10 Facts About Manx Cats

Not all Manx cats are tailless like this one.
Not all Manx cats are tailless like this one. / Michelle Weigold, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0 (Manx cat; isolated from background); zhengshun tang/Moment/Getty Images (blue background)

A Manx cat looks like your typical feline—that is, until it turns around and you realize it’s missing a tail. Here are 10 facts about the unusual kitty, which hails from an island in the Irish Sea, and its adorably stubby posterior.

1. The Manx cat’s missing tail stems from a genetic mutation ...

Today, the Manx is an international show cat. However, its roots can be traced back to the humble Isle of Man. The island sits in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Hundreds of years ago, a genetic mutation caused one or more kitties on the Isle of Man to be born without a tail. Since the Isle of Man’s feline population is so small, generations of inbreeding caused the trait to become common among the local cats.

Naturally, the Manx is beloved on its native shores. It's been featured on currency, stamps, and company logos, and shops sell merchandise featuring the tailless cat.

2. … But many creative legends claim otherwise.

People once said the Manx was running late for Noah’s Ark, and Noah slammed the door and severed its tail. Others theorized that Manxes were “cabbits”—the hybrid offspring of a cat and a rabbit—due to their long back legs, short tail, and rounded rump.

3. The Manx was one of the world’s first show cats.

A 1902 photo of a prize-winning Manx.
A 1902 photo of a prize-winning Manx. / “Cats and All About Them” by Frances Simpson, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Animal lovers in England began showcasing Manx cats at some of the world’s first cat shows in the late 19th century. When the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA)—the world's largest registry of pedigreed cats—was formed in 1906, the Manx was one of the founding breeds.

4. Manxes can give birth to kittens with or without tails ...

Manx cats carry one gene for a full tail, and one for taillessness. This means that two Manx cats can mate and produce a kitten that’s a typical long-tailed feline. Sadly, kittens that inherit the taillessness gene from both parents will likely die before birth. That’s why some people have nicknamed the Manx gene “the lethal gene.”

5. … But their tails may be varying lengths.

A “rumpy riser”  Manx
A “rumpy riser.” / Michelle Weigold, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The Manx gene is an incomplete dominant gene, so kittens that inherit it can be born with full-length tails, stubby tails, or no tails at all—and all of these tail lengths can appear in a single litter.

Due to this variability, Manx cats are classified according to tail lengths. Completely tailless felines are called “rumpy,” whereas cats with short tail stumps that are often curved, knotted, or kinked are known as “stumpy,” and kitties with nearly normal-length tails are called “longy.” Only “rumpies,” or cats called “rumpy risers” that have a slight rise of bone where their tails would start, are eligible to compete in the championship classes in CFA cat shows.

Breeders like to include all four Manx tail types in their breeding programs, since unwanted genetic mutations are more likely to arise when rumpies are only bred with other rumpies for multiple generations [PDF].

6. Manxes come in a variety of shades and patterns.

You’ll find Manx cats in hues ranging from red, white, and black to cream, blue, and shaded silver. (The CFA disqualifies cats with lavender, chocolate, or pointed coloring, since these shades indicate hybridization [PDF].) Typically, a Manx cat’s eyes are gold, copper, green, hazel, blue, or odd-eyed.

When it comes to patterns, Manx kitties can be bicolor, tabbies, or tortoiseshells. Some Manx-like cats also have long fur; they're called Cymrics, and most cat fanciers' associations view them as a separate breed.

7. Koko the gorilla loved a Manx kitten.

Koko, the famous research gorilla that knew more than 1000 words of modified American Sign Language, once owned a Manx cat. In 1984, Koko was allowed to choose a pet kitten from a litter for her 12th birthday present. Koko selected a tailless grey-and-white cat, which she named “All Ball.” (“The cat was a Manx and looked like a ball,” Ron Cohn, a biologist at the Gorilla Sanctuary, told the LA Times in 1985. “Koko likes to rhyme words in sign language.”)

Koko loved All Ball, and cuddled and played with her on a regular basis. Sadly, All Ball was struck by a car later that year and died. A devastated Koko was given a new pet, a red kitty named Lips Lipstick. She later owned a third cat, a gray feline named Smoky; the two animals were companions for nearly 20 years until Smoky died of natural causes.

8. Manx cats sometimes have health problems.

Like many pedigreed breeds, Manx cats are prone to a set of unique health problems. The mutation responsible for the cat's lack of a tail also affects the development of its spine and spinal cord. As a result, many Manx kitties suffer from a variety of painful symptoms that are collectively referred to as “Manx Syndrome,” including spina bifida, a birth defect that prevents the vertebrae from growing around the spinal cord. Other afflictions include incontinence or constipation, an odd stance, a “hopping” walk, a lack of sensation or paralysis in the hind legs, and malformed pelvic or sacral bones. These birth defects can sometimes be fatal.

Be careful picking up your Manx cat, as the nerve endings near where its tail should be are exposed. Also, keep in mind that if you own a “longie” cat that’s five years or older, its tail may ossify and become arthritic.

9. Scientists want to decode the Manx’s genome.

While scientists at the University of Missouri released a rough draft of the cat genome in 2007 and another more complete version in 2014, no one has sequenced the Manx breed. That’s why a group of researchers on the Isle of Man plan to look at the whole genomes of Manx cats and locate breed-specific mutations.

“Sequencing multiple Manx cat genomes has a scientific purpose,” the scientists wrote on their project website. “If we can identify other mutations which are unique to the Manx breed this could possibly lead to diagnostic DNA tests that can be used by breeders to select their cats more appropriately to try and reduce the number of kittens born with Manx Syndrome. The more cats we can sequence the more we can discover!”

10. The Manx can balance without a tail.

Since a cat’s tail is instrumental for balance, how do Manx cats manage to walk without wobbling? Experts think they have an especially sensitive vestibular apparatus inside their ears to compensate.

A version of this story originally ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2023.