CABBITS - A HISTORY OF THE MYTH
Where Does the Cabbit Myth Come From?
The classic version of the cabbit myth goes something like thus: Anyone who owns rabbits will know that they are incredibly cute, but not exactly exciting or affectionate and their housetraining can leave much to be desired. A company in America has developed a hybrid animal which, they claim, combines the best qualities of both the rabbit and the cat: cute, affectionate, active and very, very clean. Male rabbits are famed for their willingness to attempt sex with any female animal of approximately the same size, regardless of whether it is a rabbit or not. By coincidence, cats and rabbits share the same number of chromosomes and a similar gestation period. In addition, female cats will happily raise the young of other species alongside their own kittens. All of these factors have combined to help animal breeders develop a brand new pet. Called a "racat" (although some breeders are pushing for the more attractive term of "cabbit") the animal can be ordered from almost any large pet store but may take some time to arrive in stock due to the almost legendary laid-back natures of both the cat and the rabbit. The Spanish version of the myth calls the creatures gatonejos (gat = cat, conejos = rabbits)
We've only recently started to understand genetics. Before scientists starting working out how genes are inherited and how they affect us, there were dozens of superstitions. For example, if a baby was born with a hare-lip (a birth-defect), superstition said it was because the mother had been startled by a rabbit or hare while she was pregnant. Likewise, when people saw a tailless cat with longer than average back legs, they believed that one of its parents was a rabbit. They didn't have any other way to explain these things, so they invented explanations which were plausible at the time.
The First Written Accounts of the Cat-Rabbit Myth
1712: John Morton, in "The Natural History of Northamptonshire" (1712) wrote: “That Two Brute Animals of different Species do sometimes join in Copulation and that a Mongrel or spurious Beast partaking of the Nature of both the Parents, is begot betwixt them, every body must own, who knows any thing of the Generation of the Mule; but then it is to be observed, that this happens only between Animals of Kinds near of Kin to each other, as, e. gr., the Horse and the Ass, between whom the Mule is engendered. For this Reason I suspected the Story rife in almost every bodies Mouth about Two or Three Years ago, that at the Cross-Keys Inn in Northhampton, they had a Creature in the Fore-part of it a Cat, in the Hinder-part a Rabbet, that came of a She Cat, which had coupled with a Buck-Rabbet at a neighbouring House. The Rabbet and Cat do indeed agree in this, that they both are multifidous [many-toed, as opposed to hoofed]; but in other Respects, especially in the Shape of the Head, in the Fashion and Number of their Teeth, in their Manner of Living and Temper, do so much differ, that ‘tis scarce to be imagined there should ever be any such Intermixture. But however, that I might satisfy my self more fully in the Matter, I went to view this so much talk‘d-of Monster, which to me after all appear‘d to be only a common Cat with a bobb‘d Tail, and somewhat more bushy than ordinary, and with blunter Claws! Things that may easily be accounted for. And it had the same way of squatting down upon its Tail, that Rabbets have; which no doubt it was taught. The Vulgar may still, if they please, believe that Relation; but I would not have it impose upon Persons of better understanding.” (Morton, The Natural History of Northamptonshire, 1712, pp. 445-446.)
In 1754, in "History of the Royal Society of London", Thomas Birch (p 393), Secretary to the Royal Society, wrote that in 1664, “Sir Robert Moray related that he had heard from Dr. Hinton of a copulation of a male rabbit and a female cat, which produced monsters whose foreparts were like a cat and the hinder parts like a rabbit, and that those monsters had reproduced more complicated monsters." This information was 3rd hand.
