Both Bakemono and Nekomata are said to appear as very large cats with longer tails than they should possess. A nekomata is an older bakeneko whose tail has partially split in two (distinguishable from having two tails, since they join before they reach the body).
They may use their shape-shifting powers to live a life as a human would normally, sometimes by taking the place of a member of the household after killing and consuming them in their sleep. They may take the form of a person they intend to kill or harm. Other stories tell about how a bakeneko may sometimes shape-shift into a beautiful girl, so that their owner would be able to marry them and have children.
According to Japanese folklore, a cat may become a bakeneko by meeting any of the following three conditions:
- living over 100 years of age
- reaching one kan (3.75 kg or 8.25 lbs) in weight
- growing its tail too long, which, according to myth, may fork into two. This particular kind of bakeneko is referred to as a nekomata.
Once transformed, bakeneko gain a range of paranormal powers. These powers are used to haunt the household they live in. They include:
- menacing (even eating) sleeping humans
- walking on its hind legs
- creating ghostly fireballs
- leaping over a fresh corpse, turning it into a zombie
- shapeshifting into human forms
Bakeneko also have the ability to eat anything in their way, regardless of size or edibility. This includes humans. Their main food is poison, particularly a certain snake unknown to humankind. Bakeneko are also sometimes said to have the power to enter someone’s dreams.