The Manx is a powerfully-built, medium-sized, tailless feline. Its hind legs are markedly longer than its front legs, creating a continuous arch from shoulders to rump that gives the cat a uniquely rounded appearance when viewed in profile. Its conformation also gives it a hopping, rabbit-like gait. The Manx is stocky and has a broad chest and a short back. It has strong facial features - full jowly cheeks, large eyes, prominent ears and a wide, straight muzzle – all of which contribute to the impression of roundness in this breed.
Of course, the most distinctive characteristic of the Manx is its tail, or rather the lack of it tail. The true Manx is completely tailless. However, purebred Manx kittens in the same litter can range from being tailless to having tails that are practically normal in length. The gene for taillessness appears to be dominant. Purebred Manx kittens are classified according to their tail length as follows:
- Rumpy or Dimple Rumpy: Rumpies are considered to be the “true” Manx, with not even a trace of a tail. Instead, there is a dimple, or a slight hollow, where their tail normally would start at the end of the spine. Rumpies are highly desirable in this breed and are the only competitive variety in the Manx show ring.
- Riser or Rumpy Riser: Risers have only a very few discernable vertebrae and/or a stub of cartilage where their tails otherwise would be. This is most noticeable when the cat is happy and “raising” its tail. Some Rumpy Risers, especially those with only a trace of a tail, can be shown. The Riser’s tail bones, to the extent they exist, are almost always fused.
- Stumpy: The Stumpy Manx has a partial tail that is longer than that of a Riser but still shorter than that of a Longy. Stumpies can move their tails, because their terminal spinal vertebrae are not necessarily fused. They are not acceptable in the Manx show ring but are important to well-thought-out Manx breeding programs.
- Longy or Tailed: Longies, although born to two pedigreed Manx parents, have tails that are normal or nearly-normal in length. Longies are not permitted in the Manx show ring but, like the Stumpies, can be shown in AOV (which stands for Any Other Variety) classes. Longies are extremely valuable contributors to Manx breeding programs.
Rumpies are almost never intentionally bred to other Rumpies by knowledgeable Manx breeders, because the genetic mutation that causes complete taillessness is also linked to other inheritable defects. Kittens from like-to-like pairings of Rumpies usually are stillborn or die shortly after birth. Stumpies and Longies are so valued in Manx breeding programs, because crosses of Rumpies to Stumpies or Longies greatly reduce the risk of such genetic complications.
Manx can exhibit two different coat lengths. The shorter-haired Manx has a dense double coat with a thick, short underlayer and a longer, coarser outcoat made up of guard hairs. The longer-haired Manx, recognized by some purebred cat registries as the Cymric, has a silky-textured double coat of medium length, with longer britches, belly and neck ruffs, tufts of fur between the toes and full ear furnishings. The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) considers the Cymric to be a variety of Manx and judges it in the short-haired division, while The International Cat Association (TICA) judges it in the long-haired division.
Short or long haired, all Manx have a soft, plush coat. They come in a wide palate of acceptable colors and patterns, although colorpointed Manx are not recognized. Some registries do not recognize the Chocolate or the Lilac varieties. The quality of the Manx coat is considered to be much more important than its color or pattern variations.
The Manx is an ancient breed. There is some disagreement about its exact origin, which is the subject of theories ranging from plausible to fairy tale lore. Some fanciers believe that the Manx descends from cats that swam ashore from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon, landing on the Isle of Man off the west coast of mainland Great Britain in or around 1588. Another myth is that the Manx descends from a mating between a cat and a rabbit. Still another legend is that the direct ancestor of the Manx was the last animal to leave Noah’s Ark, getting its tail caught in and severed by the closing door. Many people think that the Manx descends directly from cats that were native to the Isle of Man. In any case, tailless cats have lived on that island for hundreds of years.
Whatever the precise historical origins of the Manx breed are, the confinement and isolation of cats on the Isle of Man inevitably led to in-breeding within a small feline community that had an extremely restricted gene pool. This led to concentration and accentuation of both good and bad genetic traits. At some point in time, a spontaneous genetic mutation independently caused a malformation of the vertebral column of one or more of these cats. With unrestricted interbreeding among close relatives and the accompanying genetic intermingling, the spinal defect quickly spread throughout the island cat colonies. Taillessness soon became the norm.
The first purebred Manx breed club was established in England in 1901. The Cat Fanciers’ Association of America (CFA) recognized the Manx as early as the 1920s. However, the Manx remains a fairly uncommon domestic breed, in part due to their small litter sizes and other medical and physical abnormalities associated with the genetic mutation for taillessness.
Purebred Manx can be healthy cats, showing few signs of aging as they mature. Careful selection of breeding stock by knowledgeable, dedicated breeders has helped improve the longevity of the breed. However, breeding Manx cats can be frustrating, because they tend to have small litters and some kittens will have tails or tail stubs of varying length, which is not considered to be desirable in show animals. Manx also have a heightened risk of developing spina bifida due to their abnormal spinal structure. Manx kittens should be checked shortly after birth to assess whether their anal openings are properly formed. They are predisposed to rectal prolapse, sacrocaudal dysgenesis, urinary incontinence and progressive corneal dystrophy. Manx also have an increased risk of developing rump fold intertrigo, megacolon and constipation as they age. As with other feline breeds, keeping Manx cats indoors, neutering or spaying them and providing acceptable surfaces for their normal scratching behavior are all important to their health and longevity.