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My parents have a bobtail cat we found as a stray. I'm wondering if this is common in DSH cats as either some kind of defect or recessive gene or whether this indicates he could have a certain breed somewhere in his bloodlines. I know it's unlikely because the vast majority of cats are not a specific breed, just wondering about the genetics of bobtails! Anyway, I love him for the mutt that he is :)
 

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You can make a case for all three.

There are two breeds that have this trait as a main focus:
American Bobtail
Japanese Bobtail

However, in a population of feral/barn cats it could also be the manx gene at play, rather than the bobtail gene.
The lack of a tail (or a shorter than normal tail from birth) is caused by a gene. However, it's more complicated than that. By a lot, but basically it works like this:

If you have a bobtailed cat with no tail, and you breed it to another the same about 25% of the kittens won't be born due to birth defects (or will die shortly after birth), 25% will have some sort of stub, and 50% will have no tail. If the cat truly has no tail there are health issues commonly associated, usually lack of muscle and problems with their sphincters.

However, if you breed a bobtailed cat with a stumpy tail, to one with a longer tail it works out like this: 25% long tail, 50% stubby tail, 25% very short/no tail.
Basically, if there's even a little tail the chances of problems associated go down.

The manx gene works similarly, but is more likely to cause kittens with no tail at all to be born than in the bobtailed gene. Therefor, the manx gene causes more sphincter problems. It's also associated with other skeletal issues.
 

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The bobtail cat you found could be part Manx. Manx can be born with no tail (called a rumpy), a rumpy-riser (one vertebrae), a stubby (1-3 vertebrae) or even a full tail. Manx do not always have sphincter problems as librarychick suggests or other skeletal problems if bred properly from healthy stock. In 18 yrs. of breeding Manx I had very few problems at all, and found that generally they were a hearty, healthy and long-lived breed.
 

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Bobtail can also be caused by a spontaneous mutation, or by an accident. My Zuba's momacat chewed off his tail during a birthing accident when she got it mixed up with the cord on placenta of another kitten. The breeder had never had that happen before. His stub is about 6 inches long.
 

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I just saw your first reply why it bumped this up catloverami!

I didn't mean to imply they all had it, careful breeding can do a lot to prevent this issue since it is genetic.

IMO, an accident causing the tail to be shorter is a lot different than having a cat born that way. The gene isn't involved. I know the end appearance is the same (unless scar tissue causes the fur to grow back white, or there's lots of scarring due to the accident that caused it, ect), but a docked tail isn't going to be at all associated with any of the issues breeds that have the gene are prone to.
 
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