Back in the mid-1800s, the superficial similarity between the Manx cat and the rabbit inspired writer Joseph Train of Castle Douglas, Galloway to include the cabbit myth in his book "An Historical and Statistical Account of the Isle of Man" (1845). He stated that Manx cats were truly the product of matings between female cats and buck rabbits. His book included a somewhat grotesque engraving of a Manx cat, distorted to look like a cat-rabbit hybrid. We probably have Joseph Train to blame for the popularity of the cabbit myth which persists in spite of modern science. In his book, Joseph Train wrote:
"My observations on the structure and habits of the specimen in my possession, leave little doubt on my mind of its being a mule, or crosses between the female cat and the buck rabbit. In August, 1837, I procured a female rumpy kitten, direct from the Island. Both in its appearance and habits it differs much from the common house cat: the head is smaller in proportion, and the body is short ; a fud (Scut?)or brush like that of a rabbit, about an inch in length, extending from the lower vertebra, is the only indication it has of a tail. The hind legs are considerably longer than those of the common cat, and, in comparison with the fore legs, bear a marked similarity in proportion to those of the rabbit. Like this animal too, when about to fight, it springs from the ground and strikes with its fore and hind feet at the same time. The common cat strikes only with its fore paws, standing on its hind legs. The rumpy discharges its urine in a standing posture, like a rabbit, and can be carried by the ears apparently without pain. Like every species of the feline, it is carnivorous and fond of fish, and is an implacable enemy to rats and mice. My opinion, as to the origin of the rumpy, has been strengthened by a coincident circumstance connected with this district. A few years ago, John Cunningham, Esq., of Hensol, in the stewardry of Kirkcudbright, stocked a piece of waste land on his estate with rabbits, which multiplied rapidly. In the immediate neighbourhood of this warren rumpy cats are now plentiful, although previously altogether unknown in the locality. Not a doubt seems to exist as to the nature of their origin. I am afraid the known facilities which exist in the Isle of Man, for giving effect to this opinion as to the origin of the rumpy, may go far to dissipate the cherished belief of the Islanders, in its being a distinct genus. At the same time I am far from wishing my statements to be understood as settling the question. My opportunities of observation have induced this general opinion of their origin, but, as it is possible many local objections may be taken to its reception, I would willingly avail myself of any authenticated communication on this head, before the final publication of my work. I have no wish, apart from the discovery of truth, to deprive the Island of this, or any of its peculiarities."
In 1882, Francis (Frank) Trevelyan Buckland wrote that all purported cat-rabbit hybrids were “Manx cats with birth defects” - "To Mr. [Abraham Dee] Bartlett [Superintendent of the London Zoo], are brought sometimes supposed hybrids between a cat and a rabbit. Our friend says a cat with a short tail will not prove the argument. He wants a rabbit with a long tail."
In her 1903 book "The Book of the Cat", Frances Simpson alluded to Joseph Train's hybrid and wrote "A lady friend of mine, who was brought up in the Isle of Man, has told me that she always understood that Manx cats came from a cross with a rabbit, but if this supposition is correct it seems too strange to be true that cats and rabbits should only form matrimonial alliance in the little island off our coast! It would appear more probably, therefore, that a foreign breed of cat was brought to the island". Victorian breeders frequently described the Manx cat as "rabbity" in appearance and gait, or as having a soft "rabbity" coat, which added to the myth!
In his book “Just Cats” (1957), French cat-fancier Fernand Mery wrote “Then there is that other scientific fantasy according to which the Manx cat is descended from an astounding match between a female cat and a rabbit.”
The Myth Continues
Some folk are still convinced that there really is such a creature which is a cross between a cat and a rabbit. The front half looks just like a normal cat, but the hind end looks like that of a rabbit with a high rump, long back legs and either no tail or a little stumpy tail. The animal hops like a rabbit. Another cabbit with a stumpy tail was spotted in 1917 in Texas.
An account of a supposed Rabbit-Cat called "Swamp Angel" was published in an American cat care book of 1936. Swamp Angel was found by artist Charles Perry Weimer during a hunting trip along the margins of the impenetrable Great Swamp. Mr Weimer found a nest of kittens, one of which was coal-black and tailless. He took the tailless one home to hand-rear. Swamp Angel puzzled Chatham people due to his long, limber hind legs and his trick of standing erect on them, his lack of a tail, and his soft, thick fur. Many who saw him were reminded of the black jack rabbits found in the Great Swamp. Newspapers printed stories and pictures of him, and he became quite a celebrity. He did not miaow like a cat, but he had a musical purr. He had claws on his forefeet but none on his hind feet and could not climb. Swamp Angel had a rounder head, a blunter nose, and a more amiable gaze than most bobtail cats known at that time (Malay cats), but cat writers of the time identified this alleged hybrid as nothing more exotic than a nice bobtailed cat.
