Japanese Bobtail: Cat Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Japanese bobtail on mantle

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The Japanese bobtail is a petite and outgoing kitty companion. The most notable feature of the breed is the shortened tail—sometimes referred to as a “pom” by breed enthusiasts. Resulting from a natural gene mutation, it can be straight, bent, or kinked but often resembles a bunny’s bushy tail.

These cats are good-natured and playful, making them ideal house pets. They’re avid hunters, affectionate lap cats, and intelligent enough to learn tricks. With a breed history stretching back thousands of years, the Japanese bobtail as we know it today is a common sight in Japan. 

Breed Overview

Weight: 8 to 10 pounds (males); 5 to 7 pounds (females)

Length: About a foot long

Coat: Short or long hair

Coat Color: Wide variety of accepted colors including solid white, black, chocolate, cream, red, lilac, and blue; bi-colored and tricolored coats are also common

Eye Color: Any shade, though blue and gold are common as well as odd-eyes

Life Expectancy: 15 to 18 years

Adult Japanese bobtail outside
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White Japanese bobtail with odd-color eyes
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Cream Japanese bobtail
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Characteristics of the Japanese Bobcat

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Vocalize High
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Japanese Bobcat

The Japanese bobtail is ancient cat breed commonly linked with Japan—and for good reason. These cats are a common sight in the streets of the country and have played a pivotal role in protecting Japan’s silk trade in the early 1600’s.

However, the origin of the Japanese bobtail is believed to stretch back even further. Many experts feel that this striking feline originated in China or Korea at least a thousand years ago. Some sources believe that the Emperor of China gifted these bobtail cats to the Emperor of Japan in the 7th century. Others suggest that Buddhist monks were the first to bring bobtail cats into Japan as a means of protecting rice paper scrolls from rats.

In either case, history suggests that the cats were released at the order of the Japanese emperor in the year 1602 to eradicate rodents that were threatening Japan’s silk trade. It was illegal to sell or keep the bobtails as pets, and as a result, these felines became a commonly-sighted street cat in Japan.

No love was lost for the Japanese bobtail, however. The breed frequently appears in ancient paintings and is commonly represented in popular Japanese figurines of a white cat with one paw raised, called the “Beckoning Cat.” Even a popular cartoon character, Hello Kitty, is commonly believed to be a Japanese bobtail—though no official statement on this exists from Sarnio, the character’s creator.

The Japanese bobtail was first introduced to the United States in the 1960’s. The cats gained attention for their interactive personalities and unique appearance. A woman named Elizabeth Freret is credited with importing the first Japanese bobtails in 1968. Within a decade, the shorthair variation of the breed was accepted by the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) for championship status in 1976. The longhair bobtail would have to wait until 1993 for champion status, but today both breeds are CFA-recognized. 

Japanese Bobcat Care

The Japanese bobtail is a sociable and agreeable pet. These cats enjoy the company of human companions, but also get along with other cats and dogs. They’re very adaptable to a wide variety of home environments but should be kept as indoor pets for their safety and well-being.

Breed enthusiasts find the Japanese bobtail to be a quick learner and the breed is soft-spoken but will often vocalize when spoken to. Most bobtails are very playful and some have a tendency to carry around a ball in their mouth—much like popular retrievers of the canine world.

Like most cat breeds, the Japanese bobtail will thrive in an environment with daily human companionship. They enjoy games, including fetch, and can be taught many tricks. Of course, they also love to curl up for a cat nap on a warm lap!

The Japanese bobtail may have either a shorthair coat or longhair coat in a wide array of colors, including solid, tabby, and bi-color. Tri-color bobtails are also common and are referred to as ‘mi-ke.’ The mi-ke coat can be a typical calico (a tri-color combination of red, white, and brown) or many other color combinations including chocolate, lilac, and smoke colors. 

With no undercoat, the smooth, silky fur of the Japanese bobtail is easy to maintain. Both long and short hair varieties will benefit from a weekly brushing to remove loose hair and promote circulation and shine.

The Japanese bobtail is sometimes confused with the Manx. However, you can often distinguish the difference between the two breeds by looking at a cat’s body structure. Manx are typically more robust, with heavier bones and rounder features. The Japanese bobtail, on the other hand, has a more svelte frame and muscular appearance. The triangular head of the Japanese bobtail also helps to distinguish it from the rounder head of the Manx.

Common Health Problems

There are very few health problems commonly associated with this cat breed. In general, the Japanese bobtail is considered to be very healthy and not overly prone to any particular disorder or disease.

However, there are several common conditions that you should be alert to for any feline:

Diet and Nutrition

Japanese bobtails don’t require any special diet or feeding regiments. What they do need, however, is a quality cat food and a well-balanced diet. It’s important not to let one of the cat’s greatest enemies—obesity, creep into the picture through over-feeding or too many treats. 

Where to Adopt or Buy

Adopting or buying a Japanese bobtail can be challenging, despite the breed’s pleasant personality. Breeders are still relatively limited in the United States and an additional challenge is the fact that these cats are known to have very small litters—usually just two to four kittens. If you have your heart set on a Japanese bobtail, expect to spend time on a waiting list and to spend upwards of $1,000, depending on coat color and markings.

You may also want to look into rescue groups in your area to find your new furry friend. Many times, pets are surrendered due to the death of an owner or serious life changes. See if Japanese bobtail rescue groups exist in your area and check with local shelters. 

More Cat Breeds and Further Research

Learn more about the Japanese bobtail through the National Breed Club, or by speaking with breeders and owners that are enthusiastic and passionate about the breed. The Japanese bobtail is a wonderful companion and might be your purr-fect pet, but understand the breed and the commitment before you bring home one of these special kitties. 

You might also enjoy learning more about these cat breeds that also sport a short tail: