What to Know About the Japanese Bobtail


In this Article

  • Japanese Bobtail Characteristics
  • Caring for a Japanese Bobtail
  • Japanese Bobtail Health Issues
  • Other Considerations for Japanese Bobtails
  • History of the Japanese Bobtail

There are bobtail cats worldwide, in the United States, Spain, and Portugal — and people can’t get enough of those unique tails.

But what makes the Japanese bobtail stand out among the rest? 

Japanese Bobtail Characteristics

Japanese bobtail size and shape. Japanese bobtails are small-to-medium cats that are mostly muscle.

Females tend to weigh between 5 and 7 pounds. Males weigh 8 to10 pounds.

Fur features. Japanese bobtails can be either shorthair or longhair. Their coat can be almost any color, but bi-colors and calico tend to be the most common.

Regardless of the length of their fur, Japanese bobtails have a silky soft coat.

Distinct physical features. When you look at a Japanese bobtail, you may notice that it stands a little differently. The breed’s back legs are longer than the front legs and have a distinct Z shape.

Their back legs are incredibly muscular. They use them to easily make high jumps and move with grace.

Japanese bobtails can have almost any eye color, but those with two different colored eyes are especially popular.

Their most famous trait is their namesake, their short pom-pom tail. A recessive gene gives the Japanese bobtail its signature bunnylike tail.

Japanese bobtail lifespan. Like many cats, you can expect a Japanese bobtail to live a long life. On average, they live to be 15 to 18 years old.

Japanese bobtail personality. Japanese bobtails aren’t for couch potatoes or lazy Saturday cuddles. They’re eager to play and explore during their free time.

Bobtails are family-oriented cats with a desire for companionship. They enjoy humans so much that they even talk back with chirps and meows!

Caring for a Japanese Bobtail

Coat care. Regardless of fur length, the Japanese bobtail’s single coat is low-maintenance. Both types need weekly brushing to remove dead hair.

Dental hygiene. Dental problems are a common concern for many cats. A lack of dental hygiene often leads to dental disease or infections.

The most effective form of dental hygiene for cats is the same as for humans, brushing their teeth! But most cats won’t like having their teeth brushed, so you’ll need to train your Japanese bobtail from a young age to be comfortable with it.

If brushing their teeth isn’t an option, consider these alternatives:

  • Your vet can professionally clean their teeth.
  • You can give them treats, chews, or food designed for dental health.
  • You can use a cat-friendly oral rinse.

Claw care. Most cats need their claws trimmed every two to three weeks. You, your groomer, or your vet can trim your Japanese bobtail’s claws.

Feeding and nutrition. Many good-quality cat foods at your local pet store have enough nutrients for your bobtail. Make sure you feed your cat an appropriate amount for their size, activity level, and age. 

The cat food label will guide you on how much to feed your cat daily. Separate that amount into two meals about 8 to 12 hours apart.

Some cats prefer free feeding, which means they always have access to food. For other cats, free feeding can lead to overeating. 

Free feeding is best done with dry food. If left out, wet food can attract bacteria and pests.

Deciding between wet or dry food depends on your cat’s needs and preferences. 

Wet food has many flavors and a high moisture content. Dry food is affordable and stays fresh for a long time. 

Talk to your vet to figure out the ideal diet for your Japanese bobtail. Their needs will change as they age, so continue the conversation throughout your bobtail’s life to make sure they get their necessary nutrients. 

All cats need constant access to clean, fresh water. Keep their food and water bowls separate so your cat remembers to drink water and doesn’t get distracted by a snack.

Japanese bobtails love learning tricks and training, but be careful with giving them treats. Treats should be less than 15% of their daily calories.

Exercise and activity needs. Japanese bobtails love playing and need more stimulation than other breeds. Make sure your home is equipped with various activities to keep your bobtail engaged:

  • Fetching
  • Hunting toys
  • Exploring nooks and crannies
  • Jumping and climbing
  • Learning tricks
  • They even love playing in water

Indoor vs. outdoor cats. Many cats love the great outdoors, but no cat should be left outside unsupervised. 

If left on their own, cats will hunt small rodents and birds. Their hunting damages local ecosystems and exposes your cat to parasites and diseases.

If you take your Japanese bobtail out, use a harness or leash.

Vet visits. Kittens need several checkups for the first few months to monitor their development, get vaccines, and be spayed or neutered. Your vet will determine the number and frequency of the visits.

Adult Japanese bobtails need to see the vet yearly. Your vet will update your cat’s vaccines, do routine exams, check their weight, and test their vitals at these annual visits.

