Japanese Bobtail cat breed: the good luck cat with a special tail

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2023. October 24 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Cats play a big role in Japanese culture, so it is no coincidence that several legends are known about the Japanese Bobtail.


The Japanese Bobtail is very special, because only a few vertebrae develop on its tail. Each individual has a different tail length, some are longer, some are shorter. The uniqueness is caused by a recessive gene, which causes the vertebrae to fuse or decrease in number.


The breed is believed to be at least a thousand years old, as various documents and representations indicate its early origin. According to some sources, the special cat came to Japan on ships from China or Korea. It could hunt rodents on board, but a written record from 1701 by a German naturalist, Engelbert Kaempfer, does not support the breed’s hunting abilities:

[the Japanese] keep only one kind of cat. Its fur has large yellow, black and white spots; its short tail looks like it’s bent and broken. It has no intention of hunting rats and mice, it only caresses and carries itself with women.”

Until the 17th century, Japanese cats were highly valued by the aristocracy. Under a 1601 edict that banned the ownership of cats, Bobtails were put into service to guard granaries and silkworm cocoons to solve the rodent problem. While they were reduced to the status of street cats, Bobtails were increasingly embraced by artists and then by the masses. Targeted breeding began in the United States of America in 1968, but the breed did not spread in Europe until a few years later.


Many of you are probably familiar with cat sculptures with raised hands waving, which are made of ceramic, porcelain or plastic. The decorations in Japanese shop windows (maneki-neko) depict the Japanese Bobtail, which by the way often raises its front legs and thus signals to its owner. Such statues are often placed at the entrances of shops and houses, as they are believed to bring good luck. The orange-white-black calico females were considered particularly lucky in ancient Japan.

According to a legend, once a sleeping cat’s tail got caught in the fire. As the animal ran through the city in terror, it caused a huge fire. Therefore, the emperor decreed that the tails of all cats must be cut off. This is how the Japanese Bobtail was created. By the way, the breed developed in a completely natural way in reality, its shortened tail was formed without human intervention. According to some, the breed is the ancestor of the Manx cat, but this assumption was quickly dismissed by experts. While a small tail can cause a health problem in the case of the Manx, this danger does not exist in the case of the bobtail.

In some Japanese folk tales, the length of cats’ tails has been attributed a special role. Cats with longer tails could turn into evil spirits over time, according to the myth, so individuals with stubby tails were considered more popular.

Breed standard

The Japanese Bobtail is a medium-sized cat and has a thinner body. Its body weight is about 2-5 kg. The head is tapered, triangular in shape. Its nose line is long, its ears are large and have rounded ends. The eyes are large and oval. The limbs are thin and long, the front ones are shorter than the back ones. Its paws are oval. The length of the tail is not determined by the standard, it is unique for each individual, but it cannot be too long and usually curls. In long-haired individuals, the tail resembles a pompom. The coat is silky to the touch, without undercoat. Long-haired Japanese Bobtails have longer fur which is also silky. It can come in all colors, but usually white dominates with possible black and red markings. Its expected lifespan is 10-14 years.


This active and affectionate cat “talks” to you in a soft, chirping voice. It is not loud at all, but it has a lot to say and can tell you what it wants in a variety of tones. When it is not telling you about its day, it is most likely carrying a favorite toy. This is why many compare its nature to that of a dog. It likes to play with water, so it might turn on the tap for itself or start fishing in the tank.

The Japanese Bobtail is playful and smart. Compared to most kitties, this breed remains very active for most of its life. It has a lot of energy and uses it to play whenever it wants. It is very good at learning tricks and will even walk on a leash if it thinks it’s fun. The Bobtail also particularly likes games that work on its intelligence, but cat fishing is also one of its favorites. However, when you sit down, expect this friendly cat to find its place on your lap.

The breed is very agile, often compared to a dog.

Ideal environment

The Japanese Bobtail is a well-adjusted cat that can handle travel well, making it a good choice for busy families or those who enjoy a eventful lifestyle. The downside is that it can be stubborn and it’s hard to change its mind about what things should and shouldn’t be done. It is a cat that needs company. It can be a human, an other cat or even a dog, but typically it is always the boss in the house.

Remember that a bored Bobtail is incredibly creative — and you won’t necessarily like what it comes up with, so make sure to exercise its sharp mind. This energetic cat makes a wonderful pet and is especially good with children. The Japanese Bobtail loves to be the center of attention and is an important part of family life.


It is interesting that in the past it was believed that this breed was only willing to feed on fish. Well, it’s really worth keeping garden ponds and aquariums away from it, but it’ll get by with the same food as other cats. There is also a long-haired version of the Japanese Bobtail; longer coats often require more care, but for both types, it is worth combing the fur every two days to get rid of dead hairs. Its claws should be trimmed if they grow too long. It is necessary to regularly check and clean the cat’s eyes and ears to avoid infections.

Common health problems

The Bobtail is generally healthy and the recessive gene for a short tail is not associated with any spinal or bone abnormalities. The breed has a very high resistance to diseases.

(Literature: János Szinák – István Veress: Cat Guide, Laura Aceti – Viola Autieri: Our Best Friend the Cat)

breed description japanese bobtail short-haired cat

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