Section 3 – BRITISH – Group 1
The Manx cat, in earlier times often spelled Manks, is a breed of domestic cat originating on the Isle of Man, with a naturally occurring mutation that shortens or entirely eliminates the tail. Manx are prized as skilled hunters, and thus have often been sought by farmers with rodent problems.
A strong preference for them as ship’s cats is thought to be responsible for the world-wide spread (port to port) of what originated as a very limited, insular island-based breed. The Isle of Man uses the Manx cat as one of the symbols of the island nation and its unique culture. An old local term for the cats on their home island is stubbin. Manx cats walk and run with a normal gait, but exhibit a well-documented Manx ‘strut’, due to the longer more powerful back legs. Although all cats, including the great cats, may use both rear legs simultaneously to propel the body forward, Manx cats use their back legs more strongly than other cats when moving off at speed, showing a powerful back-leg ‘kick’.
They are extremely fast and very impressive jumpers. Although historically they were said to exhibit a ‘hopping gait’ like a rabbit, this has been shown to be associated with an over-shortening of the spine in some animals. This is a rare occurrence and is due to poor or mismanaged breeding practice and is not an accepted, normal feature of the breed. This is strongly discouraged and should be minimised through observance of strict, good breeding practices.
Manx have been exhibited in cat shows since the 1800s, with the first known breed standard published in 1903. The taillessness arose as a natural mutation on the island, though folklore persists that tailless domestic cats were brought there by sea. They are descended from mainland stock of obscure origin. There are numerous folktales about the Manx cat, all of them of relatively recent origin, as they are focused entirely on the lack of a tail, and are devoid of religious, philosophical, or mythical aspects found in the traditional Irish–Norse folklore of the native Manx culture, and in legends about cats from other parts of the world. Regardless of the genetic and historical reality, there are various fanciful Lamarckian folktales that seek to explain why the Manx has a short to no tail. In one of them, the biblical Noah closed the door of the Ark when it began to rain, and accidentally cut off the tail of the Manx cat who had almost been left behind. Over the years a number of cartoons have appeared on postcards from the Isle of Man showing scenes in which a cat’s tail is being run over and severed by a variety of means including a motorcycle, a reference to motorcycle racing being popular on the island, and an update of the Noah story. Because the gene is so dominant and “invades” other breeds when crossed (often without owner knowledge) with the Manx, some have believed that simply being in the proximity of a Manx cat could cause other breeds to somehow produce tailless kittens. Another genetically impossible account claims that the Manx is the offspring of a cat and a rabbit, purporting to explain why it has no or little tail, long hind legs and sometimes unusual gait. The cat-rabbit half-breed tale has been further reinforced by the more widespread “cabbit” folktale.
Many Manx have a small stub of a tail, but Manx cats are best known as being entirely or nearly tailless; this is the most distinguishing characteristic of the breed, along with elongated, strong hind legs and a rounded head. Manx cats come in all coat colours and patterns, though all-white specimens are rare, and the coat range of the original stock was more limited. Long-haired variants, the Cymric, are sometimes considered a separate breed in other Registries.
The Manx is considered a social and gregarious feline, and very attached to humans, but also shy of strangers. The breed is said to be highly intelligent, playful, and in its behaviour reminiscent of dogs. They are highly gregarious and ‘clannish’ and exhibit ‘pride-like’ behaviour with other cats. They are not as territorial as other cats and will actively avoid conflict.
The Manx is a fairly easy cat to manage. As they are slow to mature, the Manx kitten should be fed kitten foods for at least the first year of life whilst bone is being laid down. The coat will require grooming during the moulting season to remove loose hairs from the dense coat. As the cat ages and becomes less able to groom itself, it may be that the coat will need attention to prevent mats from forming.
The Manx taillessness gene is dominant and highly penetrant; kittens from two Manx parents are generally born without any tail. Being homozygous for (having two copies of) the gene is usually lethal in utero, resulting in miscarriage. Thus, tailless cats can carry only one copy of the gene. Breeders have reported all tail lengths in the same litter, and there is no accurate means to predict the ratio of tailed to tailless kittens produced in each litter. Because of the danger of having two copies of the taillessness gene, breeders generally avoid breeding two entirely tailless Manx cats together. However, in contrast, as neither parent carries the tailless allele, a tailed Manx bred to tailed Manx results in all tailed kittens, which is also undesirable. Therefore, controlled combinations of tailed to tailess and tailess to tailess matings are generally used to maintain overall litter balance, phenotype and genetic diversity.
“Manx syndrome” or “Manxness” is a colloquial name given to the condition which results when the tailless gene shortens the spine too much, as discussed above. It can seriously damage the spinal cord and the nerves causing a form of spina bifida as well as problems with the bowels, bladder, and digestion. Some tailless cats such as the Manx cats may also develop megacolon which is a recurring condition causing constipation that can be life-threatening to the cat if not properly monitored. It is a condition in which, due to absence of a tail, the smooth muscle that normally contracts to push stools toward the rectum loses its ability to do so. Very small bladders are also indicative of the disease and it is often difficult to diagnose. Death can occur quite suddenly and some live for only 3–4 years; the oldest recorded was 5 years when affected with the disease. In one study it was shown to affect about 30% of Manx cats, but nearly all of those cases were rumpies, which exhibit the most extreme phenotype. The breed is also predisposed to rump fold intertrigo and corneal dystrophy. Some partial tails are prone to a form of arthritis that causes the cat severe pain, and in rare cases Manx-bred kittens are born with kinked short tails because of incomplete growth of the tail during development; kittens with stumpy to long tails have sometimes been docked at birth as a preventative measure.
However it must be stated that these problems are now rare and can be avoided by observance of good breeding practices i.e. minimising the number of generations of tailess to tailess matings (maximum of three and preferably two) and the use of fully tailed Manx cats in the breeding program, as discussed above. These are responsible for a decline in spinal problems among modern, professionally-bred Manx cats today. Most pedigreed cats are not placed until four months of age (to make sure that they are properly socialised) and this usually also gives adequate time for any such health problems to be identified. Renowned feline expert Roger Tabor has stated: “Only the fact that the Manx is a historic breed stops us being as critical of this dangerous gene as of other more recent selected abnormalities.” However, these cats survived over many centuries, independent of outside interference from man, building a viable, self-sustaining population of free-breeding animals. This confirmed the inherent vigour, soundness and independence of this tailless phenotype in feral animals. The Manx cat has not been artificially derived by man from a naturally occurring mutation which has then been selected to build a novel breed. The tailless phenotype (and all its permutations) is still the predominant feature of naturally born domestic cats on the Isle of Man’.