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- Origin: Louisiana, USA, 1983
- Scientific name: Felis catus
- Lifespan: 12-14 years
- Energy: Medium
- Temperament: Playful, outgoing, easily trainable
- Weight: Males 5-6 kg (11 – 13 lbs), females 4-5 kg (8.8 – 11 lbs)
- Eye colour: Brown, green, gold, yellow, blue and odd
- Coat colours and patterns: All colours and patterns
- Grooming: Requires weekly grooming
- Also called: Weiner cat, American Munchkin, Sausage cat, Midget cat
- Cost: $1,800
The munchkin or sausage cat is a short-legged breed, which was discovered in Louisiana in 1983. The short legs are due to achondroplasia, a genetic disorder which results in dwarfism. Munchkins are playful, outgoing and friendly who retain their kitten-like behaviour well into adulthood.
Munchkins are a relatively new breed of cat discovered in 1983 that is characterised by its short-legged appearance. The breed is the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation.
The story starts in 1983 when music teacher Sandra Hochenedel from Louisiana rescued two cats who had been chased under a truck by a dog. Both cats had short legs. Sandra gave away a grey cat, called Blueberry and kept the black one, named Blackberry. Blackberry was pregnant at the time of her rescue and went on to give birth to four kittens, two of whom also had shortened legs. One of the short-legged kittens, Toulouse was given to Kay LeFrance. It is Blackberry and Toulouse who became founders of the breed.
What condition do munchkin cats have?
Munchkins have a genetic condition known as achondroplasia which was first observed in a population of cats in the 1930s but these cats disappeared during the war.
Achondroplastic dwarfism is a disorder of bone growth. Cartilage is a tough and flexible tissue which makes up most of the skeleton during early development before converting it to bone (ossification). However, the gene in affected cats prevents the changing of cartilage to bone. Only the long bones of the legs are affected, all other bones are normal in size. The gene responsible is dominant, it needs only one copy from a parent to be passed on, it is lethal in the homozygous form (ie; the offspring receive two of the gene, one from each parent) and affected kittens will be re-absorbed in-utero.
The corgi and dachshund (also known as the wiener dog or sausage dog) are two recognisable dog breeds also have achondroplasia.
Introduction to the cat fancy
In 1991, the munchkin was introduced to the general public via a live cat show held ty The International Cat Association (TICA) Madison Square Garden. It would be many more years before the breed was officially recognised due to concerns the cats would develop back problems due to their short legs. Laurie and Robert Bobskill proposed the new breed which was accepted by TICA in September 1994 and the munchkin achieved TICA Championship status in May 2003.
Do munchkin cats have health problems?
The breed is controversial in the cat world, due to concerns about spinal problems due to the short legs and long spine will cause lordosis (downward dip in the spine). This condition also affects short-legged breeds of dog such as the dachshunds. Supporters claim that the spine of the cat is much different and no such problems occur in the munchkin. The jury appears to still be out on that. Not every cat body recognises the munchkin for the above reasons, which includes the CFA, GCCF and FiFE.
The short legs may also predispose the Munchkin cat to arthritis, a painful and progressive degenerative condition of the joints.
Munchkins may not have the flexibility to groom themselves, which is of particular issue in longhaired cats.
Pectus excavatum is a condition characterised by a narrow chest and inward concave deformation due to congenital malformation of the sternum and costochondral cartilages.
Progressive retina atrophy is a group of inherited retinal diseases characterised by progressive bilateral degeneration of the retina, which is located at the back of the eye and is responsible for receiving light from the front of the eye and converting it to neutral signals, which are sent to the brain for visual recognition. The rdAc mutation in the CEP290 is recessive, which means both parents must carry the munchkin gene and pass it on for the offspring to inherit the condition. If both parents carry the rdAC mutation, there is a 25% chance for each kitten to be affected with PRA
Did you know?
Other short-legged cats have appeared in the past. Several generations occurred in England in the 1930s but died out during World War II. One also lived in Stalingrad (St Petersburg), Russia in 1953 but that too vanished.
