A munchkin calico cat.
A munchkin calico cat. Photography by Linn Currie / Shutterstock.

Dwarf Cats — What to Know

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Dwarfism is pretty rare in cats, but there are a couple of dwarf cats who have become celebrities. Lil BUB and Grumpy Cat have showered the world in their cuteness (Lil BUB) and snarky memes (Grumpy Cat). How did they get that way? Here are the basics on dwarf cats.

Lil BUB is a dwarf cat.
Lil BUB! Photography via Lil BUB’s Facebook page.

First, there are three types of dwarfism that affect cats: Osteochondrodysplasia, pituitary dwarfism and selective dwarfism.

Osteochondrodysplasia

Osteochondrodysplasia (say that three times fast!) is a genetic mutation that produces abnormal bone and cartilage development, leaving a cat with a full-size body but short legs. Other signs of osteochondrodysplasia include a head slightly larger than normal but with a very small jaw, thick-looking joints, and possibly a curved spine and bow-legged posture. Only one parent needs to pass on the gene that produces osteochondrodysplasia, and that parent may not exhibit signs of dwarfism.

Health problems that may arise in cat with osteochondrodysplasia include heart or lung problems, neurological problems, mobility issues and severely limiting physical defects. Any cat with this syndrome needs to be closely monitored by a veterinarian for her entire life. Lil BUB also suffers from a condition called osteopetrosis, where the bones become very thick and brittle.

A black Munchkin cat
Black Munchkin cat. Munchkins are believed to have a condition called pseudoachondroplasia. Photography by CC-BY-NC Veronica Belmont.

Pituitary dwarfism

Pituitary dwarfism, also known as hyposomatrophism, is caused by a shortage of the growth hormones by the pituitary gland. This can be caused by an underdeveloped pituitary gland, cysts on the pituitary, or tumors or infectious diseases that directly affect the gland.

Dwarf cats who have pituitary dwarfism don’t grow or develop at the same pace as other cats. Unlike cats with osteochondrodysplasia, in most cases kittens with pituitary dwarfism have heads and bodies that are proportionate. They’ll keep their soft kitten fur, and their teeth may develop slowly as well.

It’s important to figure out whether a tiny kitten with these symptoms has dwarfism or congenital hypothyroidism. Your vet can do that by administering a blood test to measure the level of insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1. The IGF-1 level in a cat with pituitary dwarfism will be lower than normal.

Because so many organs are affected by pituitary dwarfism, cats with the disease rarely live a full life span. They may have other hormonal abnormalities as well as problems with multiple organs.

Munchkin kitten
Munchkin kitten. Photography by CC-BY-NC-ND jamiepatra.

Selective dwarfism

Selective dwarfism is just what it sounds like: Breeders encourage the genetic mutation to create short-legged cats like the Munchkin and the Minskin. According to breed research by Sarah Hartwell, Munchkins probably suffer from a genetic defect called pseudoachondroplasia; they have short legs but normally proportioned heads, unlike Grumpy Cat and Lil BUB.

The breeding of cats with genetic abnormalities is hotly debated. Outside the U.S., dwarf cat breeds are not widely accepted. In fact, some registries prohibit those breeds as an unacceptable mutation of “genetic disease.”

Munchkins are particularly prone to arthritis because of the stress of the body’s weight on their shortened limbs.

Grumpy Cat is a dwarf kitty
Grumpy Cat. Photography via the Official Grumpy Cat Facebook page.

All dwarf cats are prone to obesity, and because of their abnormal bone structure, it’s crucial to keep dwarf cats at an appropriate weight. Keep in mind, too, that dwarfism can be very painful for your cat, so make sure you work with your vet to devise an adequate pain control regimen so she’ll have a good quality of life.

Remember that although Lil BUB, Grumpy Cat and short-legged breeds like the Munchkin are cute, they can suffer from a broad range of health issues that can cause great expense and heartbreak for cat guardians.

I’d encourage you to enjoy all the dwarf cat photos and videos you can stand, but please think twice before buying a cat who has been bred to encourage a potentially painful genetic defect.

munchkin-kittens-dwarfism-cats
Munchkin kittens. Photography by Shutterstock

Do you have a dwarf cat? Have you known any dwarf cats? Please share your thoughts on dwarfism and your stories and photos of dwarf cats in the comments.

