats in China. Once the pet of Japanese nobles, it eventually spread to the general population but was not considered anything more than a common moggy. It attracted the interest of American breeders in 1968 and was recognised in the US in 1978. The longhaired version had always existed (longhair is due to a recessive gene) but was not given breed status until 1991.
In a study comparing the genetics of several breeds (Lipinski MJ, et al., The ascent of cat breeds: genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations, Genomics (2007), the Japanese Bobtail was found to be more closely related to Western cats than to Asian cats, though the breed showed some Asian genetic influence. Cats are not indigenous to Japan, but reached the islands along Asian trade routes hundreds of years ago. However, the Japanese Bobtail was imported into the USA in 1968 and developed as a breed in the USA. As a result, their gene pool was largely influenced by European/American cats rather than by Asian cats. It would have been interesting to compare the Japanese Bobtail to the indigenous Russian Kuril and Karel bobtails which (visually) are of Western European, rather than Asian, type. The Japanese Bobtail (the version developed in the USA) is distinguished by its bobtail and high-cheekboned triangular face. Close-lying, silky short hair. The tail is 10-13 cm in length if fully extended, but due to the kinked structure it appears only 4-7 cm long. The tail hair often grows straight out in all directions, giving it a rabbit-like fluff-ball or pom-pom appearance. In Japan it is found in all colours including agouti (Abyssinian pattern) and colourpoint though these are not accepted in the Western fancy.
In 2001 a Singapura Bobtail was reported in a breeding programme. The bobtail kitten appeared in a Singapura litter, tracing back to a part-tailed foundation cat. Inbreeding can cause recessive genes to reappear. The kitten initially appeared to be tailless, but proved to have a stumpy tail similar to that of the Japanese Bobtail. This is not surprising since there are numerous bobtails in Singapore.
Street cats from Singapore and Johor Bahru (the town at Malaysian end of causeway to Singapore) showing the typical bobbed or kinked tail of local felines.
The bobtail trait is also widespread in parts of Russia and following the break with communism, a cat fancy developed in Russia and several bobtailed breeds are under development. The Kurilian’s bobbed tail is due to an incomplete dominant gene, while the similarly named Karelian’s bobbed tail is a recessive gene. The Karel Bobtail (Karellian) is a shorthaired/semi-longhaired breed which occurs naturally along the coasts and islands of Lake Ladoga. The mutation is claimed to be identical to the Japanese Bobtail. These are elegant, svelte cats with lifted rumps and short pompom tails (4-13 cm). The Kuril Bobtail (Curilsk) is smallish, compact and cobby with a short (5-13 cm) "bob" or "pompon" tail . It has shorthair and semi-longhair forms. The Mekong Bobtail (formerly the Thai-Bob or Thai Bobtail) is a medium-sized Russian breed resembling the Traditional style (Apple- or Round-head) Siamese in all non-mitted colorpoint varieties. The tail is short (3-11 cm), bobbed and its outline is smoothed by the coat. The Toy-Bob or Toy Bobtail (1986) is a Russian miniature breed, no larger than a normal 3-4 month kitten. Toybobs have short, solid bodies and excellent muscles, with short straight or curved tail-remnant (3-7 cm), straight or corkscrewed, covered with fur in a "pompon" or "brush" effect. All of these were recognised in the 1990s, but apart from the Toy-Bob have existed for far longer.
Confusingly, there is another variety known as a Thai Bobtail. It is a naturally occurring bobtailed variety of Oriental/Burmese type. These are mostly, but not exclusively, colourpointed and are found in Thailand and Malaysia. The Malay Cat reported in the Malaysian peninsula in 1881 and found throughout Malaysia is similar to Japanese Bobtail, but has not been adopted as a formal breed.
The second officially recognised bobtail breed is the American Bobtail bred from a foundation cat discovered in the 1960s in Arizona. This is a dominant gene mutation. It occurs in shorthair and semi-longhair varieties and has a powder puff tail up to one third normal length. It was reputed to have bobcat blood (based on purely circumstantial evidence), but it may be a Manx-type mutation since some lines produce a range of tailless, rumpy, stumpy, longy and kink-tail cats. To avoid mixing up different mutations, the American Bobtail is never bred with either the Manx or the Japanese Bobtail. This is the official American Bobtail breed, however the trait has evidently occurred independently several times. The Sno-Bob is a colour variety of American Bobtail. It apparently resembles the Alaskan Bobcat being pale in colour with darker ear tips and darker bob-tail. As early as In 1940, American zoologist Ida Mellen had written "The American Domestic Bobtail Cat of the New England and Middle Atlantic States (called the Rabbit Cat) traces its ancestry to the Manx cat, but the distribution of tailless cats is wide, covering the Crimea and other parts of Russia, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Malayan Archipelago, Burma and Siam." However nothing more was said about the purported American Domestic Bobtail.
