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The History Of The Manx Cat

The Manx cat is not as popular as it used to be.  Indeed, if this famous symbol of the Isle of Man were to appear today, it might well not be widely accepted, owing to the harmful effects which can be caused by the gene which causes the cats to be tailless.  But it is an old breed which has been around for a long time, so it is accepted by most cat registries, and most people have heard of it.  But where and when it originated is unknown, and there are many legends concerning it, some plausible, but others utterly ridiculous.  Let's take a look at some of them...

Implausible Manx Legends

Some of the legends about the Manx are based on the mistaken belief that an injury suffered by an animal in its lifetime can be passed on to its offspring.  This is impossible, but the belief is also responsible for myths concerning the origins of the Ragdoll, which was once said to be limp and floppy due to an injury caused to Josephine, the ancestor of all Ragdolls.  In the case of the Manx, one story was that the tail of the first one was trapped in the door of Noah's Ark, or bitten off by a dog when it left the Ark.  The cat then swam to the Isle of Man, and produced all future tailless cats.  Other stories have Vikings cutting off kittens' tails for helmet plumes, and mother cats biting off their kittens' tails.    But the most extraordinary claim is that the cats are the offspring of female cats and buck rabbits!  This is of course completely impossible.

Possible Manx Origins

Because short-tailed cats are rare in Europe, but relatively common in Asia, it was suggested in the past that tailless cats came west via the early Phoenician trade routes.  Another suggestion is that tailless cats were shipwrecked on the Isle of Man.  Some sources say that the cats were survivors of a ship of the Spanish Armada which foundered on the island in 1558, carrying ships' cats which had been picked up on an earlier trip to the Far East.  Eastern Europe and Russia also seem to be a possible source, with rumours of a ship from the Baltic, or populations of tailless cats in the Crimea.    The problem with all these theories, however, is that we now know that bobtailed Asian cats do not have the same mutation as the Manx.

The rarity of the Manx mutation anywhere else may mean that it is a local occurrence, and the breed is Manx through and through.  Or it could be that the mutation arose elsewhere in Europe, but due to its health implications – two copies of the gene in a cat are lethal – the breed survived only in the limited breeding population of a small island.  Similar tailless cats have occasionally been recorded elsewhere in the UK.  In fact, tailless mutations occur fairly regularly across the world, but they almost always die out.


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Manx History

The first written record of the breed is from 1810, when English painter JMW Turner claimed to have had seven Manx cats of his own.  But it is highly likely that they existed some time before this, because they are not mentioned as a novelty, but a regional curiosity.  The Manx language, which began to die out as the island's main spoken language in the early 18th century, contained no word for the cats.  This could mean that they appeared no earlier than this, and the 1700s seem to be a likely and generally accepted time for their origins. 

Manx cats were shown from the start of the UK cat fancy in the 19th century.  At first there was some debate as to whether cats with short tails were true Manx.   Like other early breeds, they were exported and accepted by registries abroad quite readily, with CFA in the USA accepting them in 1920.  Pointed Manx have been developed, initially in Australia, but are accepted only in TICA.

The Long Haired Manx 

The Cymric – the longhaired version of the Manx – is more widely accepted.  There is some extra speculation about how this version came about.  Some people say that Norwegian Forest Cats, perhaps en route to Greenland or even the New World with early Viking Expeditions, stopped off at the Isle of Man and bred with the local Manx cats, leaving long haired progeny behind.  However, the Isle of Man's ports were busy throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and the longhair trait could easily have been brought in by ships' cats, perhaps hidden in a short haired cat (the longhair gene is recessive).    Some have suggested outcrosses to Persians, but this has always been denied.  Whatever the origin, the first longhaired Manx was shown in the 1960s, and the name was changed from Longhaired Manx to Cymric in the 1970s, and considered as a separate breed.  It was recognised by a number of cat registries, but not by the GCCF, who wanted no more tailless breeds after the Manx.  Since then, some associations have dropped the name Cymric and revised the Manx standard to include both short haired and long haired versions, because short haired litters often included long haired kittens, which could not be shown as Cymrics.  Other associations use the two names but essentially treat the breeds as partners, with long haired Manx automatically being classed as Cymric.  The Cymric is very rare in the UK, but a little more common in North America.

The Manx Today

The Manx is a relatively uncommon breed these days, but of historical  interest, particularly on the Isle of Man of course.  The Manx gene can cause serious skeletal problems and also cause kittens to be stillborn.  Greater knowledge of genetics has reduced the casualties, and these days, with responsible breeding, there is no reason why Manx cats should not be healthy.  Breeders may wait a while before selling kittens, as potential problems show up early.  Manx cats are quiet, affectionate, and have been described as dog-like in the way they follow their owners around.  So they can make delightful and rather unusual pets. 


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