Read more about cat breeds on Catster.com:

45 thoughts on “Dwarf Cats — What to Know”

  1. I have a dwarf cat. He suffered a lot in the home he was born in due to other cats terrorizing him, he lived under their bed which was barely off the floor, he never came out, he wouldn’t use the liter box & they were about to give him to the animal shelter before I pleaded with them to let me adopt him. He was so terrified if I left him alone so I carried him in a pet purse with me while I cooked, cleaned, you name it, he never left my side. It took a year before he was comfy walking around the house on his own, now 4 years later he’s very much a big boy although he’s still jumpy at times from unexpected movements or loud noises. He’s 4 yrs old now, is still only 3.5 lbs, his name is Mr.FatFat because of his chubby, short little body. He can jump on the couch but, can’t make it onto the counter, bed or anything else too high so I help him out. We recently brought a kitten home & he’s now 5 months old & is already bigger than Mr.FatFat! The vet says he’s a dwarf & it could be a mutation or it could be because of his early kitten life, he wasn’t able to fully develop. They can’t offer much more info without blood work & what not, which I can’t afford. He doesn’t have any health issues, as of now according to the vet (which I may change)… Could you offer any insight into which of these conditions he may have or if it’s honestly due to his kitten life? Any help would be great!

  2. I am fostering my first momcat and kittens. The kittens were born 7 weeks ago. One is healthy, one had a left-leaning head tilt that is being treated with Clindamycin. Two of the kittens are dwarfs, don’t know which type…is there difference in prognosis? They are both as cute as can be with folded ears, flat faces and short limbs and tails. They keep gaining and losing the same 20g every day with four supplemental syringe gruel. They are both very slow with hobbit like feet and I am heartbroken for them. They are so so so sweet. One can’t even reach his little ear to give it a little scratch. An angel is going to adopt him if he gets to the point he eats on his own and can be adopted out, but he has only the teensiest beginnings of canine teeth at seven weeks. The only thing that gets bigger is their bums.

    1. Folded ears is an indicator of osteochondrodysplasia, also known as “Scottish Fold Disease”. It results in bones that thicken around the joints and twist with age, with cartilage that is severely compromised. The cartilage issue is what causes the folded ears.

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  4. I have a six month old dwarf kitten, I don’t know which type. I adopted him and his normal-sized brother at a shelter. He has short legs, a short fat tail, a flat face with underdeveloped jaw and teeth, extremely soft, fluffy kitten fur. My dwarf kitty broke his leg three weeks ago. I’ve owned cats for more than 60 years and have never had a cat with a broken leg. I wonder if my kitty has a problem with his bones due to dwarfism? He also has drippy eyes, like Persians and other flat faced cats. He has a very sweet personality, friendly to everyone, loves to romp and run and play (when he is physically able) with his brother. I don’t know how to add a photo, wish I did.

  5. I have a 14 year old midget hermaphrodite cat. She has an amazing vet. She weighs 3.16 pounds when fat. She was abandonded by her mother at birth. I raised her myself. I wasnt aware of her challenges. I couldnt imagine my life without her. Dr stacey henderschott of the pleasant grove animal hospital in texarkana texas, has saved her numerous times. I would love more Information about her issues. My male cat brought up an unusual female baby overly large. Her grandma. I suspect it’s a mixture of a larger cat and housecat. The recessive traits of both. First I have read on this thank you and looking forward to more.

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  8. I have a new little foster kitten. He weighs 280 grams at an estimated 6 weeks old and fits into one hand easily. His teeth and activities match up to his age, just his size is small. It will be forever until he hits two pounds for adoption. What should I be looking for? Our shelter has no vets on staff so any testing would be out of my pocket. You can see a video of him on Instagram at pyrxtcdis. We named him Davy Jones. Any help would be great. Our shelter has never had one so little. He was given to me last week as a two week old but my vet said he was over 5 weeks old based on his teeth.

  9. I have one of the rare pituitary dwarf cats. She will be 2 in July and weighs just under 2 pounds. She is so beautiful and sweet. The sad side of pituitary dwarfism is that you never know how any standard feline diseases will affect them. They are so rare that even her veterinarian can’t find any case studies on them.

