Last updated: February 18, 2017
Short on legs yet big on personality, the Munchkin is a dwarf cat breed. Its short legs do little to hinder its mobility, yet there has been a lot of controversy surrounding around the breed within the different cat clubs. Despite this, the breed has many dedicated fans and kittens are in high demand
The Munchkin cat is characterized by its short legs. It is a genetic mutation that is similar to that seen in Dachshunds and Corgi’s, however, the rest of the cat is normal despite being on the small side (Munchkins mature at between 5 and 9 pounds in weight). It is a form of pseudoachondroplasia dwarfism, where the head is unaffected and only the limbs (legs) are shortened. This is different to achondroplasia dwarfism, where the head is larger.
This means that unlike the short-legged dog breeds, the Munchkin cat does not have an abnormally long spine which can result in weakness and leave it more prone to injury.
Over the years, a wider range of colors and patterns have become available. Short-haired Munchkins are more common, although there is a semi-longhaired variety available too. Longhaired munchkins will require grooming twice a week, although as the coat is not very thick it shouldn’t take too long. The main areas to check are the armpits and behind the ears as they are prone to matting. Curly coats are not allowed.
The Munchkin should never look like a miniaturized version of another breed as seen in dog breeds like the poodle. Of course, other cats have been used in the breeding program to create genetic diversity and introduce other colors. However the main recognizing cat club (TICA, see the history section for more information) only allows crosses with mixed breed mongrel cats, i.e. domestic short or longhairs. Crossing them with another pure breed cat (for example the Siamese) is not allowed.
Other than the short legs, the Munchkin should look like a normal cat with a correctly proportioned body.
The Munchkin cat is a relatively new breed in terms of being accepted in the cat fancy, yet there are records of short legged cats dating as far back as the 1940’s.
In the 1940’s a description of four generations of very short legged cats appeared in the Veterinary Record. After that, they did not reappear until the 1980’s. A music teacher called Sandra Hochenedel discovered two cats hiding under a truck after they had been chased by a dog. She rescued them both, noticing that they were both pregnant as she took them home. Both cats had very short, stubby legs.
Keeping the black female while rehoming the grey, Sandra christened her Blackberry. Her first litter also contained a short legged kitten, a male who was named Toulouse. He was given to her friend Kay LeFrance who lived in Louisiana. With free roam of the outside and not being neutered, a small feral population of munchkin cats was established. This proved that the munchkin could survive quite happily on its own and was not hampered by its legs in any way.
After a time, both Sandra and Kay contacted The International Cat Association (TICA) for advice on what would be causing this mutation. They received advice from their genetics committee and with other breeders, a more intensive breeding program was followed to help establish the breed. TICA officially accepted the Munchkin into its breed development program in 1994. After many years of progress, it finally achieved championship status in May 2003.
Despite TICA accepting and recognizing the Munchkin, the other main governing body of cats in America the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), does not. The UK’s main governing body, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) also refuses to accept the Munchkin as it will not recognize a dwarf breed.
Overall, the Munchkin cat is a very healthy breed that rarely suffers from problems. As mentioned, they do not suffer from spinal problems that are seen in many short-legged dog breeds such as Dachshunds. Cats have a very flexible spine which stems from the ancestors, the wild cat. The vertebrae (the bones in the back) have cushioning in-between them which allows the spine to twist. In the past, this allowed them to be effective hunters, running and jumping to catch prey.
What this means for the munchkin cat is that the spine is not placed under extra pressure due to the short legs. A dog’s spine is much more rigid which can lead to them developing disc injuries.
One condition to be aware of in Munchkin cats is Lordosis. It is also known as ‘tight chest’ and is a spinal condition where the muscles fail to grow to the correct length causing a curve in the spine. The condition is, however, rare and research is ongoing as to its cause. It is not restricted to the Munchkin breed either as others also suffer. In very bad cases the kittens fail to survive.
Finally, breeders producing the Munchkin cat have to be aware of how the short legs are produced. The gene is semi-lethal, with kittens receiving two copies of it not surviving (i.e. they are homozygous for the gene). If two short legged munchkins parents are bred together, any kittens conceived may receive a copy of the short legged gene from both parents. It they receive this ‘double dose’ of the gene, the kittens do not survive. This does not mean that they are born dead, the embryos will die and be reabsorbed in the womb. Some short legged kittens will still be born, but litter sizes are generally much smaller.
Instead, most breeders breed a short legged munchkin to a long legged munchkin. This way, approximately half the litter will be long legged and half will be short legged.
Despite their small size, the Munchkin is a lively, playful little cat! They are active and enjoy running after toys, refusing to let their lack of legs size be a problem. They will climb and jump just like any other cat, however, their short legs do mean that they may not be able to jump as high.
Munchkin cats make good pets for someone who likes a cat that is inquisitive and wants to be with them. Although they are not necessarily lazy lap cats (although they do love a fuss and a cuddle) they also enjoy following their owners around the house and getting involved with everything that is going on. The Munchkin cat can live with other dogs and cats if properly introduced. They are also good with children due to their playful nature. Many owners state that once they have owned a Munchkin cat, they could never own anything else.
Munchkins are intelligent little cats that are easily trained to use a litter tray and come when called. When trying to get your cat to respond to their name, start only a short distance away and use food to get their attention. When they come to you, give them the reward. Gradually you can start to build up the distance between you.
If you are keeping your Munchkin as a house cat, it may be worth training them to accept a harness and leash so they can be taken for short walks in a secure area (make sure it is a dog free zone!). Start by getting them used to wearing the harness on its own. When they are wearing it, reward them as soon as they leave it alone. You may need to begin by just leaving it on for very short periods before again building up the time frame. After a while, you can introduce the leash with the harness. Just be prepared for your Munchkin to take you for a walk, never the other way around!
Buying and Caring cost analysis
The Munchkin cat is a relatively rare breed and generally, there is a waiting list for kittens. The price can vary drastically, but expect to pay between $800 to $2000 for a short legged kitten. Long legged munchkin kittens can be as low as $300. The higher priced kittens will be either show quality or be endorsed for breeding (many breeders place endorsements on their kittens to say that progeny cannot be bred from).
Your kitten should be registered with TICA or another governing body, although remember that not all clubs accept munchkins. This registration ensures that you are buying a pure bred cat that the breeder cares about. Registering kittens costs money, yet responsible breeders will want to do it. You should receive the paperwork when you collect your kitten, in addition to the change of ownership information.
Kittens will be ready for their new homes at between 12 and 13 weeks once they have had their initial vaccinations. However if you want your Munchkin to go outside, they may need additional inoculations. Check with your veterinarian to ensure they are fully covered for your area.
If you are not planning on breeding from your Munchkin, it is advisable to get them neutered. A male cat that hasn’t been neutered will spray urine as he marks his territory against rival males and looks for mates. An un-neutered female cat will become very noisy and demanding when she comes into season. She will try and seek a mate, in addition to attracting males from far and wide! Budget between $50 to $150 for this, although females will cost at the higher end of the spectrum as the procedure is more complicated.
A good quality diet is essential for any pet and the munchkin is no exception. Avoid cheaper cat foods as they will be full of carbohydrate ‘fillers’ that have little nutritional value for your pet as they are simply not designed to eat them. Instead, chose a high-quality meat based brand. Other yearly costs to be aware of include worming and flea treatments. Worming should be done every three months if your cat goes outside and every six months if they are indoor cats as they are less at risk. Flea treatment should be applied monthly. These treatments can be purchased either online or from your veterinarian and the amount you give will vary depending on your cat’s weight. Allow around $150 per year for these costs.
One last thing to consider is that it is worth getting pet insurance for your Munchkin. Vet bills can be expensive and having insurance can provide peace of mind for unexpected costs. It is worth shopping around and reading the small print when choosing a policy, make sure the excess you pay doesn’t increase too dramatically as your pet ages. For a decent level of cover, allow about $200 per year.