Short-Legged Breed Exceeds Expectations
The munchkin cat's 1991 debut was met with much scorn and protest by many who thought the breed was suffering due to its notably short and stubby legs.
Time, however, has shown that the relatively new cat breed is a hearty stock with a spirited personality. This short-statured feline has found more acceptance over the years, none more important than that of the families worldwide who've opened their homes to these self-assured, curious companions.
Short-legged cats aren't a new breed; documented as early as the 1930s, cats with considerably shorter legs were written about in England, although these cats appeared to disappear during World War II when many dog and cat breeds took a toll in numbers.
Russians dubbed another short-legged cat as the "Stalingrad Kangaroo Cat" in the 1950s. The cat often sat on its haunches, hence the name.
The munchkin breed came about by accident in the 1980s, when Louisiana school teacher Sandra Hochenedel found two short-legged, pregnant cats hiding under her car. She kept one of the cats and named her Blackberry. Half of Blackberry's kittens were born with short legs, one of which was given to Kay LaFrance, a friend of Hochenedel's, and named Toulouse. It has been determined that the official "munchkin" breed—named after characters from the Wizard of Oz—can credit its lineage to Blackberry and Toulouse.
Hochenedel and LaFrance appealed to The International Cat Association (TICA) for help to determine if they had a new cat breed on hand. After conducting genetic testing on the cats, it was determined that their shorter legs did not appear to present any spinal issues typically found in short-legged dog breeds.
In 1991, the munchkin cat made its first appearance in a televised TICA cat show. The new breed's introduction was met with mixed reaction; some critics were opposed to developing a breed with short legs that would put it at a physical disadvantage and potentially face health issues over time. Citing a genetic mutation that they would not support, many cat fancier organizations have refused to recognize the breed.
Despite the controversy, there has been no evidence of health issues due to the cat's short stature.
Munchkin cats are known to have a sweet disposition, enjoying the companionship of people and other cats.
Curious and outgoing, the breed is playful and energetic, seemingly clueless that they're different from other cats with longer legs. Munchkin cats can tousle and play just like other cat breeds, with the exception of jumping to high heights.
One characteristic shared by many munchkin cats is their ability to perch on their hind legs like prairie dogs.
A clever breed, munchkin cats like to hunt and often hide their found objects in hard-to-find places of which only they are aware.
The breed's most distinguishable feature, its legs, are categorized by three different types: rug hugger, super-short and standard. Munchkin cats born with short legs have autosomal dominant genes that are heterozygous—when the cat's cells contain two different alleles of a gene. If munchkin kittens don't carry the heterozygous gene, they will not be born with short legs.
Those born with short legs, which may be somewhat bowed in nature, have a slight lift from their shoulders to their haunches because their legs are slightly longer in the back than the front.
A wide variety of coat colors and patterns appear in the munchkin cat breed, including calico, pointed, tortoiseshell, tuxedo, tabby and bicolor. There is also a long-haired munchkin cat; the silky hair requires routine grooming to maintain ideal, healthy conditions. The short-haired munchkin cat has a medium-plush coat that is soft to the touch.
Munchkin cats are considered to be medium-sized, weighing on average between 6 and 9 pounds.
Munchkin cats are known to be rather healthy; so far, there aren't any congenital or genetic conditions specific to the breed that have been reported. Choosing a reputable breeder from which to purchase your pet will help minimize the risks.
Early speculation that the breed would suffer from spinal issues due to their short legs has thus far been diffused by tests conducted in 1995 on some of the oldest-living munchkin cats, who showed no signs of joint and bone problems.
Some munchkin kittens are born with their back paws curling backwards; this is not considered an abnormality as the paws straighten out and grow to be perfectly normal.
As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.