Another woman wrote during the early 1930s "No scientist could convince me that there is no such animal. I know I could swear to one. Twenty-two years ago, at Winthrop Rifle Range on the Potomac River, I saw an animal that had the general appearance of a cat but many of the characteristics of the rabbit. Its front legs were so short that it ambled rather than walked, and it would sit up any old time on its queer little bunny tail. Its fur was shorter and softer than a cat's, its jaw was not shaped like a cat's, and it made a sound quite unlike a miew. No-one who saw it had any doubt that its mother had met a rabbit in the woods."
In the Culver Citizen of August 22, 1934, an article by Samuel E. Perkins III (formerly president of the Indiana Audubon Society) described three strange kittens born to a cat who liked to go adventuring in the fields behind the Morgan County farmhouse where she lived. "One would guess that she had been wooed there by a gentleman cottontail rabbit. Three of the kittens had rabbit tails. I felt the tail bone of one, a tawny male, and it had three vertebrae, each one-fourth of an inch long. It curved upward, hidden in a ball of fur. The kitten's back was arched like a rabbit's, and he used his hind legs as a rabbit does, hopping toward his saucer of milk. I suggested a Manx father, but no one had ever seen or heard of a Manx cat anywhere thereabouts. And in the Manx cat there is no tail at all, and no ball of fur such as these kittens had." Perkins, for all his knowledge of nature, was unaware that the Manx trait ranges from taillessness through varying degrees of short tail to fully tailed. Films and snapshots were taken of Perkins' kittens. He wrote to Dr HE Anthony, curator of mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, about them and a queer kangaroo-like cat he had seen in Indianapolis. Dr Anthony discounted the hybrid theory: "So far as we are aware no such animal could exist. It is possible that your specimens are of the peculiar types of cat which appear unexpectedly, and are well known to students of genetics, though puzzling to the layman." In addition, Clyde E Keeler, of Harvard University, explained that "rabbit cats" were cats with bobbed tails due to exostoses (bony distortions) of the vertebral column. "These distortions [...] characterize many Siamese cats, the Manx cats, and the bob-tail which is so often erroneously called rabbit-cat. In inbred stocks a particular grade of exostoses will become characteristic of the strain."
In 1938: "A Cabbit? We are indebted this week to a charming lady secretary for the story of a natural phenomenon which, we venture to assert, may yet make the name of Three Rivers [Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canada] and Cape Madeline resound throughout the world. It seems that a lady resident of the cape has a cat which, not long ago, added to the feline population in a big way. Amongst the number of her progeny was one animal whose front section is reported to be catlike in every respect though its rear portion is pure rabbit. Moreover, this strange animal does not miaouw like a real cat (though it purrs) and it has seven toes on each foot. It shows a fondness for hay as an article of diet and has a fuzzy rabbit-like tail which indicates that in this or preceding generations one of its ancestors contracted a mésalliance with an enterprising jackrabbit. This column intends to pursue its investigations further. In the meanwhile we suggest that the animal should be called a “cabbit” with “buncat” as an alternative. It all sounds very intriguing and if we can get pictures and data we may yet be able to produce a local rival to the quints. " (St. Maurice Valley Chronicle, January 20th, 1938.)
In 1947: "Animal is Cat or Rabbit; All Depends on the Line of Vision. West Palm Beach, Fla., Aug. 16 — Stewart Morgan has a cat—at least it’s a cat when viewed from the front, but take a look at from the rear, and it’s a rabbit. Morgan says the animal, promptly named “Cabbit,” is jet black, has the head, shoulders and forelegs of a cat, but just below the shoulder joint the spinal column does a squads left and—presto—the cat becomes a rabbit. The hind legs are like those of a rabbit and operate kangeroo-fashion. Even the fur, said Morgan, is only cat fur about halfway, and the rest of the body covered with fur like that of a rabbit. The tail is nothing but a boneless tuft of black fur. Neighbors suggested that the creature was nothing but a manx cat, but encyclopedias while acknowledging the similarity don't say a word about the hindquarters hopping around like a rabbit. The “cabbit” has a normal feline appetite. He eats meat and drinks milk, but ignores such rabbit delicacies as lettuce and carrots. The fact, he might pass off as a cat, if he'd stop the kangaroo-jumping with his back feet. As for its ancestral origin—Morgan said he didn't know. It was just a stray, he explained. " This appeared in multiple US newspapers via AP, August 1947.