Senior bobtails often need two visits per year or as directed by your vet. These visits will focus on monitoring symptoms of age, doing routine lab work, and checking for developing diseases.

Flea, tick, and worm care. All cats need year-round protection from fleas, ticks, and heartworms. Even if your bobtail spends all their time inside, they still need protection.

Fleas often hitch a ride on people or other pets into your home. Talk to your vet about which flea preventative is best for your bobtail.

Ticks tend to be a problem if your cat goes outside. Consider a tick preventative if your cat spends time outside.

Heartworm disease is a deadly disease caused by heartworms transmitted through infected mosquitoes. There’s no treatment for heartworm disease in cats, so prevention is the only option.

Talk to your vet about infection rates in your area, available preventive options, and heartworm exams at your bobtail’s routine vet visits.

Japanese Bobtail Health Issues

Japanese bobtails are a healthy breed with no known hereditary conditions. They’re still susceptible to many common health issues affecting cats.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is a common heart disease that affects cats. It thickens the heart’s walls and makes it pump blood less efficiently.

HCM is a genetic condition, so it’s up to breeders to prevent passing the disease through their bobtails. Otherwise, HCM can appear at any point in your cat’s life.

Like with many diseases, Japanese bobtails won’t show any symptoms until the disease has become severe. These symptoms may include difficulty breathing and lethargy.

There’s no cure for HCM. Treatments are intended to relieve your bobtail’s symptoms.

Feline dental disease. More than half of adult cats have a form of dental disease. Luckily, many dental problems are preventable and treatable using the methods discussed earlier.

Most feline dental diseases start with gingivitis. If left untreated, it leads to periodontitis and more severe diseases like tooth resorption.

Once your cat has gingivitis or periodontitis, they’ll need a professional cleaning by your vet to treat the problem. You can prevent this with good dental hygiene.

Severe dental diseases need more intense treatments like tooth extractions. Dental infections can also lead to systemic infections and other diseases, so treatment is vital.

What about hip and spine issues? A major concern for cats with short tails is their hips and spine. Manx cats can develop severe spinal and neurological diseases, so some people worry about Japanese bobtails.

Luckily for bobtails, they don’t have the gene mutation that causes health problems for Manx cats and some other short-tail breeds. There aren’t any known problems due to the recessive gene that gives Japanese bobtails their unique tail.

Other Considerations for Japanese Bobtails

Are they good with other pets? Japanese bobtails do better when they have another active pet to bond with. They don’t like being alone, so it’s good to have another pet.

Are they good with kids? They’re family-oriented cats and will love having children around.

Are they allergenic? Japanese bobtails are low shedders, but they can still be a problem for people with a cat allergy. They aren’t considered hypoallergenic.

History of the Japanese Bobtail

Japanese bobtails are an old breed from 16th-century Japan. They’re a highly honored cat, frequently appearing on silk screens and woodblock prints. 

But Japanese bobtails might be even older. Some stories suggest that the bobtails were brought from China in the 6th century, a full 1,000 years earlier!

These cats had many jobs in Japan. They defended ancient libraries from mice, served as prized cats for royalty, and eventually served as city-wide rat-catchers for the silk industry.

The earlier bobtails were smaller than the modern Japanese bobtails. Over time, they bred with other cats to become the bobtail you know today.

Japanese bobtails didn’t reach the United States until 1968, the same decade that the American bobtail made its first appearance. The Japanese bobtail has been popular ever since, chirping and shaking its pom-pom tail! 

Show Sources

Photo Credits:

1. JordiStock / Getty Images


American Humane: “Grooming Your Pet.”

Animal Corner: “Japanese Bobtail.”

Animals: “Uncontrolled Outdoor Access for Cats: An Assessment of Risks and Benefits.”

ASPCA: “Cat Nutrition Tips.”

CatCareforLife: “Frequency of veterinary check ups.”

The Cat Fanciers’ Association: “About the Japanese Bobtail.”

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: “Feeding Your Cat,” “Feline Dental Disease,” “Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.”

Drimmer, S., Weitzman, G. Cat Breed Guide, National Geographic Partners, 2019.

International Cat Care: “Japanese Bobtail.”

Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery: “DNA MUTATIONS OF THE CAT: The good, the bad and the ugly.”

Mayo Clinic: “Pet allergy.”

TICA: “Japanese Bobtail Longhair Breed.”

VCA Animal Hospitals: “Cat Dental Care and Hygiene,” “Flea Control in Cats,” “Heartworm Disease in Cats,” “Japanese Bobtail,” “Ticks in Cats.”

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