The Munchkin is a short-legged cat that’s quickly become popular among feline lovers throughout the world. In this article, we discuss the history of the Munchkin cat and the controversy surrounding the genetics of this breed. We also look at health, appearance, personality, general care, and related breeds.
The History of Short-Legged Cats
In 1944, a veterinarian in the United Kingdom, Dr. H. E. William Jones, documented the first sightings of short-legged cats. Physically everything about these felines was the same as your average domestic cat except their short legs. Unfortunately, people believe that these cats, didn’t survive World War II. It wasn’t until 1953 in Russia that short-legged cats emerged again and later, during the 1970s, in the United States.
In 1983, two pregnant cats found their way into the arms of Sandra Hochenedel, a music teacher from Louisiana. While she rehomed one queen named Blueberry, she kept the other named Blackberry. When Blackberry finally had her litter, half of the kittens had short legs. Hochenedel gifted a male kitten from Blackberry’s litter to her friend Kay LaFrance.
LaFrance named her short-legged little guy Toulouse, and for a while, he roamed around the neighborhood unneutered. Before long, LaFrance began to notice more short-legged cats in the community, all descending from Toulouse.
A New Breed Was Born – Or Was It?
In 1991, during a televised cat show hosted by The International Cat Association in Oklahoma, Munchkin cats were introduced. Initially, people refused to accept Munchkin cats as a cat breed and made assumptions about future health issues. People related them to dog breeds such as Dachshunds, predicting they would eventually suffer from hip, leg, and spinal problems.
Why the Short Legs?
It wasn’t until 1993 that TICA accepted the Munchkin cat onto their New Breed development program. They named the cats’ Munchkins, after the miniature inhabitants of Munchkin Country in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”. The Genetics Committee at TICA studied the breeding patterns of the Munchkin cat as the breed developed to determine what was causing the Munchkin’s short limbs.
They concluded that an autosomal dominant genetic mutation was responsible for the shortened limbs. This genetic mutation causes achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism associated with short bones and an enlarged head. However, the Munchkin cat’s head has normal proportions so it’s argued that pseudoachondroplasia better describes the genetic mutation.
To Breed or Not to Breed?
Many people argue that purposely breeding cats with genetic deformities is unethical because of the health problems it causes. Due to this controversy, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) and American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA) refuse to recognize the Munchkin breed.
Munchkin breeders argue that health problems associated with achondroplasia are present in other dog and cat breeds. Breeders also add that breeding a Munchkin cat is the same as breeding dogs such as Dachshunds, and Corgis. So why should the Munchkin cat be treated any differently to these breeds? TICA states that the Munchkin’s differences occur naturally, not all Munchkins exist because of humans.
After nearly a decade of monitoring, the Munchkin cat finally gained recognition and was granted TICA Championship status in 2003. This caused uproar; one TICA judge even resigned out of disapproval.
The Munchkin Gene
The Munchkin gene is a common name for the autosomal dominant gene responsible for shortened limbs. A breeder has to be selective due to the genetic mutation that takes place when mating two cats. A kitten who is a homozygous carrier of the Munchkin gene will die before birth. A Munchkin Kitten can only survive if it’s a heterozygous carrier or a non-carrier of the Munchkin gene.
There’s a 25 percent chance the kittens will not survive in utero when breeding two Munchkin cats. Therefore, a breeder will breed Munchkin cats with normal domestic cats to ensure the kittens they produce are in good health. The chances of a homozygous Munchkin kitten when outbred drastically decrease to 0 percent. The probability of a short-legged Munchkin kitten stands at 25 percent, whereas the possibility of a regular-sized cat is 50 percent.
Contrary to popular belief, the Munchkin cat suffers from very few breed-specific health issues. However, there’s talk about predispositions to health problems, particularly lordosis, pectus excavatum, and osteoarthritis.