In the 1950s in Ermelo, Transvaal, South Africa, zoologist Dr Maurice Burton became interested in an unusual rabbit-like cat. He learned from Prof J W Groenwald that it was in fact a Siamese-Manx cross bred by H E le Tendresse of Arcadia, Pretoria and sold to a Mr D Patterson in Ermelo. It seems that Dr Burton was unfamiliar with Manx cats.
In 1953: "CABBIT — Mrs. Norm Weiler of St. Petersburg, Fla., has a new pet, but she’s not sure what it is. The animal has the head and shoulders of a cat, and the body of a rabbit, while its voice is half growl, half meow. Mrs. Weiler, who adopted the creature when it wandered into her yard recently, calls her new pet “Cabbit.” She says it hates fish, loves cabbage and roast veal." (Multiple US papers including The Times-News - May 22nd 1953) The photo very clearly shows a cat with radial hypoplasia (now know as RH cats or "Twisty" cats.).
In 1977, Val Chapman found a curiously formed cat in New Mexico and exhibited it in Los Angeles. Its hindquarters resembled those and Chapman claimed that the "cabbit" was the result of breeding a cat with a rabbit. Los Angeles zoologists said this was plainly impossible. The cat appeared to have a deformed pelvis forcing its legs out and back. Spinal and pelvic deformities are sometimes seen in Manx cats (and in Cymrics, which are Manx Longhairs). According to Wanda Wayne, in 1977 she lived in Farmington, New Mexico and Chapman at the local shopping mall mall who had a cabbit on display. Wanda claims this was half rabbit and half cat and not a defect, but a cross-breed that had shown up on the owner's property outside Farmington. Wanda believed it was true because she had both cats and rabbits. The alleged cabbit was full-grown with soft, white fur (like a rabbit's fur, although many cat breeds have fur with the texture indistinguishable from rabbit fur), long hind legs, rabbit-like tail, cat-like head, pink eyes and it didn't meow. The pink eyes mark it out as an albino which is uncommon in a cat. This owner apparently later appeared on the Johnny Carson show in 1977/78 with the alleged cabbit. Had this been a genuine crossbreed its publicity would not have been restricted to a chat show - it would have been hot scientific news (1977 Cabbit newspaper Cutting). The description is that of a pink-eyed albino cat, either Manx-type or bobtailed. Evidently the botailed conformation became established in the region - the American Bobtail breed was developed from a cat discovered in neighbouring Arizona. A similar white "cabbit" was shown on a Discovery channel pet programme in 2008, and was revealed to be a young white Manx.
Just 2 months later, Marian Pitcher, of Greenfield, Indiana also believed she had a cabbit - the product of a cat-rabbit mating. Zoo officials laughed when she told them of her cabbit purring at one at end and hopping at the other. In contrast to the opinion of his colleagues, Dr David Osgood, Professor of Vertebrate Anatomy at Butler University, Indianapolis, declared that it would not be impossible for a cat and rabbit to produce offspring, but said that it was "almost beyond comprehension for a biologist to imagine that it could happen." More recent genetic knowledge has shown it to be impossible for viable offspring to result from a cat-rabbit liaison.
With more owners and their Manx-type or Bobtail-type cats jumping on the cabbit bandwagon, cabbits appeared in the 1977 spoof talk show "Fernwood Tonight" aka "Fernwood 2Nite" (set in Fernwood, Ohio). This aired during the summer of 1977, and had a second season as "America 2-Night" (set in Alta Coma, California). The show satirized Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, and other big names of American 1970's Talk TV. The 1977 Fernwood Tonight cabbit sequence went: "That is not his cabbit - it's my cabunny!".
