What are Munchkin Cats?
If you’d never heard of a Munchkin Cat until this moment, you’re not alone. Munchkin cats are among the newest of recognized cat breeds. They’re also super cute and, as you would suspect, unique looking among domestic cats.
Except for one very obvious physical trait, they often look like most common house cats. They’re generally small to medium sized, weighing 4-9 pounds with an average plushness to their coat. And they have, as you might have guessed, really short legs. They’re also gaining in popularity. But how these cuties got those legs, and how the breed came to be in the first place is both interesting and somewhat controversial in cat circles. So, in this blog, we will examine exactly what is a munchkin cat, how did they get here, and what they’re like.
The History of Munchkin Cats
The story of Munchkin cats as we know them begins in the 1980s with a music teacher, her friend and a dog. According to most retellings of the story, Louisiana music teacher Sandra Hochenedel in 1983 noticed two cats huddled under a truck trying to escape from a dog. She took the cats home and later noticed that not only did both cats have very short legs, but both were pregnant.
She kept one of the cats whom she called Blackberry and gave the other away. That second cat has since been lost to history. That left Blackberry to claim the title, informally at least, as, mother of all Munchkins cats.
Half off the kittens of Blackberry’s first litter in Hochenedel’s care were short-legged. The music teacher gave one of the male short-legged kittens to a friend, Kay LaFrance, also of Louisiana. LaFrance, named the kitten Toulouse. According to an article on the topic by petfinder.com, LaFrance named the cat Toulouse after a painter Toulouse Lautrec who, either through injury or genetic condition, lived most of his life with an adult-sized torso and child-sized legs.
Blackberry however, disappeared after having just a few litters. But LaFrance used Toulouse to develop a colony of Munchkins on her Louisiana plantation. LaFrance’s cats roamed free so there was a great mix of long-legged cats and munchkins. LaFrance and Hochenedel noticed that even in competition with longer-legged cats, the cats with short legs cats fared well. And they thought they might have the start of a new breed. So, they named the cat after the munchkins from the classical film The Wizard of Oz and reached out to chairman of The International Cat Association’s (TICA) genetics committee to see about declaring the munchkins a new breed.
Nearly a decade after Blackberry was first found, the short-legged cats were introduced to the world in 1991 during a TICA national network television event. And it wasn’t until more than a decade after that that, in 2003, that Munchkins were fully recognized as a breed by the international cat association.
But the acceptance of munchkins as a breed was, and continues to be, controversial and The Cat Fanciers Association still does not recognize the munchkin as a breed.
The Munchkin Cat Controversy
The controversy surrounding the Munchkin as a breed centers around a disagreement over whether the genetic mutation that results in the shorter legs also causes Munchkins to suffer pain and negative health conditions.
The breed’s short legs come from a genetic mutation that has been compared to the mutation found in short-legged dog breeds dachshund and corgis. Those who opposed and continue to oppose the recognition of the breed site a belief that Munchkin cats are prone to the same hip, back and leg problems often seen in dachshunds. Those against the breed say they don’t want to perpetuate a genetic that would cause pain of negative health issues.
Those whose who support the Munchkin breed hold the position that Munchkin cats have differently shaped bodies and shorter spines than similar dogs that suffer problems related to shorter legs. And, during the early breed recognition process, scientists conducted tests and examined x-rays as well as the joints and bones of munchkins to determine the effects of the genetic mutation that causes the short legs. But did not find sufficient evidence of issues to block the breed.
Similar to debates marked the early recognition of the Sphynx and Manx, now both widely accepted, and the munchkin went on to achieve International Cat Association championship status in May 2003.
What do Munchkin Cats Look Like?
Munchkin cats are medium-sized cats with males weighing between six and nine pounds and females generally weighing four to eight pounds. They are often thick-bodied with a rounded chest. They, of course, also have shorter than normal legs and sometimes the back legs can be slightly longer than the front. They are also sometimes slightly bow legged.
Munchkins have a have a medium-plush, all-weather coat and come in all coat colors and patterns. They are considered average in terms of shedding. There is also a lesser-known category of long-haired Munchkins with silkier all-weather coats and plumed tails. Munchkins also have walnut-shaped eyes and triangular ears.
Essentially, they look like many a common house cat, just with shorter legs.
Do Munchkin Cats Make Good Pets?
By most accounts Munchkins make excellent pets. The International Cat Association describes Munchkins as “out going, intelligent and respond well to being handled.”
Munchkins are often described as playful, people-oriented, affectionate and a cat that loves to be cuddled. They also get along well with dogs and other cats. They are considered average in terms of getting along with children, according to website Spruce Pets. They are considered devoted companions.
Munchkins cats are also described as highly intelligent, trainable and curious. They can be taught with voice commands, including how to play fetch. And, like many cats, like to steal your stuff and hoard it away in their special place. And, despite their short legs, they also need exercise.
The Munchkins cats lifespan is generally 12-15 years.
Are they very mobile?
The website Vetstreet describe Munchkins as “faster and more agile than he looks.” LaFrance, for example, originally found that her funeral Munchkins were competing just as well with other feral cats on her plantation and modern-day experts and Munchkin lovers say the breed’s short legs do not interfere with the cat’s agility, other than sometimes not being able to jump as high. In short, they say, Munchkin cats cat do anything other cats can do, they just might take a different route to do it.
They are also known to sit up on their hind legs like rabbits and prairie dogs to check things out.
Special Health Concerns
Generally speaking, Munchkin cats are thought to be healthy cats that live a normal lifespan. Munchkins, however, are considered to be at an increased risk for osteoarthritis as well as two conditions related to their unique genetic makeup. Munchkins can be prone to lordosis, which is excessive curvature of the spine and pectus excavatum which is a hollowed chest. Both of those conditions are seen in humans with dwarfism and Munchkins cats short legs are the result of genetic mutation, achondroplasia, which is the genetic disorder that leads to dwarfism in humans.
How to Care for a Munchkin Cat
Like all cats, Munchkins need regular veterinary health checks, their scheduled vaccinations and measures to control parasites.
One area of care where munchkins my need a little help is in grooming their coat. Their body shape downs can sometimes make it difficult for them to reach certain parts of their body for self-grooming. So, they might need a little help. Weekly brushing is generally considered optimal for shorthaired cats and twice a week for long hair cats.
Some munchkin lovers also recommend providing cat trees to help them reach higher places because some Munchkins often can’t jump as high as they’re long-legged friends.
Overall, the care and feeding of munchkins is not considered any different than other domestic cats.
What to Consider when Adopting a Munchkin Kitten or Cat
Munchkins make great pets. But they are not that easy to find. We at Cat Box Classics advocate for adopting from rescue organizations and shelters rather than breeders. While you don’t find many Munchkins at shelters, it is the case that occasionally pedigree cats end up without a family because their companion has died or had other life changes that require them to give up the cat.
Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com both have search filters that allow you to search for the munchkin cat breed in your area. Animalshelter.org also help to find animals specifically from shelters and has a search filter for Munchkin cats.
There are also breed rescue organizations, such as purebredcatrescue.org, that help find homes for rescued or surrendered purebred cats.
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