There have also been claims of an American Bobtail cat breed which resulted from bobcat/domestic cat crosses in the late 1970s. The breeder indicated that bobcats will mate with female Siamese cats because the scent of a Siamese female in season resembles that of a sexually receptive female bobcat. Bobcats can and do mate with domestic cats and there are anecdotal reports of offspring (all pre-dating DNA testing), but none of the modern botailed breeds contains bobcat genes. The Si-Bob (Si-Bobtail) is not a formal breed. It is the colloquial name for colourpointed cats of Japanese Bobtail or American Bobtail type. These are not recognised as part of the main breeds and their breeding is not actively encouraged, but they are attractive crossbreds not unlike the Thai Bobtails. Si-Bobtails occur naturally in Japan.
The PixieBob (1995) was, and sometimes still is, reputed to be derived from natural bobcat/domestic hybrids and to have inherited its tail from the bobcat. It is a polydactyl (extra-toed) breed derived from "Legend Cats" and in some respects it resembles a bobcat. The presence of bobcat genes has not been confirmed though the cat certainly resembles the wild species in several respects. On the one hand there is a persistent tale of "Legend Cats" - cats that are the result of natural cross-breeding between the two species. On the other hand there are cat fancies that refuse to recognise hybrid breeds. This leaves a few PixieBob enthusiasts both promoting the Bobcat influence (some claiming 25% bobcat blood) and simultaneously playing it down! Apparently genetic markers for the Bobcat do not show up in modern PixieBobs and they are consideered to be a mutation of the domestic cat.
There is an unconfirmed version known as the Munch-Bob which is a Munchkin/PixieBob cross to produce a short-legged bobtail. In theory, any of the bobtailed or tailless breeds could be used to produce bobtailed/tailless Munchkins. The Jungle Bob is a mix of F chaus (Jungle Cat) and PixieBob producing Jungle Cat type cat with a bobbed tail. There are also alleged Bengal/Bobcat hybrids in existence.
Not to be confused with the PixieBob is the Poly-Bob (1998) which is linked to the infamous Twisty Cats (cats bred for detrimental deformities). Poly-Bobs are not a recognised breed. They are bobtailed polydactyls which carry the harmful form of polydactyly which also causes gross deformities of the foreleg and front paws, including vestigial, absent or deformed leg bones and flipper-like forelimbs. No attempt has yet been made to eliminate these harmful effects and they represent the darker side of cat breeding (See Polydactyl Cats). Occasional tailless cats suggest a Manx-type mutation in which case the breeding line contains semi-lethal genes as well as genes for gross deformity.
The current trend to developing hybrid domestic breeds by crossing domestic cats to wild species may have contributed the bobtailed trait to one or two American cat breeds. In the American Bobtail the evidence is anecdotal and based purely on the cat's appearance, in the PixieBob it has been disoroved. In the "Lynx" breed group (American Lynx, Desert Lynx, Highland Lynx, Alpine Lynx and Mohave Bob), the claims of bobcat hybridization were disproved by genetic testing. This group of bobtails was developed during the 1990s. The American Lynx is a bobtailed spotted shorthair originally claimed to be derived from bobcat/domestic crosses. In advertisements, the Desert Lynx was claimed to be a Manx/bobcat hybrid or an Abyssinian/bobcat hybrid. The adverts also claimed 12.5% bobcat blood (i.e. bobcat within last 3 generations). The tail types range from absent, through rumpy-riser to hock length which indicates Manx ancestry or a mix of Manx and American Bobtail-type. The Desert Lynx comes in shorthaired and semi-longhaired varieties. The Highland Lynx was claimed to be a hybrid of Jungle cat hybrids and bobcats, while the Alpine Lynx is a white version of the Highland Lynx. The Mohave Bob breed is a rexed Desert Lynx developed by crossing Desert Lynx with Selkirk Rex to introduced the rexed coat type. Under REFR rules, Mohave Bobs, Highland Lynx, Desert Lynx, and Alpine Lynx may be bred together, with offspring registered according to their appearance. Solid white offspring with either straight or curled coats and either straight or curled ears are considered Alpine Lynx. Non-white kittens with rexed coats are considered Mohave Bobs. Non-white kittens with straight coats and straight ears are considered Desert Lynx. Non-white kittens with straight coats and curled ears are considered Highland Lynx. In spite of their bobcatty appearance, DNA testing of cats within the Desert Lynx grouping has not found bobcat markers and these cats are considered to be wholly domestic cats by other registries.