Shortly afterwards, another cabbit turned up in Pennsylvania. Harry Goodwin, of Lower Swatara Township had always thought his peculiarly shaped pet was a Manx cat, but this didn't stop him from joining the cabbit "flap". Apparently his local vet was not too sure what a Manx looked like! Goodwin’s cat had ears slightly larger than a domestic cat, and longer whiskers, but it had rabbit-like hind legs and heavy mottled fur. Goodwin claimed to have owned a tame rabbit and remembered that a cat used to "play around" with it. "Some people say there is no way a cat and a rabbit can cross " Goodwin said, "but I say look at it and be your own judge. It hops like a rabbit, looks like a rabbit, and has fur like a rabbit." In all likelihood, the cat was a Manx or part-Manx as Goodwin had originally thought (before cabbit footage became valuable).
A cat breeder told me the following tale. "If you spoke to my grandfather he would tell you his story about working at the local gasworks where he saw a cat that had the body of a rabbit. He swears to this day(in fact is quite passionate about his story)that he saw a half rabbit half cat. I have been hearing this since I was young and he was too (40's maybe?) so he wasn't senile and he's not a drinker."
In fact, what these folks had seen were tailless cats with an odd mutation of the skin around the back legs. The classic tailless cat is the Manx cat though there are several other cat breeds which have bobtails. Not all Manxes are tailless, some have bobtails, somewhat like a rabbit's scut. The mutation which causes the Manx effect also affects the backbone, pelvis and legs. In severe cases it can cause spina bifida and lethal defects affecting the nervous system and skeleton. Normal Manx cats have short backs, long hind legs and a rounded rump which is higher than their shoulders. Some are completely tailless while others have bobtails or short tails. Sometimes these various factors combine to make the cat move with a bobbing gait, known as the 'Manx Hop', though this is undesirable in show quality cats.
Usually a cat (any breed) has loose skin folds around the belly and haunches so that you can't properly see the shape of the haunch. Occasionally a genetic mutation means that the skin does not have enough folds and is 'tucked up' at the belly and hips. This exposes more of the haunch and makes the back legs look longer than they really are. Most cats occasionally 'bunny-hop' (move both back legs at once). Cats with a cabbit-type deformity may look like they are hopping, but it is an optical illusion caused by their bobbing gait. The 'tummy tuck' is a deformity which makes the already long hind legs resemble a rabbit's hind legs. No-one is sure if the tummy tuck deformity is harmful on its own, but so-called cabbits get their looks from a variety of deformities, some of which are serious or crippling so that the cat should not be bred from. The following demonstrates what happens when Manxes with these problems are bred together.
Michael Mastro wrote in 2002 that a few years earlier one of his clients had owned two cats that she had purchased from a breeder in California. She called them cabbits. One cat was tabby, the other was all black and both weighed almost 30 pounds. They had long hair, long floppy ears and "the unmistakable hind legs of a rabbit". They were also apparently unbelievably affectionate. Michael asked his vet about them and was told that cats and rabbits will mate (which is true - they will go through the motions of mating, but they can't produce offspring). The question was - what were the animals? With no information about what they ate and exactly how long (and what shape) the ears were, a likely answer is a large rabbit breed (for example the Flemish Giant). The tabby pattern may have been a brindled pattern rather than stripes. The weight may possibly have been over-estimated and long hair can give the impression of a much weightier animal.
In April 2003 I received an email from a person in Cyril, Oklahoma, USA who had seen"cabbits" in Elgin, Oklahoma. The animals' owner claimed they had come from Washington state. She did not know what sort of cats they were (the correspondent believes them to have been Manxes) and had a male and a female which she bred. The kittens resembled the mother and as they grew older, their spines displayed a distinct twist and they began to limp. Eventually all of the kittens were destroyed due to the deformity and obvious pain. In this instance, both parents were described as being rabbit-like and the kittens would have inherited a double dose of the genes causing these problems.