Lordosis is a spinal condition that commonly affects humans and animals with achondroplasia. The spinal muscles grow short, which causes the spine to sink, causing excess pressure on internal organs. Although Munchkins are predisposed to spinal problems such as lordosis, any feline can be affected.
Pectus excavatum is a congenital deformity affecting the sternum, which becomes flat or concave, causing a narrowing in the chest. The indentation is usually noticeably in kittens when they’re a few days old. A cat with pectus excavatum may suffer from vomiting, coughing, and breathing difficulties. They’re also prone to lung infections. Cat breeds such as Munchkins, Burmese, Siamese, and Bengals are genetically predisposed to pectus excavatum. However, it is not breed-specific and can occur in any cat.
Finally, osteoarthritis, again this isn’t breed-specific. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) states that osteoarthritis can be difficult to diagnose, but it’s more common than you think. It is a degenerative disease causing pain in the joints due to the wearing away of cartilage.
This short-legged cat may easily lure you into thinking this feline is a miniature cat breed. However, the upper body of a Munchkin is the same size as a normal cat, so they’re a small to medium-sized breed.
The Munchkins’ back slopes upwards due to having slightly longer hind legs, which can cause slight bowing of their legs. Their short stumpy legs are disproportionate to their standard-sized bodies giving the illusion that they’re elongated. Their strange stature landed them with the cute nickname sausage cats.
The average height of a normal domestic feline is 10-inches tall from floor to shoulder. In comparison, a Muchkin cat is between five and nine inches tall. The Guinness World Record for shortest living cat belongs to Lilieput, a 10-year-old female Munchkin cat from California. She measures 5.25 inches tall, floor to shoulder.
Adult Munchkins usually weigh between six and 9-pounds, but weight differs between the sexes. Females commonly weigh between five and 7-pounds, whereas a male can weigh anything from seven to 10-pounds. When a Munchkin kitten is ready to leave home at 12-16 weeks old, it should weigh in at two to 3-pounds.
The most obvious characteristic is the Munchkins’ short stumpy legs. Surprisingly, some munchkins don’t look too dissimilar to an average cat due to variations in leg length. There are three named leg lengths in the Munchkin cat breed, standard-sized, super-short, and the rug-hugger.
The standard-sized Munchkin is the tallest variation. Legs vary between one and 2-inches shorter than a normal adult cat. A super-short munchkin’s leg length varies between 2-3 inches shorter than a standard-sized adult cat. Finally, there’s the rug-hugger, you guessed it! This variation got its endearing name because its belly hangs so low it looks like it’s hugging the rug.
The Munchkin cat comes in all colors and patterns and can be short or long-haired. Both short-haired and long-haired varieties possess an all-weather coat with a moderate undercoat. The long coat is thick and silky, whereas the short coat is less dense with a plush texture.
Little Legs – Big Personality
What a Munchkin cat lacks in height, they make up for in personality. This feisty little breed is mischievous and playful and gets along well with dogs and children. These cats are known for quirky characteristics, such as hoarding shiny objects and standing on their hind legs like a meerkat.
Don’t let their short legs fool you because these little guys are fast and furious. These short-legged powerhouses never fail to entertain, chasing, running, and bouncing around in a comedic manner. The Munchkin’s extremely intelligent and capable of picking up commands similar to dogs. They’re even capable of learning to fetch.
Regular cats are probably best known for their jumping capabilities, but what about Munchkins? Although they may not jump as high, their short-legged stature doesn’t prevent them from trying. They’re agile and curious, and it’s not unusual for them to reach kitchen countertops. Although, a rug-hugger may find it difficult to jump that high.
Munchkin Cat Care
Munchkins are a low-maintenance breed and a generally happy and content with food, water, and cuddles. We know there’s a little more to it than that to keep them healthy and clean.
The grooming needs of a Munchkins are minimal. A short-haired Munchkin will need brushing or combing once a week to remove loose fur. Long coats need a little more attention to prevent matting. Regular grooming, removing loose hair also helps prevent hairballs.