As well as the main groupings of bobtailed cats, the trait crops up elsewhere through random mutation. In the 1980s a "Spanish Bobtail" was reported, though the exact location in Spain was not given. In 2004 I received information on a localised strain of bobtailed cats in one part of Spain. According to Russell Meyers, a bobtail mutation has become fixed in cats around the Spanish villages of La Drova and Barx in the mountains in the Gandia area near Valencia. There he encountered two kittens with deformed tails. one, a male called Stitch, had a half-length tail that bent back upon itself. The other, Milo, had a knobbly bit at the end of her tail. The trait is known in the area as "Barx tail", Barx being a neighbouring village. Meyers came across a large number of cats in the area with similar tails. The most likely scenario is that a tomcat carrying the mutation fathered most of the kittens during one or more breeding seasons. He was not necessarily the cat in whom the mutation originally occurred, but by fathering the majority of kittens his genes - including the mutation - would have become widespread and the trait would have shown up in later generations through inbreeding.
In 2006, TICA proposed to clamp down on certain breeding trends including new bobtailed breeds created by crossing existing breeds together. Their Genetics Committee report stated: "The Committee proposes that TICA does not accept any proposed breeds for Registration Only status that do not exhibit novel mutations. The current mutations would be reserved for currently recognized breeds exclusively. This would end the seemingly endless applications for "munchkinized" new breeds, and then deter the inevitable introduction of "rexed", "Bob-tailed" and Poly-ed" everything else."
A bobtail breed in development is the Tennessee Bobtail. A description of its origins and type is provided by Patty Shane. Scattered throughout the Southern USA are a variety of bobtailed cats. The more common type is the Manx-type with tails ranging from rumpy to full and bodies ranging from the cobbier high-rumped Manx-type to a more svelte build as a result of random breeding. Some have ear tufts. The less common type is the Oriental (Japanese) Bobtail type. These lose the distinctive bobbed tails when out-crossed to other cats, although the kittens may have kinks or curves in the tail. The bobtail shows up when they are bred to each other. They are long, tall cats with more Oriental features and conformation and level backs in spite of their long back legs. When bred together, these create a long, tall cat, with some individuals having a broader, heavier frame and others leaning towards one or other of the parental types. The goal is a long, tall 6lb - 15 lb cat with the high, angled hind-legs of the Oriental type. The head should be apple or pear shaped, the ears straight and moderate sized (with tufts permitted) and the eyes almond (preferred) or lemon shaped in any colour. Tails range from tailless to full tailed and included bobs and single or multiple kinks or curves. A natural bobtail with kink(s) and/or curve(s) is preferred over tailless or long-tailed cats (the standard prohibits the docking of long tailed kittens). They come in any fur-length, colour and pattern with tabby/spotted preferred. Hairless, curly or wirehair is not allowed.
Two Tennessee Bobtails - Siam and Miss Hissy. Although tabby/spotted is preferred, the colourpoint pattern also occurs. Photos copyright Patty Shane.
At present, foundation Tennessee Bobtails are being registered with REFR. These are random-bred natural bobtail cats that meet the desired type. Cats meeting the Tennessee Bobtail type and belonging to a known bobtailed breed are being used to help establish bloodlines. Where a Manx-type cat is used, it is outcrossed to another type of bobtail to prevent Manx syndrome (skeletal and neural tube defects) as a result of Manx-Manx matings. I don't yet know how this breed will be visibly distinct from the American Bobtail.
In 2007, Vasilis Lekkas from Athens (who is deeply involved in the recently formed Greek network for the preservation of domestic livestock including cats) reported One complete bobtail and four cases of shortened tails, about half the normal size, where the tail ends were blunt and thick rather than tapering as in regular cats.
In 2011 a colony in Canada was report to have a short-tailed gene not passed on as a dominant. Some lines of Bengal have had issues with both spina bifida and with spontaneously producing bobtailed/corkscrew-tailed kittens accompanied by other defects including still-born kittens with intestines outside the body. Less affected cats tended to have a lump or bump at the base of the tail. Whether this defect is akin to recessive gene found in the colony in Canada, or to an incomplete dominant,had not been established.
