Lots of Asian cats have bent and short tails. Why?

Indonesian short tailed cat. Photo: Rudolph Furtado
Indonesian short tailed cat. Photo: Rudolph Furtado
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Rudolph Furtado, POC’s Asian reporter in Mumbai, India, has recently returned from Indonesia where he noticed a large number of short-tailed cats and some with kinked tails. Singapore SPCA say short tailed cats are common and they are born that way. That is the obvious reason: genetics and inheritance; however, Robinson’s Genetics (a well-known book) states that “in the majority, the defect is traceable to injury, possibly at parturation or at a later stage”. However, the authors were not necessarily referring to Asia.

The kinked tail is associated with the Siamese cat in what was Siam, now Thailand. You’ll see them on streets as moggies even today. This is positively an inherited trait. Although Robinson’s Genetics states:

“A form of partial tail loss is not uncommon in certain strains of Siamese.” – (the authors are referring cats bred in the West) – “It has been thought that the condition could be inherited but although exactly how is unknown”. The go on to state that is is probably a recessive gene labelled br (brachyury “short tail”).

Asian bobtailed cat
Asian dilute orange tabby spotted bobtailed street cat! Photo by Rudolph Furtado.

“Most of the feral cats in Indonesia have distorted or docked tails. Reasons?”

There are a lot of fanciful stories as to why there are lot of bobtailed and kinked tailed Asian street cats. For example in Jakarta it is said that people cut off the tails for fun or for aesthetic reasons. Or the tails are lost in fights.

People tend to prefer fancy stories such as partial amputation of the tail because of some rare and ancient custom when the truth is that very short tails are due to a genetic mutation which appears to have stuck around and not faded away. The question is why did this mutation become a fixed part of the anatomy of Asian street cats?

Some say the most famous bobtailed cat of Asia, the Japanese Bobtail mated with other Asian cats and spread the gene far and wide.

The genetic mutation causing the short tail of the Japanese Bobtail is recessive (but some believe it is a “dominant mutation with incomplete penetrance”). It can be seen in ancient Japanese art and has been in existence since the 6th century, it is believed. If cats inbreed, say in a colony, this would allow the recessive gene to show its presence in short tailed cats.

Some say the Japanese Bobtail was introduced into Japan from China. Others say the Kurilian Bobtail from Russia is the forerunner of this cat breed. However the Kurilian Bobtail gene mutation causing the short tail is not the same one. It is an incomplete dominant gene. Until 1968 the Japanese Bobtail was a random bred cat.

Siamese street cat with short tail
Siamese street cat with short tail

The Siamese cat can be seen with a kinked and bobbed tail in Asia. The first imports to the West in the late 1800s had kinked tails. They were “ironed out” by breeders.

My neighbour has two Siamese cats. Their tails are straight but when I stroked the tail of the Siamese blue point I felt the kink towards the end of the tail. The Siamese kink is alive and well 130 years later in England!

Here are more photos by Rudolph of stumpy tailed cats (and one kinked) from Indonesia:

Indonesian short tailed cat. Photo: Rudolph Furtado
Indonesian short tailed cat. Photo: Rudolph Furtado
Indonesian bent tailed cat. Photo: Rudolph Furtado
Indonesian bent tailed cat. Photo: Rudolph Furtado
Indonesian short tailed cat. Photo: Rudolph Furtado
Indonesian short tailed cat. Photo: Rudolph Furtado

But why have these genetic mutations affecting the cat’s tail taken place in Asia? A cat’s tail is used for balance and communication. Are bobtailed cats at a disadvantage and if so why didn’t this genetic mutation die out?

Perhaps it will die out. It is just that it takes a long time but I don’t think that is what is happening. After all it has been around since the 6th century we are told. Perhaps the hot climate in Asia plays a role but I don’t see how.

My impression is that the reason for the bobbed and kinked tails of Asia is probably simply down to pure chance. It just happened and the mutation has stuck because the tail is less important as a means to retain balance than it is for wild cats because street cats are not arboreal as is the case for small wild cats such as the Margay — I await Sarah Hartwell’s superior analysis 😉

Clearly the classic tail up cat greeting cannot be performed with the same clarity if the tail is very short. I wonder if bobtailed cat have developed an alternative way of signalling a friendly greeting?

30 thoughts on “Lots of Asian cats have bent and short tails. Why?”

  1. We have 5 street cats that all now live in our fenced yard with freedom to enter our house anytime. Some have straight tails some have a kink, one has a stub like a bobcat. I notice that the cats can jump from the ground to the top of our a/c in one jump. The one with the bobtail prefers to climb. My guess is that their tail gives them balance.

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  2. I have two cats (only surviving out of a litter of 4) both with bent tails. The male has a curled tail which sort of tucks into its self why the female has one similar to the black Indonesian cat you photographed on the 12/08/2014. I’m from New Zealand and the vet said that it could be either due to genetics or trauma in the womb. However, the kittens mothers sister had four kittens, all with normal tails.

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  3. Recently in January 2020 had travelled across Laos and noticed many cats with bent or short tails. Here is a photo of one such beautiful cat i spotted at a highway restaurant during my road trip from Vang Vieng to the capital Vientiane in Laos.

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