In July 2003, Trevin Edgeworth claimed to have seen cat-rabbit hybrids (gatonejos) in Morovis, Puerto Rico during 1996. A local woman called Maria apparently bred the hybrids from a parent cat and rabbit she owned. He described some "hybrids" as having the heads of rabbits and tails of cats, while others had cat heads with rabbit tails. The fur was described as being half soft rabbit fur and half coarser cat fur (for some reason writers assume that cats have coarser fur than rabbits - perhaps they are unfamiliar with the soft fur of Angora and Ragdoll cats). In addition, Maria's father ran a burger stand which made excellent burgers, possibly because they used the hybrid cat/rabbit meat. Apparently no-one considered the animals at all unusual! It is most likely that this was an inbred population of bobtailed cats, which would account for the variable tail lengths described.
In 2005, Manuel Ortiz from New York recalls seeing alleged cabbits on the Primer Impacto show on the Spanish network Univision at the end of the 1990s or beginning of the 2000s. The show featured a report, apparently from the Dominican Republic, regarding "gatonejos" (gato = cat, conejos = rabbits) . The gatonejos (8 were shown) had the front half of a cat and the hind legs of a rabbit and ate carrots. My best guess is that it was a hoax news article aired for fun. Animal hoaxes are not unusual in newspapers or on TV. Most televised cabbit claims are Manx cats and the claim of eating carrots is false (some cats enjoy the occasional vegetable snack, but they eat regular cat food the rest of the time). .It is also possible that they were a breed of rabbit with relatively short ears.
Another correspondent reported that in 2007/8, a Georgia woman attempted to sell "cabbits" for $1000 each. The correspondent was intrigued enough to have a look at the animals, intending to send a hoax alert to the local paper. The "breeder" had caged cats and rabbits together along with some bobtailed cats and kittens that she claimed were hybrids. When challenged over the purported cabbits being cats, the woman became defensive and angry and the would-be investigator had to leave due to the threatening behaviour. This is believed to be a moneymaking scam.
In March 2012 on the US show "Headlines", Jay Leno featured a classified advert from someone who was offering Cabbits for sale and proclaimed that he had never heard of a cabbit. Whether the advert was a hoax, a scam or a misunderstanding was not clear.
While some take cabbits at face value and base their belief on the cat's resemblance to a rabbit, the feline geneticist Roy Robinson wrote that there is no way to determine whether a cat is a hybrid simply by looking at it as cats can be quite variable in their looks. Admittedly Robinson had written about domestic/wildcat hybrids - no geneticist of world renown would take a cat-rabbit hybrid seriously. Despite this, there are websites claiming to offer cabbits for sale, these being bred from male white rabbits mated with female domestic cats. The cabbit offspring move with a "stumbling gait" and appear to be another form of the infamous Twisty Cat.
Manxes as Cabbits
Bobtailed and tailless cats account for many cabbit sightings. The mutation that causes taillessness can also cause skeletal and/or nerve abnormalities that result in the cat using a hopping motion. The relatively long hind legs of the Manx, combined with taillessness or a very short, scut-like tail, give the impression of a rabbit. This led to Joseph Train's belief in cat-rabbits mentioned in "An Historical and Statistical Account of the Isle of Man" (1845).
In 1947, Grace Cox-Ife wrote in "Questions Answered About Cats" (1947): There are several points about a Manx that make it anything but ordinary. The chief one is, of course, its taillessness; but this is not quite the whole story. Not only must a Manx have no tail but it should really be a further joint or more short on the spinal column; that is to say there should be a hollow where the tail would normally begin. Then there is the gait - a rabbity hop rather than a walk- which is caused by the height of the hindquarters: according to the Manx Cat Club these "cannot be too high, and the back cannot be too short, while there must be great depth of flank. The head should be round and large, but not of the snubby or Persian type."