The short stature of the Munchkin cat makes them easy prey for predators, so probably best to keep them indoors. To take care of their claws’ allow supervised access to an outdoor space or a scratching post. Munchkin cats may need their claws clipping every two weeks.
Maintain healthy teeth and gums by brushing their teeth with a toothpaste specially formulated for cats once a week.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials states a complete and balanced diet is essential for all cats. Like other cats, the Munchkin cat is an obligate carnivore, which means they need meat protein in their diet. They need regular exercise to avoid putting on unnecessary weight. Any excess weight can have a detrimental impact on their little legs.
Kittens need food with a higher fat and protein content. Most manufacturers cater for kittens and will label accordingly.
Cats Related to The Munchkin
- Minskin – A cross between the Munchkin, Sphynx, Burmese, and Devon Rex, creating a hybrid with penetrating blue eyes. They come in several coat types, the most common being a peach fuzz. They’re intelligent, mischievous, and there’s never a dull moment.
- Skookum – This hybrid is a cross between the Munchkin and LaPerm. Skookums have a fantastic curly hairdo and great personalities to match.
- Bambino – These playful little guys are a cross between the Munchkin and Sphynx. They’re usually hairless like the Sphynx and take on several skin color combinations. They make great pets for people with allergies due to their hairless trait.
- Dwelf – A hybrid derived from the Munchkin, Sphynx, and American Curl. This sweet little hairless breed is prone to bone and joint problems, which breeders are trying to eliminate as they develop.
- Genetta – The Genetta gets its name from the African Genet because of its similar markings. Created by crossbreeding the Munchkin, Bengal, and Savannah Cat, the Genetta makes a great pet and gets on well with children and dogs.
- Kinkalow – The Kinkalow is an affectionate, sweet-natured powerhouse and a hybrid of the Munchkin and American Curl. All Kinkalows carry the gene that causes the curled ears, but they don’t all develop them.
- Lambkin – These wooly little love bugs are a hybrid of the Munchkin and the Selkirk Rex. Some develop tight curly hairdos, while others inherit the Munchkins silky coat.
- Napoleon – A cross between a Munchkin and a Persian, this cute little cat loves human company. They tend to have large almond eyes, a medium to long coat, and short snouts.
- Scottish Kilt – The Munchkin and Scottish Fold mix are sweet-natured and extremely affectionate. Scottish kilts have big round eyes, but not all develop the curled ears.
Breeding Munchkins is still a new process. We don’t know much about the health concerns these hybrids may have. The Munchkins’ temperament is extremely desirable so, no doubt that crossbreeding will carry on developing.
Is The Munchkin Cat Friendly?
Munchkin cats are friendly and get on well with everybody. They’re sociable, have great personalities, and love human company.
Do Munchkin Cats Suffer From Health Problems?
There are no breed-specific health issues linked to the Munchkin cat. However, they are predisposed to osteoarthritis, pectus excavatum, and lordosis.
How Much Does a Munchkin Cat Cost?
A Munchkin cat from a reputable breeder can cost anything between 700 dollars and 1100 dollars depending on leg length, coat length, and color. Championship breeders can charge up to 3000 dollars for bloodlines and rare colors.
What Is The Lifespan Of a Munchkin Cat?
According to TICA, a Munchkin cat can live for 15 to 18+ years when cared for correctly.
Overall, We Love These Little Guys!
Munchkin cats make fantastic pets. They’re affectionate and get on brilliantly with children and other animals. Their big personality and little quirks have become popular among cat lovers over the last couple of decades.
Characterized by their short legs, caused by a dominant mutation, they’ve caused a massive divide in the feline world. Overshadowed by the controversy surrounding its existence, this delightful cat struggles to get recognized as a breed. Although Munchkins don’t suffer any breed-specific health issues, the stigma of potential health problems lingers. Both the CFA and AFCA are still opposed to giving the Munchkin cat breed status.