CURLY TAILED CATS
Curly tailed cats have occurred throughout history and around the world though only recently has any interest been shown in perpetuating the trait in the form of the Ringtailed Sing-a-Ling (which became the American Ringtail in 2004). Many of the 1990s reports of curious tails confuse curly tails with bobtails. Some suggested that the cats are "longtailed bobtails" i.e. have a kinked section of tail close to the body, combined with a full-length tail with normal vertebrae beyond the kinked section; the kink would lift the tail upwards and the normal section would hang over the back or flank. In "Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication" Charles Darwin wrote: " I have seen a cat which always carried its tail flat on its back when pleased."
Although judges examining the early American Ringtails had reported the trait to be very rare, this is not strictly correct. Judges see pedigree cats and pedigree cats are bred for uniformity and adherence to a standard. This means rogue genes have been eliminated generations ago. The genes for curly tails would have been weeded out of pedigree lines. In addition, a curly tail would be a deviation from the standard (and might be considered a sign of genetic impurity in the breed) hence the cats would not be entered in shows, except possibly in household pet classes. It is somewhat more common in random-bred cats due to the mixed bag of genes they inherit. The trait in the American Ringtail breed was found to have variable expression and appeared to be due to two pairs of genes. One pair governed the curling of the tail and this was found to be recessive. The other pair was for the tail carriage up over the back, and this acted as an incomplete dominant. It's important to note that the cats' tails had the full normal range of motion and there were no knots, fused vertebrae or other deformities, nor was there any discomfort related to curled tails. The trait was described as purely neurological; the cats liked carrying their tails up and over when they were happy. By 2016, for various reasons, the breeding had stopped.
The trait is found with greater frequency in random breeding cats but until recently was seen as no more than a charming oddity. I was surprised to be told that the trait is so rare as I had already encountered several curly tailed cats and kittens (nicknamed pigtailed kittens) in Chelmsford, Essex, England. Their curly tails were quite distinct from the kink found in bobtails. In the Jan/Feb 1998 issue of the Cats Protection League magazine "The Cat" there is an account of further curly tailed kittens from Basildon, a town only about 13 miles from Chelmsford:- "At the time of writing, our latest little problems are four nine-week old kittens who have curly tails. Our vet has advised us that their tails are deformed and not growing properly and will have to be removed when the kittens are a little bit older. Our vets have said that once their tails are removed, they will be able to live perfectly normal lives, although they will look like little Manx cats." The report would have been written in November/December 1997 to make the Jan/Feb 1998 edition. The accompanying photo showed the kittens sitting on a cushion; their curled tails were not visible. A follow up report in a later issue merely noted that the kittens' tails had been removed and the kittens had found homes. The only other recorded case of a whole litter of curly tailed kittens was a case reported to Sue Manley (who is establishing a curly tailed breed) and was a litter born to a barn cat in Oregon.
Ida Mellen's 1940 discourse on oddities in cats included a picture of a curly tailed cat from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. This ginger and white cat's long tail clearly forms a tight spiral. Phyllis Lauder, writing in 1981 about Shorthaired cats, noted that an ACA directive stressed that the tail shall not be carried over the back: "This last is not a common fault, but it certainly looks strange when it occurs; there is a Siamese neutered pet who carries his tail as would a Pekinese dog, and the effect is to make people laugh!" Several curly tailed cats have been reported in random-bred cats in Britain in the 1990s and early 2000s. A curly-tailed tabby and white male cat was reported in Perthshire, Scotland in 1986. The degree of curl ranges from loose through to a tight corkscrew. In one case, the tail curled at the base and for the rest of its length lay flat along the spine.
In the 1980's, Katrina Lee of Washington, DC, vacationed on the island of Guadeloupe . In a small restaurant on the lower island she saw about half a dozen various colored cats with corkscrew tails. The tails were not looped over, but stuck out from the body like a normal cat's tail while looking like they'd been wrapped around something to make them spiral! In Britain, one curly-tailed cat has achieved fame with South Ribble Pet Cat Club. Raffles is a white semi-longhair born in June 1998 and homed via a cat shelter in Oldham. When sitting, his tail forms a curl behind him. Another British curly tail is Sprocket found at Spaghetti Junction (Gravelly Hill motorway interchange in the Midlands). She was taken to Erdington Cat Rescue and it seemed that some prospective adopters didn't want her because she had a curly tail and it was perceived as a deformity or health problem.
Since the breeding programme for the American Ringtail began, reports of curly tailed cats have come in from around the world, indicating that it is not as rare as previously claimed and that there might be several different genes involved. It is now believed to be a polygenic trait i.e. several genes interact to dictate the type of curl and the degree of curling. Though the trait seems to be polygenic, some curly tailed males pass the trait onto more than 50% of the offspring while females seem to pass it on to a lesser degree. This suggests sex-linkage. There might be several different gene mutations producing a visually similar effect.