In the late 1950s, PM Soderberg wrote The normal gait of the Manx is different from that of the ordinary cat, and in some respects is similar to that of the rabbit, but there is no truth in the statement sometimes made that this breed was originally the result of a cross between a rabbit and a cat. That is sheer nonsense. and the hind legs are longer than those in front. From this difference in length of leg the peculiar gait of the breed arises, and it is as a result of this that the Manx has been called the 'Rabbit cat'. On a number of occasions it has been stated with apparent seriousness that this variety was, in fact, first produced by crossing a rabbit with a cat, but any such statements can be regarded as sheer nonsense. (PM Soderbergh - "Your Cat" (1951) and "Pedigree Cats, Their Varieties, Breeding and Exhibition" (1958))
According to Katharine L Simms in "They Walked Beside Me" (1954): "An old Manx newspaper of 1808 described Manx cats as 'Rumpy cats'. In build he is higher in the rump than the ordinary cat, for his hind legs are longer than his forelegs. For this reason the Manx is sometimes called the Kangaroo cat, for he has the hopping gait of a kangaroo and a rabbit. This started the absurd story that he is the result of mating between a domestic cat and a rabbit. Such a cross between two entirely different species is, of course, impossible. He has, however, yet another likeness to the rabbit in the quality of his fur; a double coat, fine and loose above, and a very thick soft undercoat."
Rose Tenent wrote in "Pedigree Cats" (1955) No cat is more fascinating than the tailless Manx, with its rabbit-like hoppity gait [...] . The hind legs are considerably longer than the front ones, thus giving the cat its peculiar hopping gait; incidentally, also the reason for the ridiculous theory held in some quarters that the Manx cat is the result of a cross-mating between a cat and a rabbit.
Non Manx-Cabbits, Squittens and Kangaroo Cats
Manx cats are not the only bobtailed breed whose back ends resemble rabbits. There are several other bobtailed breeds whose tails vary from kinked through to pom-poms and rabbit-like scuts. These are detailed in Bobtailed and Tailless Cats. Similar mutations still occur - in the wild and in domestic cats - from time to time. The white bobtail cat in the photo is a feral seen in Kuantan, Malaysia.
In June 2002, I heard from Cindy S Boesing of Missouri who had actually seen a cabbit-like cat: " I don't know what they are. You can call them a 'cabbit' because they do look like they're half rabbit and half cat. But whatever they are, they are real."
Cindy first saw such cats in the 1970s in Arizona where she saw a mother and kittens, by a dumpster (UK "skip") at a filling station. She describes them as having a cat's head and a rabbit-like scut (which matches the tail-type of some Manx-type cats) rather than a bobbed tail. They had comparatively short legs and walked with a hopping gait, but ran in a typically feline bounding motion. Apparently they are seen elsewhere in Arizona which is not surprising -the American Bobtail breed comes from a foundation cat discovered in the 1960s in Arizona. American Bobtail is a dominant gene mutation with variable expression. A rabbit-like tail would be one expression of this gene. In addition to the rabbit-like tail, there may be tufted ear tips which make the ears look longer. A "bobcatty" look is favoured.
In 2002, Cindy saw a grey adult version in her yard in Cuba, Missouri on several occasions. She described it as having ears slightly longer than the average cat's ears although I believe these may have been ear tufts. She described the look on its face as far from cute - possibly this means it was feral or that it had a bobcatty look about it. Cindy emphasised that it was not at all deformed, but healthy, strong, quick, and daring. I have no reason to doubt her - the bobtail mutation has occurred on numerous occasions and the rabbity tail does fall into the range of tail-types found in "bobtailed" cats.
There is another condition which causes a rabbit-like appearance - this is radial hypoplasia (RH, "Twisty" mutation). Because affected cats have greatly shortened forelegs but normal length hind legs, they often sit upright on their haunches looking like a rabbit or squirrel. Their shortened forelimbs are sometimes so short as to be useless for walking so the cat learns to move by hopping like a rabbit or kangaroo. Cats with RH often sit with their forequarters propped up on a step or cushion to put their head at the same height as a normal cat and to take the weight off of underdeveloped front legs. Unlike hopping Manx cats, RH cats often have tails, those with plumy tails may be called "squittens" suggesting that they were kittens born to a cat which had mated with a squirrel!
