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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.