Munchkin Cat: Cat Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Munchkin cat standing on a table
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Munchkin cats are regular domestic cats with short legs due to a natural genetic mutation. While they had been around for decades, munchkins were only accepted as a breed by The International Cat Association in 2003. They are not yet accepted by the Cat Fanciers' Association. Like hairless sphynx cats, which also have an unusual look, people either love them or hate them at first glance but the appeal has been gaining over time.

Breed Overview

Weight: 6 to 9 pounds

Length: About a foot and half long, although its legs are about 3 inches shorter than other cats

Coat: Shorthaired with a medium-length plush coat or longhaired with a semi-long silky coat

Coat Color: Any color combination or pattern

Eye Color: All colors, including blue, brown, copper, green, and yellow

Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Characteristics of the Munchkin

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Vocalize Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Munchkin

Munchkins owe their short legs to a naturally occurring gene, not human selective breeding. The gene responsible for the breed's short legs has been likened to the same one that gives dachshunds and Welsh corgis their diminutive stature. However, since the spine of a cat is physically different from that of a dog, munchkins do not suffer the spinal problems that are sometimes associated with those canine breeds.

In the U.K. in the 1940s, a veterinarian described several generations of short-legged cats. Although this line disappeared during World War II, a short-legged cat was described in Stalingrad in 1953.

Thirty years later in the U.S., Sandra Hochenedel discovered a short-legged cat in Louisiana that she named Blackberry. Blackberry's first and subsequent litters consisted of half short-legged and half long-legged kittens. A male from one of Blackberry's litters, Toulouse, was given to Kay LaFrance, a friend of Hochenedel. It is from Blackberry and Toulouse that today's munchkin breed is descended. The munchkin achieved The International Cat Association championship status in 2003.

The gene that produces the short legs of munchkin cats is autosomal dominant, meaning it is not sex-linked and is expressed whether inherited from one parent or both parents. However, it is lethal when copies are inherited from both parents with those embryos dying in the womb. As a result, munchkins are only bred with regular domestic cats, and not with other munchkins. The offspring of munchkin/domestic cat matings have an equal chance of being munchkins or not. Only the offspring that are munchkins carry the gene.

The breed standard states that permissible outcrosses are domestic longhair or shorthair cats that are not members of a recognized breed. Munchkin crosses with recognized breeds produce short-legged varieties. For example, a cross with a Scottish fold is called a Scottish kilt.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether recognizing the munchkin as a breed is ethical due to its abnormal mutation. Opponents say they should not promote a genetic mutation that could possibly have poor health consequences for the cat.

Proponents point to evidence that munchkins do not seem to have any health concerns specific to the breed, and the cats seem to lead a full life on their shorter legs. It may also be argued that other breeds similarly are based on genetic mutations and inbreeding and some of those a prone to breed-specific health conditions.

Munchkin Care

Munchkins are sometimes described as "ferret-like" in their playfulness, as they run, chase, and play with toys. They also have an endearing way of sitting up, rabbit-like, on their hind legs, a trait which gave the Stalingrad cat the name of "Stalingrad Kangaroo Cat." Because munchkins may be bred to a wide variety of domestic cats, an individual cat's personality will depend on its inheritance. All-in-all, they have been described as loving, sociable, and playful by munchkin fans.

The munchkin's coat requires a little grooming assistance since its shorter legs make it harder to reach certain areas during self-grooming. Shorthaired cats should be brushed weekly and long-haired cats should be brushed a couple of times per week. Regular brushing helps prevent hairballs and matting. You should keep your cat's nails trimmed. Help your cat maintain oral hygiene by brushing its teeth a couple of times per week and get regular cleaning at the veterinarian.

Munchkins have no problem running around on their shorter legs, but they can't jump as high as their longer-legged siblings. Still, they will jump and climb, so providing a cat tree can help them reach new heights safely. As they are curious and active cats, provide interactive cat toys and spend time playing with your cat each day.

They have personalities as variable as any range of domestic cats. In general, they can get along well with older children, other cats, and dogs. Any cat should be kept as an indoor-only cat to ensure it is not exposed to diseases from other cats and from fights, attacks, or accidents. Spaying or neutering your cat is recommended if they are not going to be bred.

Common Health Problems

Studies of older munchkins have not found any conditions that stem from their short-legged stature or possible structural problems. You can expect a normal lifespan if you get the recommended immunizations and preventative care from your veterinarian. As is typical for domestic cats, a munchkin may have these disorders:

Diet and Nutrition

Your munchkin cat should be fed the same diet as any other domestic cat. A munchkin is a medium-sized cat with a weight and body mass that is not significantly affected by having short legs. A wet food diet is often considered best, but you can leave out dry food for your cat to snack on as well. Discuss your cat's needs with your veterinarian, especially if your cat has diabetes, is obese, or is older. Provide fresh, clean water for your cat at all times.

Pros

  • Loving, social, and playful

  • Not likely to jump up to high places

  • Not susceptible to any breed-specific illness

Cons

  • Needs help grooming, shorter legs hinder reaching spots on its body

  • Breed is steeped in controversy about whether mating this cat is ethical due to passing on the genetic mutation

Where to Adopt or Buy a Munchkin Cat

You may be able to find a purebred munchkin cat through a breeder in your area, but if you'd rather adopt from a rescue organization, check out:

More Cat Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide whether a munchkin cat is right for you, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other munchkin cat owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in other unusual cat breeds, look into these to compare pros and cons.

There are many cat breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.