A newer cat breed established in the mid-1990s, the Munchkin cat has since followed the yellow brick road into cat lovers’ hearts around the world. The pitter-patter of this cat’s feet on the ends of its shortened legs has only sped it along on its journey, though it has also faced its share of criticism from animal welfare advocates. However, those concerns have thus far remained unsubstantiated for the most part as this breed’s popularity has continued to soar.
History of Munchkin cat
Pinpointing the exact first time a Munchkin cat ever existed is nigh impossible; accounts of short-legged cats have emerged at various times and places in recorded history. Most of these sightings occurred within the past century in Eastern Europe and the United Kingdom, with the Munchkin breed first showing up in the United States sometime in the 1960s.
Completely by chance in 1983, Sandra Hochenedel helped begin the bloodline to which all of today’s Munchkin cats trace back. Blackberry, the breed’s matriarch, hid under a pickup truck when fleeing a neighborhood dog and, after Hochenedel found the pregnant kitty, went on to birth half a litter of short-legged kittens in her new home. Hochenedel’s friend Kay LaFrance adopted one of those kittens, a male she named Toulouse, and continued the breeding process that has given the world one of its favorite new cat breeds.
The breed reached the spotlight in the seventh International Cat Show at Madison Square Garden in 1991, three years before actually gaining the official name of Munchkin cat. While the Munchkin cat arose from an entirely natural genetic mutation, some cat lovers criticize breeders for encouraging its further development. In fact, The International Cat Association, or TICA, is the only feline-centric organization to accept the breed thus far. The American Cat Fanciers Association, for instance, has yet to recognize the breed, considering the shortened legs to be a type of genetic deformity rather than a desirable trait.
Size of the Munchkin cat
Other than the shortened legs, Munchkin cats have a typical body size compared to domestic cats in general. Unlike some other animal breeds with short legs, the head size remains average in relation to the overall proportions of the body. Concerning the legs, the front ones do tend to be slightly shorter than the rear ones, but any similarity to wildcats ends there. In fact, Russians found a different resemblance, calling a similar cat from the 1950s the “Stalingrad kangaroo cat” because of its tendency to sit up on its hindquarters with the front paws unflexed, probably due to this slight difference in leg lengths.
Although the length of the legs represents the singular difference between Munchkin cats and regular house cats, just how short the legs are varies. The following subcategories of Munchkin cats find their basis in that variation.
Standard: Far from tall in the leg, standard Munchkin cats typically stand at least 4 inches shorter than the average house cat. A fraction of an inch in the legs can often separate the standard from the nonstandard or the next shorter type, and that judgment thus far remains mostly in the eye of the beholder.
Super Short: While the precise measurements have yet to be ascertained, consensus among Munchkin cat fans seems to place this middling leg length between 2 and 3 inches in the front. However, breeders will often label their Munchkin kittens as the next smaller subcategory even if the legs of the parents are slightly longer than the 2 inches in order to reach the larger market that exists for rug huggers. Since the kittens have yet to grow, prospective owners would have to be able to measure the parents, and even then the little ones may outgrow those proportions.
Rug Hugger: Sometimes also referred to as “VW Microbus” due to their proportions lining up with those of the vehicles, at least in silhouetted form, the Munchkin cats so lovingly bestowed with the name “rug hugger” are the shortest of the short. Because the legs tend to bow a little, rug huggers may lose a few points in a cat show, but they score extra points for cuteness among the general public.
While the breed is defined by its short legs, there are also longer-legged, nonstandard Munchkin cats kept by breeders specifically to continue to the lineage. The reason for doing so is that two short-legged cats produce fewer live offspring per litter. On the other hand, two nonstandard Munchkin cats will never yield short-legged kittens due to the trait coming from an autosomal dominant gene; ideally, one short-legged cat and one with regular legs must breed. If a cat has that gene, it will have short legs, so average-sized cats categorically do not have the gene to pass down regardless of their parentage.
Thus, any reputable breeder offering Munchkin kittens for sale will also have what look like regular cats mixed into the litter depending on how the genes are distributed from each parent. Sometimes, fewer than half the litter will have the desired shortened legs, and the other kittens will still need homes. It is best to steer clear of any breeder who would view these nonstandard Munchkin kittens as disposable.
Munchkin cats love to snuggle most of all, climbing into their owners’ laps and shamelessly interrupting any tasks at hand. Even with their short legs, it is not unusual at all to see these cats zipping back and forth across the living room, all four little legs in a flurry. Since Munchkin kittens spend their entire lives indoors due to the dangers of being allowed outside, they have no qualms about expending their energy in any way they can. The best environments for these fuzzy daredevils will have plenty of obstacles for them to climb, jump and run along.
