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Get to Know the Munchkin: Short on Height But Long on Fun

This playful cat might not leap onto tall bookshelves, but heÔÇÖll keep you on your toes.

JaneA Kelley  |  Feb 11th 2015


I’ll be honest: The first time I heard about the Munchkin I thought, "Why on God’s green earth would anyone create a cat that can’t cat?" Then I got to cat sit for a Munchkin and I learned that even though they may take a few more hops to reach their favorite high perch, they’re just like any other cat in every way that matters.

Origins

In 1983, Louisiana music teacher Sandra Hockenedel rescued two pregnant cats who had been chased under a truck by a neighborhood bulldog. One of the cats, Blackberry, gave birth to a litter of four kittens, two of whom had short legs. Hockenedel gave one of the short-legged kittens, whom she named Toulouse, to her friend Kay LaFrance.

Apparently Toulouse’s diminutive stature didn’t impede his love life, because as soon as he got old enough to roam, litters of short-legged kittens started popping up all over the neighborhood. Fast forward to 1994, and the Munchkin was accepted into the International Cat Association’s new breed development program. TICA awarded the Munchkin championship status in 2003.

The Cat Fanciers’ Association does not recognize the Munchkin, and a number of other well-regarded breed registries refuse to accept the Munchkin because their bylaws forbid accepting breeds based on "abnormal structure and development."

Appearance

Apart from the characteristic short legs, Munchkins look exactly like a regular domestic cat. They come in just about every color and in long-haired and short-haired varieties. Short-haired Munchkins have a plush coat, while long-haired Munchkins’ fur is of a more silky texture. Due to the genetic mutation that produced the breed, Munchkins’ legs are slightly bowed. Munchkins typically weigh between five and nine pounds.

Health and longevity

Cat lovers’ original concerns that Munchkins may have the same kind of back problems that short-legged dogs such as Dachshunds and Welsh Corgis are prone to have turned out to be largely unfounded.

That said, the Munchkin is prone to a couple of potentially serious orthopedic problems. Pectus excavatum, or “funnel chest,” is a deformity that makes the breast bone turn inwards rather than laying flat. When severe, this condition can cause heart and lung function problems. (Check out the story of Clark Kent, a kitten with severe pectus excavatum, and his lifesaving surgery.) Lordosis, or an abnormally bent spine, is also found more commonly in Munchkins than in other breeds.

A well-cared-for indoor Munchkin can live 12 to 15 years.

What it’s like to live with a Munchkin

If you thought your Munchkin would be a sedate little couch potato, you thought wrong. He won’t win any high-jump records, but he’ll tear through your house at a speed you never imagined possible. He loves nothing more than a good game of chase, whether that’s with a toy on a string, the family dog, or a feline friend.

You can expect your Munchkin to serve as your home’s welcoming committee. He loves company, and with such a charming disposition, company will love him, too. One of the cutest Munchkin habits is sitting up on his hind legs like a rabbit to catch a glance of something that caught his attention. He’s a very intelligent cat, so challenge him by teaching him tricks or providing him with puzzle toys.

Munchkin trivia bits

  • The Munchkin is not a new mutation. A 1944 British veterinary report mentioned four generations of healthy short-legged cats, another group was discovered in Russia in 1956, and some were seen in New England in the 1970s.
  • The gene that produces the Munchkin stature is dominant, meaning only one copy of the gene is needed to produce the short legs. But like the gene that produces taillessness in the Manx, the short-leg gene is lethal if a cat gets two copies of it.
  • In 2014, a Munchkin named Lillieput was named shortest cat in the world by Guinness World Records. She stands a mere 5.25 inches tall.

Do you have a Munchkin in your home? What’s it like to live with her? Please share your thoughts and photos of your Munchkin in the comments.

Read other breed profiles on Catster:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.