The Munchkin cat breed
(Note: every gorgeous photo of every impossibly cute Munchkin kitten in this story appears here due to the generosity of Charlotte Perrin of Windrunnerpets.webs.com. Thank you, Charlotte, for your kindness and help with this article.)
Are you curious about the newest breed of cat, which might not be a breed at all?
Or maybe you’ve seen photos of an impossibly cute, but strangely short-legged cat and wondered whether it was deliberately bred that way, or if it was the result of a genetic accident? (hint: it’s both.)
If so, you’re probably wondering about the Munchkin cat, which is all of those contradictions rolled into one endearing package.
Munchkin: the youngest cat breed…maybe
The Egyptian Mau, a spotted beauty of a cat, was found mummified in the tombs of the pharaohs.
The Korat, a cat from Thailand prized for its silver coat and enchanting green eyes, was first documented in the 1300s.
The Persian, a longhaired feline stunner, was smuggled out of Iran along with other exotic valuables: spices and jewels, in the 1600s.
And then there’s the Munchkin, the newest kid on the kitty block, only just recognized as a breed in 2003 by The International Cat Association (TICA). The Munchkin is so new that the jury at the Cat Fanciers’ Association is still out as to whether this unusual cat qualifies as breed unto its own.
While 2003 marks a milestone in the Munchkin’s history, the breed has probably been around a bit longer. The Munchkin is a short-legged cat. During the 1940s, a veterinarian in the U.K. noticed and documented several generations of short-legged cats. Unfortunately, that particular line of possibly early Munchkins eventually died out. But a Munchkin-like, short-legged cat was again described, this time in Stalingrad in 1953.
Today’s line of Munchkins derives from a cat named Blackberry who was found as a stray by a music teacher in Lousiana in 1983. Blackberry was pregnant when she was found and half of the litter of kittens that was later born had short legs. One of Blackberry’s short-legged male kittens was allowed by his adoptive family to run free, and, since he wasn’t neutered, a population of short-legged cats began to appear in the neighborhood.
What does a Munchkin cat look like?
The most noticeable characteristic of a Munchkin cat is his short legs. Otherwise, he’s a typical small-to-medium-sized cat, weighing 5 to 9 pounds (males tend to weigh slightly more than the females). A Munchkin’s front legs may bow slightly and his hind legs are slightly longer than his front, making his back slope slightly down.
Munchkins come in all coat lengths, colors, and patterns. While most have a plush coat, there are longhaired varieties, too, which have semi-long silky fur.
What is a Munchkin cat’s personality?
Although the physical adorableness of the Munchkin is undeniable, the personality of this cat breed is especially endearing. Although every cat is an individual, a Munchkin is typically a true extrovert, who loves people (including children), other cats, and even dogs. They’re curious and intelligent cats who enjoy puzzle toys and learning tricks. They’ve been compared to magpies because they have an affinity for shiny things like jewelry, which they’ve been known to steal and stow away.
Their shorter legs do not slow them down. They chase, jump, corner, and zoom.
(Read about why cats get the zoomies here.)
They have a particularly charming habit of sitting up on their hind legs; the Stalingrad cat was nicknamed “Stalingrad Kangaroo Cat” because it also performed this adorable behavior.
How was the Munchkin cat breed created?
Blackberry’s short-legged kittens were formed due to a spontaneous, natural genetic mutation. This mutation is similar to that which produces short-legged dogs, like Dachshunds and Corgis, and is a form of dwarfism called pseudoachondroplasia. Pseudoachondroplasia is an inherited disorder that affects bone growth, but does not affect other body systems. Other forms of feline dwarfism can cause more serious problems such as head and facial deformities, and heart, lung, joint, and spinal problems.
The gene that produces a Munchkin cat is an autosomal dominant gene. This means that a Munchkin cat will have one “mutant” gene and one “normal” gene. If two Munchkin cats are bred together, some of the kittens formed from the mating will end up with two Munchkin genes and die in the womb. Only kittens who have either two normal genes or one of each will survive.
For this reason, Munchkin cats should only be outcrossed with typical cats to ensure the health of the litter. The offspring from these matings will be both short- and normal-legged cats.
Should the Munchkin cat be a recognized breed?
The debate that continues regarding the recognition of the Munchkin as a separate breed centers around the question of the genetic mutation that resulted in this unusual cat. Is the mutation a “genetic disease” that is disadvantageous to the cat and thus should be discouraged?
So far, Munchkins seem to enjoy a normal cat lifespan and few structural problems related to their short-leggedness. There are two conditions that seem to be more prevalent in this breed and which may be related to the mutation including lordosis, which is excessive curvature of the spine, and pectus excavatum, which is a hollowed chest. These two conditions are also found in humans with pseudoachondroplasia.
There was some initial concern that the Munchkin would develop the spinal problems that short-legged canine breeds suffer from, but this has, so far, not been borne out.
Munchkins tend to suffer from the same diseases that typical cats suffer from. Owners should take the usual precautions and care upon welcoming this cat into their home: feeding him a high-quality diet, providing preventative veterinary care including vaccinations, keeping him indoors, brushing and grooming him regularly, and providing the attention and interaction that this clever, intelligent animal requires.
What breeds are related to the Munchkin?
TICA only recognizes Munchkins which are the product of out-crossings with cats that are not a specific breed, because “a Munchkin is a unique breed and should never resemble a miniaturized version of another breed.”
There are breeders who have created deliberate crosses anyway. An American Curl crossed with a Munchkin is called a Kinkalow, and the curly Selkirk Rex crosses with a Munchkin to create the Lambkin. The Napoleon is a Munchkin crossed with a Persian, the Skookum is a LaPerm cross, and the Bambino and Minskin are crossbreeds with the Sphynx.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.