    1. I would recommend you feed her prescription urinary tract food. Although urinary blockage is unusual in female cats, the dwarfism seems to be a factor. My female dwarf nearly died earlier this year from a blockage. Let’s just say the bill was more than $1k per pound of cat. She’s been on royal Canin urinary care since and is doing well. I wish there was an instruction manual or at least more information. I also switched her to that “prettylitter” in hopes that any future urinary issues can be diagnosed before it’s life threatening.

  10. I worked in a vets office and someone brought in a pregnant cat to be adopted out. The mother was normal. She gave birth to 5 babies. The runt of the litter was the only male. I brought him home at 7 weeks. He was eating cat food by then. When I brought him home, he fit in the palm of by hand. From tip of nose to tip of tail he was 10 1/2 inches long. He stood 2 inches off the ground. When he wanted something he’d look at you and open his mouth, but no sound would come out! Today he is a happy long haired beautiful golden eyed boy, who couldn’t be loved more. He’s an amazing boy!

    1. Dianna Krueger

      I have a gorgeous black cat he just turned one yr old this month. He has short legs can no feline fangs on top or the bottom of his mouth is this normal? He never had the gangs since I him when he was 8 mo. old. He his the most beautiful cat and fun to watch. He acts like he is the king of the house over the other 3 cats.

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  13. Barbara Harnois

    I have a 20 year old Munchkin cat who is still active and doing well. We have actually had 3 standard (short-legged) and 1 non-standard (long-legged). We recently lost one to age and kidney failure but that was from her Persian background. They are very different than the Dwarfism I have seen. None of their proportions were off and they had no bowing of the legs and have been very healthy.

  14. I think I have a dwarf kitten. I got him from a feral feline rescue centre. I always wanted to a pay a rescue centre for a cat in need , than to go to a pet store, but unfortunately by doing this, I know nothing of his parentage. I have had him for 3 months and he has not grown, he has short little legs, but the rest of his body is proportionate. I have another cat at home, and previously have had 2 cats before, so I know what rate they grow at….. and my kitten has not grown at all. My research suggests he is a dwarf, but we love him no matter what he is. I think I will get him tested to make sure though.

    1. hi Christine,

      Thanks for reaching out. Yes, please contact a vet to see if your cat has dwarfism. These articles might provide some additional insight as well:
      https://www.catster.com/cats-101/about-the-munchkin-cat
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/small-cat-breeds-munchkin-cats-short-playful-pictures-photos

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  16. We adopted a kitten 4 years ago, her mom a feral cat was a normal size cat but we never saw the Dad cat. I have noticed her legs are considerably smaller then our other cats yet her body is normal for a small cat breed. She is a tiny 4lbs at 4 years old, the Vet said she most likely suffers from dwarfism and that I should not worry, she is healthy.
    She plays differently and hops a lot while running and playing which seems to be normal if she is a munchkin or dwarf cat. I call her Kimi “Roo” because she has always hopped a little.
    Is it unlikely we have found a munchkin from a feral litter of cats?

    1. Perhaps! Here’s more info on munchkin cats:
      https://www.catster.com/cats-101/about-the-munchkin-cat
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/small-cat-breeds

  17. We just had to put our dwarf cat to sleep :(
    She was 12 years old and she was a stray that ended up on our doorstep, we never thought of her as a dwarf, to us she was our baby who happened to have very short legs and tail! This kitty was more human than cat and she was not only adorable, but so affectionate and snuggly! We loved her dearly and we will miss her forever! Her name was Tigger!

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  19. I just adopted an adorable dwarf kitten that had been found as a stray and brought into my vets office. He is the most sweet and lovable kitty and I am hoping to give him the best quality of life possible.

    They vet feels he is about 4-5 months old and he weighs 2.05 lbs. He has had kidney issues which have improved in the two months that he lived at my vets office. He also has had 5 seizures since he has lived with me for two months but those have improved since he began a small dose of Phenobarbital. My vet does not know the causes of the seizures.

    I would like to take him somewhere and get a second opinion on the seizure issue and overall care. He has a good appetite and is active and playful.

    Is there a direction you would recommend? I live in Oregon.

