Regulars and Shorts

Animals Animals: Manx Cats

By Sunny Branson

Tailless wonder of the cat world.
by Sunny Branson
Gus, a Manx cat, stands watch at the Yuppie Puppie pet supply store, home of Wasatch Animal Rescue. He is a noble creature – a beautiful grey and black tabby, always serious and composed. Gus appointed himself the role of beat cop at the rescue. Whenever the resident cats brawl, Gus is quick to stop the squabble. He doesn't pick sides, but instead plants himself between the cats keeping them apart until each cools down.

Some call the Manx "watch cats" because they are very protective of their homes. Any unusual noise or disturbance will cause a low growl and even an attack by a Manx.

The Manx cat's trademark is its curious lack of tail. The tail is not docked like some dog breeds, but is actually a mutation of the spine. Manx cats originated on the Isle of Man, off the coast of Great Britain. The spontaneous mutation occurred several hundred years ago, which created kittens born without the vertebrae that form the tail of normal cats. Due to their isolation and the dominant mutated gene, taillessness eventually became a common characteristic among the Isle of Man cats.

Each time I pet Gus, he turns his rump toward me, holding it high and proud. He seems to be begging for a bum scratch, but I think he's actually showing off his unique Manx attribute. He's a calm, stately animal despite the bum-in-the-face action. 

Lots of mythology and folklore surround the Manx's taillessness. British folklore has it that sailors would cut off kittens' tails and carry them for good luck, so the mother cats bit off their kittens' tails to keep humans from snatching them away. Another story is that the Manx was late boarding Noah's arc and entered just as Noah slammed the door, severing the cat's tail.

Although many cats are born with the mutated gene that causes taillessness, the only true Manx cats are those whose heritage can be traced back to the Isle of Man. True Manxes may also have short tails, or even full tails. The completely tailless Manx is considered a "rumpy." A "riser" Manx has a bit of cartilage at the base of the spine that may be felt when the cat is happy. A "stumpy" Manx has some tail length – not long, but visibly a tail. And a regular tailed Manx is known as a "longy." Although the rumpy is the only Manx considered show-quality, all are Manxes and all varieties can be born to a single litter.

The Manx is a stocky, solid cat with a dense double coat in both long- and short-haired varieties. The hind legs are visibly longer than the front legs giving them an almost rabbit-like appearance, which explains the common nickname "Cabbit." These powerful back legs make the Manx an excellent jumper, and the missing tail doesn't affect its balance on high perches.

Another physical characteristic of the Manx is the roundness of each part of its body, giving the Manx a unique look. A full backside complements the wide, rounded chest. The broad head is set with large round eyes.

The Manx is a mellow, even-tempered cat, friendly and affectionate. While this may be an attribute of all cats, it's particularly notable in the Manx. David and Melissa Weber, of Salt Lake City, have two Manx gals, Weezer and Sherpa. "The girls are extremely mellow and very loving," said Melissa. "And even as kittens, they were not high-strung at all."

Many people call the Manx the "dog cat" for several reasons. One is that they have a strong desire to be with people. And, like many cats, they learn their names; but unlike most, a Manx will actually come when called. Some Manxes will play fetch, and some outdoor Manxes have even been known to dig and bury treasures.

True to their heritage, Weezer and Sherpa will come when they are called and Melissa says they definitely know their names. "We have relatives who visit us often; they have cats and dogs. They insist that our Manxes are really dogs in cat-shaped bodies."

The Manx is a very vocal cat but its voice is usually very quiet for its size. Even a female in full-blown heat doesn't make very much noise. The Manx will communicate with a distinct "trill," most often heard from females talking to her kittens, but will use it to reply to people as well.

Breeding Manx cats is not recommended for anyone but experienced Manx breeders. The Manx is a hardy breed, but the dominant mutated tailless gene can be lethal if not bred correctly.

If you're thinking of bringing a Manx into your family, find a reputable breeder. Or even better, contact your local shelter or animal rescue for a spayed or neutered Manx to give an abandoned animal a good home.

Sunny Branson is co-owner of Single Malt Media, volunteers for Wasatch Animal Rescue, and sponsors two pot-bellied pigs at Ching Farm Sanctuary.

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This article was originally published on December 3, 2007.