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Munchkin or Midget Cat

Physical Characteristics

The Munchkin cat is a medium-sized cat with a long body, walnut-shaped eyes and triangular ears. Because of a mutation it has short and stubby legs; this is also the cat's most recognizable feature. The Munchkin, however, is in no way handicapped by its legs and does have regularly-sized forelegs that are equal in length. The cat comes in short-haired and long-haired varieties, both sporting an all-weather coat.

Personality and Temperament

These short-legged cats are confident, outgoing and not the least bit self conscious about their unusual look. The Munchkin cat loves to play and wrestle with its friends, and is frequently dubbed the magpies of the cat species because it often borrows small, shiny objects and stashes them away for later play. The Munchkin also has a hunter’s instinct and will chase mice or anything that moves, but at the end of the day it looks for nothing more than to snuggle into your lap and nag until it is petted.

History and Background

This short-legged cat breed is the center of a heated debate; the argument: its origin. Short-legged cats are not new -- they have been seen in England as early as the 1930s -- but many were wiped out during World War II. It made a small resurgence and in 1983, Sandra Hochenedel, a Louisiana music teacher, came across two cats hiding in a pickup truck after being chased by a bulldog. Hochenedel, after rescuing the cats and taking them home, learned these short-legged females were pregnant -- keeping the black cat (Blackberry) and giving the gray one (Blueberry) away.

When Blackberry gave birth, Hochenedel presented one of the kittens, Toulouse, to her friend Kay LaFrance, who also lived in Louisiana. LaFrance owned many cats and allowed them to roam free outdoors. Soon the town was full of Munchkins cats -- named after the little people in the children's fantasy novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Believing she had a new breed, LaFrance contacted Dr. Solveig Pflueger, chairwoman of The International Cat Association's (TICA) genetics committee, to learn more about the breed. Pflueger's studies determined that the Munchkin's short legs were the result of a dominant genetic mutation affecting the long bones of the legs.

Soon other breeders became interested in the Munchkin cat breed and attempted to get it recognized by TICA. TICA, however, denied its acceptance due to insufficient information about the Munchkin. Despite the reluctances voiced be many TICA members over its leg mutation, which could potentially cause crippling back and hip problems, the Munchkin cat was given TICA's new breed and color status in 1995. All the controversy surrounding the Munchkin has been beneficial to the breed in one way: it has garnered much media publicity and has become quite a popular cat.

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  • Interesting origins
    12/12/2016 03:00am

    This account of the Munchkin breed's origin brought back a memory for me. My fiancee and I had taken a drive one weekend so I could meet some of his friends who were living on a farm an hour or so north of our home. Being an avid cat lover. I noticed right away that they had a lot of cats around.

    Quite a few of them were very, well, short ! They appeared to have the same limb defect as the Munchkin does. This account says the trait is a dominant one, no doubt why so many of their cats were 'short'.

    I remember also, that the very first time I saw a picture of a new cat breed named Munchkin, I thought surely the people whom I'd met with the short- legged kitties must have been involved somehow, but I'll never know.

    When I asked about the 'short' cats, I was told that a female had strayed into the family's yard the previous summer; pregnant, of course, and all of her kittens were born with these odd looking short legs.

    Those kittens went on to reproduce in their turn and many of their offspring also had short legs. These folks weren't into neutering or spaying - they would adopt out kittens when they could but let nature take its course otherwise.

    It surprised me to see that despite their short legs, the short cats had no problems getting around. The only difference I noticed was that they had less ability at jumping up high.

    Like many cats living in rural situations, they spent a lot of time outside and I was told they were all highly capable mousers, so short legs did not hamper their hunting. I very much wished I could take one red 'short' kitten home, but I had 3 cats already and no room for another.

    This was somewhere in the vicinity of the town of Orangeville, province of Ontario, Canada, in 1986.

    Thing is, as I get older, I have very mixed feelings about deliberately breeding animals with physical defects. Even if the defect appears to have no ill effect upon the animal who must live with it, I'm not sure we ought to do it.

    Did we really need a short-legged breed of cat ? There are already so many cats out there who will never find a home and end up losing their lives. If a short-legged cat appears in a litter, well, that's one thing. Propagating that sort of defect deliberately is a very different thing.

    I can't deny they're extremely cute, and there's no question, we humans love cute.

  • 03/02/2017 12:09am

    I understand Fishfur's concern, but let's remember that [i]all[/i] purebred breeds (cat or dog) are the result of selective breeding by people. Often, breeds are developed by humans who spot and then breed cats or dogs that have a physical manifestation of a mutation in an existing breed or "mutt".
    Different does not always mean disabled...and the Munchkins ancestors (or similar cats- like the ones Fishfur describes) thrived as farm or semi-feral cats that were [i]differently abled[/i] it seems.

    The English Bulldog's shortened "pushed in snout", the hotdog :) body of a dachshund, the purebred lines of a Siamese, the nude(ish) Sphinx all were created by people selectively breeding generations of animals. The breeding pairs were chosen for displayed physical characteristics the breeder thought desirable. Some of these breeds cannot live without a lot of support from people.

    Remember, too, that [u]Natural[/u] evolution occurs over many centuries ( or longer) as "select" individuals whose genetic "mistakes" make them more successful in reproduction of than others in their group or species.

    Purebreds are developed by humans - over the course of a few cat/dog generations. If a genetic "mistake" occurs in a cat and a breeder likes what that cat looks like, a new breed can be developed in a relatively short time by breeding that cat to others with similar features.

    People drawn to only a certain breed aren't going to adopt a mixed breed instead. I would suggest that the best way to help decrease the horrible number of strays and of euthanized kitties and dogs is to increase educational efforts concerning spay and neuter. Let's also try to get breed devoted folks to help with time and money for that.