    1. Hi Katie,
      Please work through these issues with your vet — or seeking the opinion of another vet if need be. We hope your little guy feels better.
      These articles might provide some insight, too:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-seizure-seizures-in-cats-feline-epilepsy-symptoms-causes
      https://www.catster.com/cats-101/all-about-the-cat-brain-and-some-issues-that-might-impact-it
      https://www.catster.com/cats-101/about-the-munchkin-cat
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/osteochondrodysplasia-in-cats

  20. My family, neighbors and I have been feeding a stray cat that recently gave birth to at least 4 kittens and last night I saw them for the first time and one of them has short legs, like a dwarf cat. I am trying to gain her trust in hopes of finding loving homes for her and her babies but I worry for them. Being a pet lover in Mexico is often criticize and many people don’t care or can’t-won’t invest in pets health.

  21. Please help. My 17 week dwarf kitty is so constipated, I spent the night at the emergency vet. They did x-rays and he is so impacted. They did 2 enemas but nothing moving. Just keeps straining. He is a dwarf and not intended. The feral cat had him and 2 wks ago not caring for him properly. He was a very happy and playful kitty one I brought him in. Still not eating just nursing. I ground up kitten chow & mixed with mother’s milk and spoon fed. I noticed constipation and gave him the Peto stuff for upset stomach and he pooped, but went back to just milk for a day or so. He loves his gruel which he eats but I have added a bit of pumpkin.

    Any how after 4 hours they sent me home with a laxative and eye ointment. They said he has to poop on his own or euthanize him. I asked if they could extract and they said too little, must poop on his own. The x-rays showed the large intestine is full of poop. Any advice, I don’t want to loose this kitten.

    1. Hi Karolina,
      We suggest reading these pieces and please running anything you try by a vet. You may also want to seek out a second opinion from a different vet. Best of luck and hope your kitty feels better:

      https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/weird-cat-sounds-what-they-mean
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/cat-poop-problems-from-diarrhea-to-constipation
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/constipation-cat-ask-a-vet
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/health-cat-wont-poop

  22. There were a couple of untamed cats running around here. The female had kittens. They too were as wild as can be. There was this one that had to brightest blue eyes I had ever seen. I fell in love with him. A month went by and he still so little now it’s past 3 months and he still like a little kitten. His legs are very short he was raised around dogs so he comes to a whistle. Reading this I pray this lil creature has a long happy life

    1. One thing to watch out for is constipation. I can’t stress this enough! Constipation can be fatal and is the leading cause of euthanasia in young cats. Dwarf cats can have abnormally small pelvic openings that can “bottleneck” easily. I have a 10 month old cat with dwarfism, I found out about this the hard way and nearly lost him at 4 months. Your vet may suggest Propulsid and Miralax, which works very well to keep their intestines moving and their stool soft, but that means you have to medicate daily and there is a possibility that the FDA may ban Propulsid altogether. There are foods that work well without having to medicate, such as Royal Canin GI Fiber Response or Hill’s prescription i/d. These are prescription foods and very expensive, but they don’t need to eat as much of it – so a 7.7 lb bag will last a five pound cat over 2 months. Your vet may have other suggestions, but definitely mention your concern to the vet. It could save your litthe kitty’s life!

      1. BTW, my kitty wasn’t bred to be a dwarf. He was given to me by some friends who employ a lot of farm cats :-) and have never had any dwarfism in them. I have been the pet human of another cat from the same friends for 3 years now, he is perfectly normal.

        1. That is such great news. I have 4 cats & I’m fixing to take on a dwarf baby from a coworker. She’s had a few people take her & they keep bringing her back! She’s small & only 6 weeks old! She’s a baby ???? She’s in climbing stage & clawing up couches & I just brought in another kitten who is now 10 weeks & he is crazy! My couch is destroyed. Him& my other 3 run crazy playing. Hope the dwarf baby will be ok here. I’ll get another couch later ???? just hope she is healthy & will have a good life here

          1. Hi Carla,

            Here are some articles on how to teach appropriate scratching behaviors and avoid your cats scratching up your furniture. Best of luck with your new kitty!

            https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-scratching-furniture-rugs-tips
            https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/help-your-cat-love-his-scratcher
            https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/the-right-cat-scratching-post-for-every-stage-of-life
            https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-stop-scratching-furniture
            https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-tips-cats-scratching-furniture-sofa

