The American Bobtail cat is a relatively new and fairly rare breed of cat that first appeared in the late Sixties. It is most notable for its stubby "bobbed" tail, which is about one-third to one-half the length of a normal cat's tail. This is the result of a genetic mutation affecting the tail development, similar to that of the Manx cat. The American Bobtail cat is not related to the Japanese Bobtail, despite their similar appearances and physical types. Their breeding programs are entirely unrelated, and the genetic mutation that causes the American Bobtail's tail is dominant, whereas the Japanese Bobtail tail mutation is recessive.
Reminiscent of the wild cats, the American Bobtail is a medium-large to large naturally occurring short-tailed cat, native to North America. A well-muscled, solid cat with the power and grace of an athlete, it combines the look of a wild cat with the temperament and aptitude of a domestic cat. A very sturdy breed, American Bobtail kittens are born with both short and long-haired shaggy coats, rather than dense or fluffy. They can have any color of eyes and fur, but cat fanciers greatly prefer an emphasis on the "wild tabby” appearance.
Until recently the American Bobtail has received relatively little attention, so many are surprised to learn that it has been prevalent in America as long as the better-known Japanese Bobtail which was first imported to the United States in the late 1960s. The American Bobtail appeared on the scene in the 1960s as well, but because of its unheralded debut, this breed is just becoming known within the cat community.
The cat's history is a bit uncertain, as is the case with numerous breeds. While it is possible for the Bobcat (Felis rufus, an indigenous North American spotted cat closely related to the larger Lynx) to mate with domestic cats, bobcat/domestic cat hybrids, particularly the males, would most likely be sterile. Possibly the short, bobcat-like tail occurred as a spontaneous mutation within the domestic cat population, or is somehow related to the dominant Manx gene.
The first known Bobtail cat bloodline came from a mating between a short-tailed brown tabby male named Yodie and a seal point Siamese female. Yodie was obtained by the Sanders of Iowa while they were vacationing near an Indian reservation in Arizona. The parentage of Yodie is a mystery, but he was thought to have been a wild bobcat/domestic cat hybrid because of his stubby tail.
Birman, Himalayan, and a Himalayan/ Siamese cross were then added to the bloodline. Mindy Schultz (now Cave), a friend of the Sanders and the earliest Bobtail breeder, wrote the first provisional standard in the early 1970s. At that time the breed experienced some setbacks due to the usual obstacles that arise during any new feline breeding venture. Developing and promoting a new breed of cat is an endeavor that requires infinite patience, unlimited wealth, superior intelligence and indefatigable perseverance.
This cat's original appearance genetics were modified in the course of breeding to form a new and improved breed that now comes in all colors, categories and divisions. New short-hair versions have appeared, where once only long-hair versions were fully recognized. These new lines, which produce cats that are sweeter and gentler, but still have the wild look, may have begun in Florida. It is still permitted to outcross the Bobtail with other domestic cats, as long as the small gene pool is kept healthy. Manx and Japanese Bobtails cannot be used in the breeding matrix. The breed was finally recognized by both The International Cat Association (TICA) and the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) in 1989, and was soon granted championship status.
Breeders report that Bobtails are usually playful, friendly, energetic and extremely intelligent, but that some are born frightened, not playful, and not very receptive to socializing. (Ironically, just like the variations among human babies.) Like so many other hybrids, American Bobtails have dog-like personalities who love to play fetch and greet their owners at the door. They are very tolerant of being picked up by young children who have little regard for “tender loving care.” They also get along beautifully with other pets, even dogs. Bobtails have a subtle personality characterized by warmth, rather than obnoxious behavior exacerbated by abrasive manners.
These cats are magicians as well – they have been known to escape from closed rooms and fastened cages, and to pick child-proof locks. Bobtails also have a tendency to steal shiny objects and stash them away in a secret hiding place—just as crows and packrats do—requiring that the owner must discover where the cat keeps “the stash” when missing items are needed. These are very people- oriented cats, highly intelligent, and just plain fun!
The American Bobtail’s body is moderately long, solid, and stocky, with a noticeable rectangular stance. Boning is substantial, and the chest is full and broad. The hips are almost as wide as the chest, and the hind legs are longer than the forelegs, with large round feet that may have toe tufts. The head is a broad wedge without flat planes, sized proportionately to the body.
The Bobtail’s ears are medium-sized, wide-based, and mounted equally on the top and side of head. The eyes are almost almond-shaped. Eye color varies with coat color. The end of the tail should be visible above the back, but not beyond the hock while the animal is in repose. The tail can be straight or curved, slightly knotted or may have bumps. American Bobtail kittens require two to three years to fully develop, which is much longer than many other domestic cat breeds.
The American Bobtail’s unique double coat comes in two types: a medium, semi-dense short-hair version and a medium-length long-hair version that is resilient and water-resistant. When in motion, it displays a natural rolling gait that gives the cat a strong resemblance to the bobtailed wildcat. These are basically quiet cats, but resort to trilling, chirping and even clicking when delighted.
The Bobtail's most prominent feature, its succinct tail, is usually one-third to one-half the length of that of an ordinary cat, and should not extend below the hock. No two tails are identical, so they are truly the hallmark of the individual cat, and are held up proudly when the cat is alert. They will often even wag to express the cat's mood. Ideally, the tail should be straight and articulate, but may also curve, have bumps, or be slightly knotted. Bobtails with no tails (also called rumpies) are not acceptable to the cat associations because of the health problems that can develop due to the shortened spine. The new and improved American Bobtail now comes in all colors, categories and divisions.
Long-haul truck drivers have purchased American Bobtail cats as cabin companions, because they are known to be good travelers if introduced to it at an early age. Psychotherapists have also used them in their patient treatment programs, because American Bobtails have been found to be wellmannered, calm, and sensitive to people in emotional distress. On the cat activity scale, choosing perhaps the Persian as a serene 1, and the Abyssinian as a highly animated 10, the Bobtail rates a 7 or 8 for being fun-loving and frisky but not tediously overactive—perhaps the “purrfect” cat companion.
One of America's own creations, the American Bobtail is a credit to all those who have devoted the time, effort and energy into developing this stunning and remarkable breed.
Barron’s Encyclopedia of Cat Breeds, J. Anne Helgren