The Manx cat, originally called "Manks" or "Stubbin," is a strong cat that has existed for many centuries on the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. It is surmised that domestic cats were first introduced to the Isle by settlers and explorers, since the Isle never had an indigenous species of cat. The stories of the cat’s introduction to the Isle are many and varied, as are the speculations about how the breed lost its tail.
A theory supposes that the Manx was first introduced by Phoenician traders who brought the cats from Japan. Still another suggests that the cats arrived with the Viking settlers who colonized the Isle of Man.
Regardless of how they originally arrived on the Isle, the Manx presumably first arrived with tails intact. Geneticists believe that the loss of the tail feature is the result of a spontaneous mutation within the Isle’s cat population. The Manx and other short-tailed breeds are genetically quite different. The Manx’s lack of tail is governed by a dominant gene, whereas other short-tailed breeds, e.g., the Japanese Bobtail, are governed by recessive genes. The Isle’s closed environment and small gene pool provided the perfect breeding ground for the dominant gene to be passed from generation to generation.
As often occurs, fanciful theories have also been proposed to explain the Manx’s missing tail, by those skeptical of the scientific explanation. One contends that the Manx is really an unlikely cross between cats and rabbits. Another makes the claim that Irish invaders stole the cats’ tails to use them as decorative plumes for their helmets, and the last and most "romantic" claim is that two Manx cats were the last to board Noah’s Ark, and that he slammed the door on their tails!
The Manx’s more recent history is better-documented and more mundane. The Manx became one of the earliest, well-established, and popular breeds of cat in modern history. King Edward VIII was reported to be a Manx fancier, and cat shows of his era often featured the Manx. The first Manx club was founded in Britain in 1901, and Manx cats are often noted in early American cat registry records, dating back at least one hundred years or more.
The Manx cat was first exported from the Isle of Man, but the supply waned as the demand grew, and so fanciers began to rely on British and American breeders for their cats. Since Manx cats are so difficult to breed, show-quality Manx cats are in high demand because of their rarity today, but pet-quality cats can be obtained easily.
The Manx cat’s personality is probably the reason it has taken the fancy of so many cat owners, despite the physical difficulties and challenges in breeding them. The Manx makes a wonderful household companion. They are active, fun-loving, intelligent, and expressive, despite the fact that they have no tails to swish around. They are very social and gregarious, they form strong bonds with their humans, and get along well with other pets, particularly dogs. However, they are shy around strangers. They can easily be taught to fetch, and are fascinated with water, as are many of the breeds I have reviewed. Considered to be more "dog-like" than many of the other breeds, they may follow their owners around like puppies, and are better able to learn simple verbal commands than many other breeds.
Manx cats come in all coat colors and patterns, though all-white cats are very rare and expensive today. They are small- to medium-sized cats, broad-chested with sloping shoulders and flat sides, and show-quality cats are firmly muscular and lean. They are prized as skilled hunters, have often been sought by farmers with rodent problems, and have been a preferred ship’s breed too. The Manx is known for its unique, rabbit-like gait, called the "Manx hop." They have very long and powerful hind legs and can jump exceptionally high, so no shelf with trinkets on it is safe with a Manx around. Some consider the Manx hop to be the result of skeletal abnormalities related to the Manx gene, but others consider it merely to be the result of its short back and long hind legs.
The Manx presents complicated breeding challenges. Kittens that are "homozygous" (inheriting the Manx gene from both parents), die in vivo early in their development. Manx litters are generally quite small, averaging from two to four kittens, and tail length is random throughout any litter. "Heterozygous" kittens, those that inherit the Manx gene from one parent, also have a mortality rate that is higher than usual, because they may be born with deformities such as Spina Bifida and defects of the colon, and other abnormalities. The Manx standards call for disqualification of any cat with such congenital deformities. Very careful breeding can help to minimize the appearance of defects, and Manx breeders avoid crossing two fully tail-less cats together.
Manx cats come with a variety of tail lengths: rumpy, rumpy-riser, stumpy, stubby, and longy.
Rumpies are rare, highly prized by fanciers and compete in the championship show ring. They have no tail at all, and often have a kind of dimple at the base of the spine instead.
Rumpy-risers have a short knob of a tail that consists of one or two vertebrae connected to the last bone of the spine. Rumpy-risers may compete in the show ring as long as their tails do not exceed a specified length, or have a curve to them.
Stumpies have short stumpy tails of vestigial, fused vertebrae that are often curved or kinked. In the CFA show ring, they are relegated to the "Any Other Variety" category.
Stubbies have short tails of non-fused bones, up to about half the length of a normal cat’s tail, and are considered to be of "pet" quality.
Longies have tails almost as long as a regular cat’s tail. Many breeders dock the tails of these kittens, also considered to be of pet quality, but many fanciers do not approve of this barbaric practice!
The Manx head is round in shape, medium in depth, with a long neck. The nose is small, and the eyes are rounded, prominent, and very expressive. Manx usually have eyes that are some variant of yellow or gold. There are both short- and long-haired Manx. The original breed is the short-haired, which has a coat with a dense, soft underlayer and a longer, coarser outerlayer with guard hairs. The coat appears to be fine and short, and lies close to the skin.
The long-haired Manx is known in some cat registries as the Cymric, and has a silky-textured double coat of medium length, with a belly and neck ruff, tufts of fur between the toes, and tufted ears. The CFA (Cat Fanciers’ Association) considers the Cymric to be a variant of the Manx and judges it in the same division as the short-haired Manx, while TICA (The International Cat Association) considers the long-haired Cymric to be a different, separate breed.
The Isle of Man has adopted the Manx cat as one the symbols of the unique culture of the island nation, and has commemorated it on many beautiful postage stamps and coins. The Manx also appears prominently as the subject of a large number of tourist goods available both on the island, and through the Internet, serving as an emblem of the Isle of Man.
I had a delightful conversation with Marjorie Vliet, owner of "Deer Haven Ranch Manx." She has been breeding Manx cats for over forty years; in addition, she raises dogs and mini-horses on her ranch, where she lives alone, and I don’t think she’d mind if I tell you that she is now 88 years old.
Marjorie raved about the wonderful personality of her Manx cats, and said that she has had numerous repeat customers over the years. Once "Manxed," fanciers tend to stick with the breed, often procuring a new kitten when their present cat enters into its "golden years." She commented about how deeply bonded the cats become to their owners, and also to the household dogs. They are also great travelers, she said, well-suited in temperament to be the pets of people living on the road in RV’s. She added that some of her customers even take their Manx to work with them in the car every day!
She did say that these cats may be a little nervous around strangers at first, especially small noisy children (so am I!), but that they warm up quickly when they feel secure. They are also great hunters who will follow you around like a dog.
Marjorie used to specialize in raising Manx with the "pointed" colorations, but has diversified and now has kittens in a wide variety of color-schemes.
With thanks to: