Guide to Cat Breeds (See Full List)

Munchkin

Munchkin (longhair)

Ancestry: Random-bred domestic cats
Place of Origin: Louisiana, USA
Date of Origin: 1983
Accepted by: AACE, TICA and UFO (championship)

 
Description

The Munchkin resembles a normal domestic long- or shorthaired cat in all but leg length. The body is semi-foreign, medium sized, and medium long with a well-rounded chest and firm hips. Boning is medium, with medium to substantial musculature. Male Munchkins weigh 6 to 9 pounds; female Munchkins weigh 4 to 8 pounds.

The head is a broad, modified wedge with rounded contours, medium in size with high cheekbones. The muzzle and nose are medium in length; a slight nose bump is acceptable. In profile a slight stop is allowed. The neck is thick and medium in length. Ears are medium to medium large, broad at the base, slightly rounded at the tips, and placed as much on top as on the side of the head. Eyes are medium large, walnut-shaped, placed rather wide apart and at a slight angle toward the base of the ears.

The legs are short with the hind legs slightly longer than the front legs. Upper and lower forelegs are equal in length; the hind legs thigh and lower legs are approximately equal in length. Munchkins may have slight bowing of the long bones, but the round, compact paws should not turn in or out. The tail is medium thick and tapers to a rounded tip; length is in proportion to the body. In TICA, a protruding sternum, snub or excessively long nose, round eyes, round head, and cowhocking (hocks that turn or bend inward like that of a cow so the hind leg shanks are very close) are penalized in the show ring. Excessive bowing of the legs, a swayed back, and the appearance of being a miniaturized recognized breed is cause for disqualification.

Munchkins are accepted in both long and short hair lengths. The longhair has a semi-long, silky coat, shaggy britches and may have a slight to moderate ruff. Ear furnishings should be long. The tail has a full plume. The shorthair’s coat is plush, lustrous and medium in length. Both coat types are described as all-weather. All coat colors and patterns are accepted, including the pointed pattern.

Allowable outcrosses are domestic longhairs and shorthairs who are not members of pedigreed breeds. Long-legged offspring of Munchkins can be used in the breeding program if they possess useful traits or attractive colors and patterns, but they cannot be shown as Munchkins.

Since the gene pool is small and still open to random-bred longhair and shorthair domestic cats, a variety of different body, head, coat types, colors, patterns, and personality traits will be added to the bloodlines, although breeders choose their outcrosses for health and their similarity to the ideal Munchkin type. It will take time for the breed to achieve a consistent appearance similar to the one outlined in the breed standard. The standard is an ideal, and may change as the breed develops.

History

The mutation that created the low riders of the cat fancy has occurred before; domestic cats with short legs were seen in Great Britain in 1944, Stalingrad in 1953, New York in the 1950s and New England in the 1970s. (Most likely other instances have occurred as well, but were not documented.) All of these lines apparently died out without being developed. Only the short-legged cats found in 1983 in Rayville, Louisiana went on to engender the Munchkin breed accepted today.

Music teacher Sandra Hochenedel discovered two cats cowering under an abandoned truck, where they had been chased by a neighborhood dog. She rescued the cats and took them home, noticing three important details: both were female, both were pregnant, and both were shortchanged in the leg department. She kept the black cat, who she named Blackberry, and gave away the gray cat, Blueberry.

What became of Blueberry is unknown, but Blackberry passed on her unique genes to some of her offspring, becoming the foundation cat of the Munchkin breed. When Blackberry produced her first litter, Hochenedel gave one of the short-legged male kittens to her friend Kay LaFrance, who lived in Monroe, Louisiana. Blackberry vanished after having only a few litters, but her genetic legacy continued. Since LaFrance allowed Blackberry’s son, Toulouse, to wander around unaltered, in short order a good sized population of short-legged cats lived on LaFrance’s property. Since cats in heat care little about their partners’ leg length (or much of anything else), Toulouse and his short-legged offspring had no trouble competing for mates with their longer legged rivals.

Thinking they might have a new breed, in 1990 Hochenedel and LaFrance contacted Solveig Pflueger, MD, Ph.D., an allbreed judge and TICA’s genetics committee chair. Pflueger and David Biller, D.V.M, Head of Radiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, conducted a study to evaluate the inheritance and expression of the trait. They found that an autosomal dominant gene caused the long bones of the legs to be shorter than normal. That means a cat only needs one copy of the Munchkin gene to have short legs and to pass the trait directly along to offspring; if a cat doesn’t have short legs, she doesn’t possess the Munchkin gene. Concerned that these cats would have spinal problems like the short-legged Dachshund, Corgi and Basset Hound dog breeds, the spine was examined. At that time, no problems were discovered. However, at the time the breed was so new and the bloodlines so limited that the studies were not considered definitive.

The breed was named for the little people of Munchkinland from the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Other breeders soon established Munchkin breeding programs. In 1991, the Munchkin was introduced to the public at the INCATS TICA show at Madison Square Garden in New York. In 1994, TICA accepted the breed in the New Breed and Color (NBC) category. In May 2003, TICA advanced the Munchkin to championship. UFO and AACE soon accepted the breed for championship as well.

