The hidden price of tail-less cats

To the Editor:

All of us are aware of domestic tail-less cats. Many of us know them as Manx cats. They are appealing to some folk, mainly for their unusual lack of a tail. These cats exist mainly due to breeders crossing cats who have shorter and shorter tails until they get kittens who have no tails. But here is the rub. In a litter where you may have one or two healthy manx kittens, there can be others with serious genetic and physiological abnormalities. They are born with a condition called sacro-caudel dygenesis. Their tail bone is not only missing but the backbone up into the body and the sacrum are missing or deformed, along with the nerves coming from that part of the spine. The kittens appear to be normal for about a month. The mom takes care of any fecal matter or urine by licking and cleaning them. But as they begin to grow and move about, it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong. They cannot defecate normally; their back legs often do not work. And if you cannot find someone willing to help them express their fecal matter several times a day and help them move about, then they need to be euthanized. And it is hard to find someone willing to take on this extra care.

At the Kingdom Animal Shelter, we received a surrendered family of cats ... a mom and five kittens, all a beautiful coal black. The mom's tail was normal in length. One of the kittens' tail is normal, two have bob tails, and two have no tails. They are sweet, sweet, sweet. One of the bobtail kittens suddenly lost all ability to move, and needed to be euthanized. As I said to the foster parent, with one genetic abnormality, there may be more, and perhaps that is what happened to this kitten. And now that they are beginning to try to walk, one of the tailless kittens' back legs don't work properly. His back legs move like a frog's legs move. It does not bode well, not only for walking but also for the ability to eliminate. Meanwhile, there is a kitten at one of the vets we use who is an absolute sweetheart, long black silver fur, friendly, playful, loving his food. He was found as a stray. But he can't eliminate and his back legs don't work properly. He is tailless. If there is a vet tech or someone willing to work with him, help him eliminate daily, maybe fashion something for him to walk, he could have a good and happy though challenging life. I have heard of a vet tech who took such a kitten, kept it in diapers, and it lived a good life for 8 years. But it takes a special person willing to tend to the special needs.

So, there appears to be some pockets of cat communities in the area that have the genes for shorter tails, and this is leading to a number of kittens with sacro-caudel dysgenesis.

It is particularly hard for me to understand why we must cross breed and cross breed to get a particular trait that is really a genetic abnormality and which leads to who knows how many kittens being thrown away to get a few that are viable and healthy and able to be sold. Here are these beautiful little beings, trapped in bodies that don't work, all because we are after some peculiarity, some novelty that may sell. It is extremely unfair.

If you think you might be a person who could take on the care of one of these special needs kittens, give us a call at 563-2488.

Helen Morrison

Board member, Kingdom Animal Shelter

Cabot, Vt.


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