Another person who believes she has seen a cabbit is Terri from Maryland who was aged 4 years when the family's blind Siamese cat apparently mated with a jackrabbit (actual date not provided, ?1980s). The cat produced a single deformed, but nevertheless healthy and bright, kitten. This curious cat was with them for around 15 years. According to Terri the vet had a scientist run tests on the kitten and concluded that it was a hybrid, apparently even offering US$500,000 for her (this is unconfirmed). DNA tests would not have been performed 15 years ago and the conclusion would be based, unscientifically, on the cat's appearance and on circumstantial evidence about the jackrabbit. Terri's cat had front legs "bent like a rabbit and her hind legs also" and hopped around. Her face was cat-like, her body was, her legs were bent, but she had a normal cat's tail This description of bent front legs indicates radial hypoplasia (twisty cat) which can result in very bowed front legs.
El Ray, owned by Robert Lawrence, is the accidental offspring of a random-bred male longhair Dodge and another randombred cat called Princess, both formerly feral/stray cats. Princess gave birth to a very small kitten that seemed unlikely to survive. When he became mobile his owner noticed El Ray had an unusual conformation and hopped like a rabbit rather than running. His hind legs appear unusually long, partly due to his "tummy tuck" shape and partly due to his hips seeming to sit higher than his shoulders (his pelvis may be slightly rotated rather than normally built). His muscles developed such that he has the shape of a greyhound with thin legs, but large shoulder muscles. His tail is normal length. His belly tucks inward toward his pelvis due to lack of a loose apron of skin or fatty deposit. Overall, he seems to have more muscle tone and less fat to him than the other household cats. Though he walks normally, his stride appears different due to the long hind legs. When he trots or runs, both hind legs move together in a hopping gait. This suggests a slight abnormality with the nerves serving the hind legs so that the legs don't operate independently at high speeds. He is extremely fast and can launch himself long distances with his hind legs - in essence, instead of running he is jumping horizontally (cats can jump upwards a couple of times their own body length). It's not known if this is genetic or is due to non-genetic developmental issues.
Short-legged Munchkins also sometimes sit up on their haunches to raise their heads to a greater height and get a good look at things. Munchkins have all four legs shortened (achondroplasia) and move with a ferret-like gait, rather than a hopping motion.
Kangaroo cats which sit up like kangaroos have been reported from time to time and have either either radial hypoplasia or achondroplasia (the Munchkin trait). They are certainly not hybrids of cats and kangaroos - cats are placentals while kangaroos are marsupials!
With its pom-pom tail looking even more like a rabbit's scut than does the Manx's stump, the Japanese Bobtail cat is sometimes mistaken for a cabbit. The bobtail mutation is totally different from the Manx mutation and does not cause spinal deformities or a "rabbitty" hopping gait. The only similarity is the rabbit-like scut.
For more information on Twisty cats, kangaroo cats and squittens see Kangaroo Cats and Squittens Revealed.
I often receive emails from people saying "I have personally seen a cabbit" or "I have a cabbit" or "cabbits are born but don't survive" or even "My vet says it is a cabbit". What you have is a cat with one or more of those traits which make it resemble a rabbit and a vet with a sense of humour or who watches too many cheap talk shows.
Absolutely the ONLY proof of a cabbit existing in real life is independently verified DNA evidence to prove that the animal you have is a hybrid. If the DNA evidence was real, it would be big news (as big as cloning) and would be printed in scientific journals, nature journals and veterinary journals. This site will not consider any claims of genuine cabbits unless supported by material from reputable, respected scientific journals
Ask yourself these questions: Do you really, honestly believe that any vet would pass up such an opportunity to become famous, and possibly wealthy, from finding a real-life cabbit? Are you so sure of your claim that you are prepared to have a DNA analysis done on your cat or kittens? Do you have independent scientific evidence from at least 2 accredited laboratories and qualified professional genetics researchers (not hobbyists) to support your claim? Have the results been published in a recognised scientific journal? If not, all you have is a delusion.
Regardless of the genetic impossibility, it seems that people want to believe in cabbits (especially with the cabbit characters in popular Japanese anime) just like they want to believe in the Easter Bunny - and they will continue to believe in mythical creatures despite all evidence to the contrary.