Like many new breeds, the Munchkin faced resistance and opposition—and still does today. The hissing over the Munchkin has been particularly heated because the breed’s acceptance raises questions about the morality of breeding mutations that might be considered deformities, despite the fact that the mutation occurred spontaneously. Some fanciers believe that encouraging these kinds of mutations through deliberate breeding programs is unethical. When TICA first accepted the breed, one of its veteran judges resigned, calling the breed “an affront to any breeder with ethics.”

Munchkin fanciers believe otherwise, and point out the numerous cat breeds that came about through spontaneous mutation. They say Munchkins are healthy cats who are not hampered by their unique genetic makeup and point to the jaguarundi, a South American wildcat with a slender, elongated body and short legs, which is thought to be the most adaptable of the New World felines.

Cat lovers have been debating this issue since the cat fancy began. After the first modern-day cat show in 1871, our universally accepted and well-loved Siamese was described as an "unnatural, nightmare kind of cat." Some say that describes the Munchkin to a T. Time will tell if this breed finds universal acceptance as the Siamese did.

Notes

Some veterinarians are concerned about lordosis, a downward curvature of the spine that gives the affected cats swaybacks. In severe cases, lordosis can compress the heart and lungs. More research needs to be done before possible health issues can be completely ruled out, particularly since the breed is relatively young. Another problem sometimes seen is pectus excavatum, which also affects the chest, although the prevalence of this and lordosis are not yet known. Many breeders deny these are problems for the breed.

When two short-legged Munchkins are bred, the litters are often smaller than average. This suggests the gene responsible for the short legs may be lethal when two copies are inherited, causing such embryos to die and be reabsorbed in the womb early in their development, although this has not been confirmed by definitive testing.

Dr. Leslie Lyons of the University of California, Davis, as part of the Feline Genome Project is studying the Scottish Fold, Manx, and Munchkin to determine why some bloodlines have health problems associated with their unique autosomal dominant traits and others do not. Dr. Lyons wishes to identify the genes responsible for the traits in the hope that this will help distinguish the bloodlines that cause problems so they can be eliminated from the gene pools. In the future, this research may help breeders keep their lines healthy and free of dangerous defects.

Partly because of their uniqueness and partly because of the controversy surrounding the breed, the Munchkin is in great demand, and always exceeds supply. Waiting lists are usually long. Munchkins are not as expensive and rare as they once were, however; if you are flexible about gender, color, and pattern, your wait will be shorter.

If you’re flexible about leg length, you’ll have very little wait at all. One of the problems with breeding Munchkins is what to do with the long-legged offspring inevitably produced, since offspring with long legs cannot possess the dominant gene for short legs. Some breeders specialize in popular colors and patterns, such as the pointed pattern, so it's easier to find homes for those long-legged kittens.

The popularity of the Munchkin has led to various crosses that have found little acceptance in the cat associations. These include the Minskin (Munchkin/Sphynx cross), Skookum (Munchkin/LaPerm cross), Napoleon (Munchkin/Persian cross) Kinkalow (Munchkin/American Curl cross), and others even more unusual such as the Dwelf (Munchkin/Sphynx/American Curl cross). In 2006, TICA, dismayed by all the applications for such breeds, sought to dissuade such efforts. The Genetics Committee chaired by Dr. Solveig Pflueger issued a report stating, "The Committee proposes that TICA does not accept any proposed breeds for Registration Only status that do not exhibit novel mutations. The current mutations would be reserved for currently recognized breeds exclusively. This would end the seemingly endless applications for 'munchkinized' new breeds, and then deter the inevitable introduction of 'rexed,' 'Bob-tailed,' and 'Poly-ed' everything else."

Did you know?

The Munchkin’s short legs are caused by a spontaneous natural mutation called dwarfism. Many forms of dwarfism occur in mammals, including humans. In the Munchkin’s case, all four legs are shortened but the head and body are normal size. In humans, this type of short-limb dwarfism is called hypochondroplasia. Hypochondroplasia in humans is caused by an autosomal dominant gene, as are the Munchkin’s short legs.

Personality

Happily unaware that they’re different from their long-legged relatives, Munchkins are self-assured, curious, confident, and outgoing. Nor do their feline friends treat them as though they’re disabled.

Personalities vary, since the gene pool is still open to random-bred cats to keep the gene pool diverse and healthy. However, in general Munchkins are people-oriented, playful and love their human companions. These motorized dust mops are playful long after kittenhood and enjoy any game in which you take an active part.

Despite the short legs (or maybe because of them), Munchkins bound like ferrets and corner like sports cars. They can climb trees, scratching posts and curtains with the same agility as other cats. However, they can’t jump as high because the shorter back legs don’t provide as much boost. Munchkins can jump onto most beds and chairs, but the kitchen counter is not always accessible—which, depending upon your point of view, may be a good thing.

Munchkins are sometimes nicknamed "magpies" for their tendency to take small objects and hide them in secret stashes. The shorter legs don’t significantly reduce their proficiency as mousers, but breeders strongly recommend keeping them inside—as do reputable cat breeders of all pedigreed breeds. In addition to the usual hazards, theft of this rare and expensive breed is always a risk.

Breed Characteristics

Size:Small to medium.
Coat Length(s):Short hair, long hair.
Body Type:Semi-foreign.
Grooming Requirement:Every few weeks (shorthair); twice a week (longhair).
Talkativeness:Average.
Activity Level:Average.
Affection:Affectionate.
Usually Good With:Adults, seniors, and children (6+).
Time Alone:More than 8 hours per day.
Attention:Needs average attention.
Handling:Moderately docile.