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?

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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.

  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.

  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.

  4. Yarrow White Cloud

    Hi Michael, sorry I should have said were I was sending from this my first time responding to anything and I forgot this the entire world . I live in the desert 40 miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. my foundling is a domestic cat , but there are a lot of wild bob cats everywhere around me in the cliffs . She is young but not wild or feral. Where she came from she already she already had been spaed. All I could find out is that a woman who didn’t know anything about her had been feeding her, till she was chased by wild domestic dogs. ‘Blanca’ is not afraid of dogs though. Thanks.

  5. Yarrow White Cloud

    I have an all white cat I found in the desert, she has a bobed kinked tail. It doesn’t bother her if i touch it, like if it were from an traumatic injury. Someone said it can happen in the womb of a crowed litter. She climbs trees great but never jumps higher then a chair seat.

  6. I’m living in Indonesia.
    I have a bobtailed crossbreed cat… No idea what’s in there.

    She’s just had a litter of kittens, 4 of them.
    Their tails?
    1 is almost straight.
    1 is incredibly short.
    1 is kinked about 3/4 of the way down.
    1 is spiralled.
    I kid you not! A full loop-de-loop in the middle of its tail!

    I have never seen this before and would be interested to see if anyone else here has.

    1. Kinked= Siamese trait
      Loop-the-loop= ringtail cat trait
      Short= bobtail cat trait

      You have an amazing litter of kittens. The original Siamese have kinked tails. It was bred out in the West. You can read about the Ringtail cat on this site. Search for it. You know the bobtailed cat. Extraordinary. If you can photograph them and upload the photos that would be nice.

  7. Excuse me if this is nonsense as I have zero authority on the matter but is it possible that their poorer balance could be a counter intuitive advantage in a different environment. I’m currently travelling through south east Asia (hence having googled cats tails and come across your page) and it’s not difficult to notice the vastly different landscape to what we’re used with in the West. Whereas we have towering trees they tend to be a lot broader, branching out from a lot lower down. This makes it easier for a cat to make its way back to the ground uninjured. This along with sheer cliff faces and such. Is it possible that cats with bent/short tails are less sure of their own balance therefore less inclined to scale trees and cliffs and die in falling accidents?

    1. Hi Martin, thanks for commenting. I think you make a very interesting point. I don’t know whether you are correct or not. Your argument sounds good and therefore may well have some validity. It is quite possible that cats with short tails feel less confident about climbing and therefore climb less.

      1. I tend to be right about things once or twice per annum. I think I’m due one so who knows, there may be some truth to this. I wouldn’t write your thesis on it though.

  8. Why evolution? Not sure if this fairy is the right explanation. I think most of the tales were cut by their mother, when the kitties were born.

    1. Hi Oli,I appreciate you taking the time to provide me with your theory but I would doubt that you are correct. What would be the purpose of their mother cutting off the tails of their kittens when they are born? The cat’s tail is an important part of the cat’s anatomy. It helps with the cat’s survival. A mother is interested and concerned about the survival of her newborn kittens. The mother does everything she can to assist in the survival of her offspring. To remove the tail would be counter to that innate motivation driven by motherly love and therefore I don’t see that your theory can be correct but nonetheless thank you once again.

  9. Hi Michael. Mutations do not necessarily need to have a positive effect to remain. If they are harmless there is no selective pressure to remove them. That pressure would only be active if the mutation put it at a disadvantage to an animal that does not have it. They would be less successful and the mutation would eventually die out with them.

  10. Hi Michael. Mutations only die out if they are have a negative effect on survival. I do not know what advantages a long tail confers on a cat but it must be useful, Maybe as a social tool for signalling and showing intentions, and to some extent for balance. A short tail is only a bit less useful. A short tail may be an advantage in that it would be less noticeable in a hunting situation when cats tend to twitch their tails from side to side and risk giving the game away.

  11. I like bobbed tails. But, ofcourse, I am a big bobcat fan.
    I’ve had some bobtailed and kinked tailed cats.
    I tended to believe that the ones with kinks had been injured in some way. Perhaps not.

  12. Michael,thanks for the excellent hypothesis on the strange tail defects in Indonesian cats. I really found it weird as almost 90* of the cats i saw had crooked or bob tails very uncommon in my home city of Mumbai and even India since i have toured most of India.

  13. My immediate guess is that Asian cats are descended from very few ancestors, i.e, not many successfully made the long overland journey from the Middle East to Asia. The result was inbreeding which is known to establish individual traits and mutations.

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