The Munchkin, as its name would suggest is a short-legged cat. It is a relatively new breed of cat whose characteristically short legs are caused by a genetic mutation.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the breed when it was first recognized by The International Cat Association (TICA) in 1995 with critics voicing concern over potential health and mobility issues.
Fun fact: The name "munchkin" derives from writer L. Frank Baum's diminutive inhabitants of Munchkin Country, originating in the 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
History of the Munchkin cat
Short-legged cats have been documented as early as the 1930's in England. Reports say that these short-legged cats survived for over four generations before the second world war took its toll on the cat population of Europe. However, the Munchkin breed as we know today begin in Louisiana.
In 1983, music teacher Sandra Hochenedel found two cats hiding from a bulldog under a pick up truck. She rescued them, took them home and then realised that they were both pregnant and both short-legged. She gave away one, but kept the other, a black cat named Blackberry.
After Blackberry had her first litter, Sandra gave one of the kittens to her friend Kay LaFrance, who also lived in Louisiana in the town of Monroe. LaFrance's cats were allowed free access to the outdoors and were not neutered, meaning that a feral population of Munchkins soon occured around Monroe. These Munchkins apparently competed very well with the long-legged cats for prey and mating opportunities.
Sandra and Kay then decided to contact Dr. Solveig Plflueger, chairperson of TICA's genetics committee. She determined that the short legs were a result of a dominant genetic mutation affecting the long bones of the legs, similar to Corgis and Dachsunds.
The mutation itself apparently occured spontaneously within the feline gene pool with any cat that possessed the gene, having short legs. A cat that has received the Munchkin gene from one parent will produce Munchkin kittens at an approximate ratio of one Munchkin to one normal kitten.
A Munchkin's head is described by TICA as a "modified wedge with rounded contours, in proportion with the body". They have high defined cheekbones and males can sometimes appear larger than females.
The Munchkin's ears are in proportion with the head and are broader at the base, ending in slightly rounded tips. They are placed as much on top of the head as on the sides.
A Munchkin cat or kitten's eyes are walnut shaped. They are spaced rather wide apart, giving an alert and open expression. There is no relationship between coat and eye colour. A Munchkin's muzzle is moderate with gentle contours in proportion to the head. The nose is medium in length.
They are described as having a thick, slightly less slender body than most cats. Munchkins have a well-rounded chest and firm hips.
One of their many characteristics is their short legs, that are evenly set apart and approximately equal in length. Their feet are round, compact and in proportion with their body. The Munchkin's tail is not overly thick, tapering to a rounded tip.
A Munchkin's coat is medium to short in length. Shorthaired Munchkins have a medium-plush, all-weather coat whereas the longhairs have a semi-long, silky all-weather coat.
They come in a variety of colours and patterns. The colors and patterns have been introduced through the outcross program that maintains the breed's genetic diversity.
The Munchkin is an outgoing cat who enjoys being handled. They have a lot of energy and are faster and more agile than their appearance would suggest. They are just as happy running around as they are snuggling onto a warm lap for cuddles.
They love playing with children, other cats and even dogs. When they aren't busy running around, they like to sit up on their hind legs to get a peek at something interesting. The Munchkin is a highly intelligent breed that loves learning new tricks and playing with puzzle toys.
Another name for Munchkins is 'Magpies'. They earned themselves this nickname as they are known to often borrow small, shiny objects, stashing them away for later play. They are also profficient hunters despite their size.
Health and care
Munchkins are generally healthy and despite their body to leg ratio, do not appear to have any spinal problems or any specific health problems associated with their breed. However, they are still a relatively young breed so this could always change.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new kitten into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Munchkin at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to protect his overall health.
The Munchkin’s coat is easy to groom. One with a short coat can get by with weekly brushing. Brush or comb a longhaired Munchkin twice a week to prevent or remove mats or tangles.