Unlike the bobtail where the vertebrae are fused into permanent kink and motion is limited, curly tailed cats have mobile tails and no fusion of vertebrae. The trait is hereditary, as a result of several interacting genes which govern the type and degree of curl, and is not a birth defect as once thought. Generally, the tail curls up and over in an arc or full circle, coming to lie against one or other flank as the cat walks. Owners of curly-tailed cats are often intrigued as to whether similar cats are "left-handed" (the tail tip on the left flank) or "right-handed". Sue Manley, breeder of American Ringtails (formerly Ringtailed Sing-a-Lings) produced another unusual tail alongside the normal ringtails. She described it as "baboon tail". The cat holds it curled up in a compete ring underneath him while he stalks around or hunts his toys. He then brings it up over his back when he is petted.
One peculiar curly tail was seen in a cat brought to a cat shelter in Chelmsford, Essex, England in 1999 or 2000. This was a black female cat whose tail curled up over her back and then lay flat along her spine. It gave her the appearance of a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog. The tail was mobile, but returned to that position when she was at rest. Over the years several "pig-tailed" kittens have turned up in the area, either as spontaneous mutations or due to genes in local feral colonies. The occurrence of several curly-tailed cats and pig-tailed kittens around the Chelmsford and Basildon areas in a six year time frame suggests a curly-tail hotspot in that part of Essex. This is most likely due to inbreeding among unneutered, free-roaming randombred cats.
Between 2000 and 2002 there were intermittent reports of curly-tailed cats and also of people seeking curly-tailed cats as companions for, to replace, an earlier curly-tailed cat. Most reports came from the USA (sadly from unidentified locations). These included a grey tabby female with a curly tail, and a grey shorthair female with a tail that curled over to rest on her back. The latter cat's tail was described as spring-loaded, quickly returning to its curled position if the tail is straightened by hand during petting. This led to a suggestion that the trait was associated with grey cats.
A red tabby male from Missouri was reported to have a cute pigtail generally held curled up and over his back in a large perfect loop. His littermates had normal tails. His tail sometimes unwound to lie flat on his back or was held in a more conventional unwound posture during play. As the cat aged, the tail was held curled more often, suggesting a gradual loss of flexibility. The owner stressed that this caused the cat no discomfort. A cream tabby female developed her curly tail relatively late in life. She apparently had a near normal tail until she reached 8 or 9 months old, after which it became progressively more curled, forming an up-and-over curl with the tip resting on her left flank. This again suggested a loss of flexibility as the cat aged.
The majority of curly-tailed cats are random-bred cats since purebred cats have necessarily lost a degree of genetic diversity in order to produce consistent conformation. In 1997/98 a curly-tailed Turkish Van was reported. A Singapura with an unusual tail was reported in 2002. The tail was described as very flexible and he could curl it round. It is not like American Ringtails, as it does not curl as much, nor does it curl up and over. It is held low and curled in a loop at his side. An American Keuda with a similar tail ("Curlietail") was reported at around the same time. She double curled the tail when she sat down, but at 5 months old she does not curl it as much. Again, it would appear that flexibility is lost as the cat matures. Since the establishment of a breeding programme, it seems that curly tails of varying degrees are more frequent that initially suspected. What was once seen as a fault now has a serious following. Curled tails have also turned up in Russian Blues, Siamese/Orientals, Ocicats, Persians, Ragdolls, Scottish Fold, Devon Rex and Bengals (interestingly, several of those breeds have Siamese blood in their ancestry). Some Sphynx cats have the habit of curling their tail into a flat spiral when resting.
The photos above, very clearly showing the curly tail trait, are of Barbara Clark's 4 year old curly-tailed cat "Bunzy". His brother has a normal straight tail. Bunzy and his brother were adopted from a cat shelter in Utah, USA at 8 weeks old so nothing is known of their family history. Bunzy's tail clearly loops over to rest on his left flank with the tail tip pointing outwards. A gallery of curly-tailed cats sent in by visitors to Messybeast can be seen at Curly Tailed Cats (a separate page has been created to improve loading times).
It should be noted that historical reports of the "White Ringtail" cat refer to the Turkish Van with its ringed or banded tail, not to a race of curly tailed cats. Some early mentions of curly tailed cats will have referred to the bobtailed cats common in parts of Asia. Also, very obese cats may hold their tails in a curled tail position for the simple fact that rolls of fat at the base of the tail prevent it from reaching any point below horizontal.