The Munchkin resembles a normal domestic longhaired 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 might 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 might 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.
Because the gene pool is small and still open to random-bred longhair and shorthair domestic cats, a variety of different body, head, coat, color, pattern, 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.
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, 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. Because 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 the now late 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 that 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.