    2. THE LITTLE GUY SOUNDS SO CUTE MY DAUGHTER LOVES THEM SHE HAS A BRITTLE BONE DISEASE SHE HAS OVER 300 FRACTURE THIS DISEASE STUNTS YOUR GROWTH SHE IS 31 AND IN A WHEELCHAIR SHE IS ONLY 3 FOOT 6 INCHES SO SHE KNOWS HOW IT IS TO HAVE PROBLEMS BECAUSE OF BEING SHORT THE LITTLE GUY ARE YOU KEEPING HIM IF NOT MY DAUGHTER WOULD LIKE TO GET HIM FRIDAY NIGHT ARE LITTLMAN DIED HE WAS 13 YRS OLD HE HAD A WONDERFUL LIFE

  23. I have a dwarf cat i bought her as a kitten she unusual look she stayed a small size she has no health issues at all you can see the mutation for dwarf gene in her face she is a very unique color with golden eyes not sick at all

  24. I lost my little dwarf today, he died from heart attack in my hands.
    We adopted him, and a female three legged cat two yrs ago just before I give birth to my daughter, we already had one cat by the time. Hannibal was a very special cat, full with phobias and generally a disfuctional little creature, he only trusted me and came to me for petting and grooming. He loved to stay in the Sun for hrs, probably it was good for his bones which were deformed, his legs were deformed and thick and he walked as he was in pain. his spine and his jaw were slightly deformed too. He always was very nervous and he used to bite me out of nowhere without a cause, I believe he did this due to his previous traumatic experience, until some good people saved him from hell. His meowing was the funniest sound ever, he wasn’t clever or cunning, he couldn’t run he couldn’t jump, he couldn’t climb the stairs, he was afraid of everything and everyone but he was the cat I chose to live with and be responsible for until our death. I wasn’t aware of the problems that come with dwarfism, I didn’t knew another cat with that abnormality before. Our vet wasn’t -probably – familiar with it, he didn’t informed us about health issues, at all. And since I had ignorance about this and no sign of illness of the cat I didn’t research further.
    I will never forgive myself about this. Even though I had 3 cats, a baby, a house and a job to attend to I should have known better and do better.
    He died in my arms in less than 2 minutes, I’m happy that I was with him and he didn’t died alone under the couch where he used to sleep, I will never regret having him, I just wish I had him longer, he was only 3 yrs old.
    So be prepared and find a vet that is familiar with cases like this, it won’t be easy but it will worth it.
    Thank you for bearing my huge comment.

    1. God bless you for dealing with all these other life commitments and still taking care of special needs fur babies. Don’t blame yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know – you gave him a very happy life, and he knows that.

  25. About 3 weeks ago I got what I thought was a 1.5 month old male kitten, to keep my 5 month old male kitty company, and only yesterday found out that he is supposedly more than 3 months old already(Maybe dwarfism?). He is very small for his age, but eats hard food, has solid poos, runs around the house like crazy, and loves to play. I’m scared to leave them alone together because the older one is very rough when he plays and I don’t want the little one to get hurt. I know the older one really wants to play with the younger, but I don’t know how to make him realise that the little one is more delicate than him.

  26. I too have two small young ones that I am a foster parent for that I suspect may be genetic dwarves… They are almost 5 months old and they still weigh less than 20 ounces! They are healthy and have good eating behaviors… And they have Clean solid boop….I don’t know what to think otherwise…

  27. I’m not sure but I believe I may have a dwarf cat….let me be clear I did not intend to have her nor did I breed on purpose but now that I have her I must spoil her…
    Meet princess…don’t let her little stature fool you…she’s very sponky loves to play and she thinks she’s the boss of the house..I would of never figured a cat so little could have such a huge personality…in any case she warms my ???? and makes me laugh so much fun to watch..

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  29. I’m having to put my dwarf cat down soon he’s 2 years old. He lost Mobility 2 weeks ago he can’t walk he falls down and he can’t get up and use his litter box. He is on pain meds. Last week the doctor said he might have a thyroid disease which cost $200+ to diagnose. I’m glad I passed on that bcuz today they said it only gets worse and if he does have it there’s nothing they can do and it’s better to put him down. I wished they would have been told us he was terminally ill or at least that he will experience such problems. His parents were regular size cats and so was the other cats in the litter we didn’t realize he was a dwarf until months after we took him home. But he was the cutest calm but energetic cat he loved playing with other cats and even people. We named him Mellow. The last year he didn’t have much energy he just ate walked around very little and sat in the patio window. . His favorite spot.

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