When Sandra Hochenedel found Blackberry under a truck and saw the kittens she birthed shortly thereafter, she initially was concerned about any potential congenital health conditions that could arise from the mutation. A main concern among critics centered on spine deformities, likening this cat to the canine dachshund based on looks alone. Eventually, Hochenedel and her friend Kay LaFrance consulted with Dr. Solveig Pflueger, a geneticist and founding TICA member, to dispel these doubts about what would become the Munchkin cat breed.
Indeed, Munchkin cats are nearly as safe from spinal problems as any other cat, rarely exhibiting excess spinal curvature or a concave chest, called lordosis and pectus excavatum respectively. Only the legs differ from the norm, due to a completely natural genetic mutation called pseudoachrondroplasia, but even the knees and feet remain healthy and spritely in their diminutive form. Health-wise, Munchkin kittens from good breeders have the same outlook as domestic cats do in general, requiring the same vaccines and regular veterinary care to maintain vitality into adulthood.
It is noteworthy that the gene that allows for the shortened legs cannot be passed from both parents to produce viable offspring, making it a “lethal gene” when paired. For the best results, only one parent, mother or father, should have the signature shortened legs, or else many of the embryos will self-terminate due to receiving two copies of the gene. Breeders often have a better yield of healthy, short-legged Munchkin kittens when they outbreed, which means breeding a short-legged Munchkin cat with a regular house cat.
Care of the Munchkin cats
Munchkin cats are strictly indoor cats since their shortened legs can put them at a great disadvantage in confrontations with other animals. If owners want to take these cats outside, they will need to accompany them using a harness to ensure their safety. Like most cats, however, this breed tends to have an independent streak, so harness training may be difficult and uncomfortable.
Litter Box Training
Munchkin kittens will need to be litter box trained like other cats. Due to these cats’ short statures, litter boxes with ramps or low entryways will be easiest to use during training. For the shortest, rug hugger Munchkin cats, some owners find it cleaner to use urine-absorbing pads in place of litter, which may become stuck in the fur and cause painful matting.
Munchkin cat Nutrition
The diet for a Munchkin cat is much the same as it is for just about any cat. Most owners choose dry cat food with plenty of protein, healthy fats and no carbohydrates to maintain their cats’ health. For Munchkin kittens, wet food may be best during the transition from milk until their teeth grow in all the way. Cats with long fur can also benefit from eating some wet food, which can help keep them more hydrated so they accumulate less static electricity and keep a healthy, well-hydrated coat.
Coat Color and Grooming
The Munchkin cat comes in a wide variety of coat colors. Indeed, TICA accepts nearly all possible hues and patterns in its standards for the breed. The main stipulation when it comes to coat style regards the texture rather than any sort of coloration; curly fur need not apply.
Another limit TICA imposes on Munchkin cats concerns crossbreeding with certain conspicuous breeds, which will more than likely disqualify them in competition. For example, the cat cannot look like a miniaturized version of a Siamese cat. On the other hand, it is completely normal and expected for Munchkin cats to have more generic house cats as their parents and recent ancestors since a very narrow gene pool would be bad for the breed.
Particularly, this cat can have two different coat styles, consisting of either medium-short, velvet-soft fur or long, silky fur. Of course, the long coat style requires more upkeep than the shorter type, mainly in the form of daily brushing. However, short-haired cats can also benefit from occasional brushing, which helps distribute their natural oils evenly throughout the coat as well as prevent hairballs from self-grooming.
Children and Other Pets
Not only are Munchkin cats great with other pets, but they can keep up with even the rowdiest kids as well. Of course, bigger animals such as large-breed dogs should be supervised when playing with these Lilliputian-sized kitties to prevent injury, at least until they get to know one another and their limits. Meanwhile, Munchkin kittens will need to be conditioned as they grow up not to hunt any small household pets like birds and hamsters, as is the case for just about all cats. If other cats live in the house, owners should remember to take precautions against unwanted breeding in case they get along a little too well.
A lot of children enjoy taking part in caring for their Munchkin cats. Adults should make sure to teach kids proper care techniques, such as how to brush their furry friends gently and not cause discomfort, particularly with the longer coats. However, Munchkin cats tend to be surprisingly hardy in general, so they make excellent first pets.
Despite any misgivings, most cat lovers cannot help but be enamored with Munchkin cats when they meet them. This breed’s popularity has caught on so much that there is even demand for crossbred Munchkin kittens as pets, with a short-legged parent being paired with Siamese, Persian and many other types of cats. Clearly, these sweet and agile little cats find favor in circles far wider than just on the podium at cat shows, and for good reason.