The Munchkin is a medium-sized cat who is firmly muscled with a well-rounded chest. The back is flat, with a slight rise from the shoulders to the rump. Hindquarters are straight when viewed from behind.
Legs are short with the upper and lower forelegs of equal length and the thigh and lower leg are equal length. Slight bowing is permitted in the forelegs of the male.
Head and face:
The head is a modified wedge, medium in size and with rounded contours. Ears are medium and broad at the base. Eyes are round and set well apart. The nose is medium in length with a slight curve. Chin is well rounded.
The coat can be long or short hair and all coat colours and patterns are accepted.
All eye colours which include blue, brown, copper, green and yellow.
Allowable outcrosses include domestic shorthair or long hair cats which don’t belong to a breed or munchkin variants.
The munchkin is an energetic, playful and outgoing breed who maintains his or her kitten-like personality well into adulthood. Their intelligence means they are easy to train to play fetch or walk with a harness. Munchkins love company and get along well with adults, children and other family pets.
Despite their short stature, the munchkin will zoom around the house and can jump, although not as high as a cat with normal length legs.
Munchkin cats are known for their hoarding tendencies, in fact, they are affectionately known as magpie cats.
Munchkins do not have any special needs and their care is much the same as any other cat.
Brush the coat once a week for shorthaired cats and or daily for longhairs. This removes loose hair and prevents mats.
All cats require an annual veterinary visit to check to ensure they are in good health. Vaccinations may be every 1-3 years depending on local laws, risk factors and the veterinarian’s recommendations.
Treat for fleas and worms on a regular basis, this includes indoor cats who can still catch parasites.
Dental care is important to prevent gum disease. Clean the teeth with a pet toothbrush and toothpaste.
Munchkin cats thrive on companionship, if you are out of the home for extended periods, consider two cats.
Due to their inquisitive nature and intelligence, interactive puzzle games can be a great addition to keep your cat entertained.
Choosing a munchkin cat
Purebred cats should only be purchased from a registered breeder. Do your homework and research before choosing a breeder. Where possible, visit cat shows and ask for recommendations.
Ideally, you should be able to visit the cattery and meet the cats, unless you are purchasing a cat from interstate.
Ask for guarantees in writing, and never pay cash.
Look for bright, active and inquisitive kittens with clear eyes, a healthy coat and no signs of eye or nasal discharge.
It is always recommended that a new cat or kitten be checked over by your own veterinarian to ensure they are in good health.
- The breed name came from the munchkins in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.
- The Munchkin leg length can come in three sizes; standard, super-short and rug-hugger (also called VW Microbus).
- A Munchkin by the name of Lilieput from Napa, California is the world’s shortest cat, measuring 13.34 centimetres.
- Munchkin cats love to sit on their hind legs which offers them a higher vantage.
- Genetta (Munchkin/Bengal cross)
- Bambino or Minskin (Munchkin/Sphynx cross)
- Scottish Kilts (Munchkin/Scottish Fold cross)
- Napolean or Minuet (Munchkin/Persian cross)
- Kinkalow (Munchkin/American Curl cross)
- Lambkin (Munchkin/Selkirk Rex cross)
- Skookum (Munchkin/LaPerm cross)
Frequently asked questions
What is the lifespan of a Munchkin cat?
The average lifespan is between 12-14 years which is the same as other cat breeds.
Do Munchkin cats need special care?
No, most Munchkins don’t need special care. Because they cannot jump as high as regular cats, it may be of benefit to provide steps or ramps if they have difficulty jumping on furniture etc.
A weekly groom is necessary for all shorthaired cats to remove loose hair and longhaired Munchkins will benefit from a daily groom.
As with all cats, dental care is important for Munchkin cats, a daily brush with a cat toothbrush will remove plaque.
Do Munchkin cats have knees?
Yes, Munchkin cats have knees like all cats.
Can Munchkin cats jump?
Munchkins can run and jump, however, due to their short legs, they are unable to jump as high as other cats, but that doesn’t slow them down.
How tall is the munchkin cat?
The average munchkin stands around 8-9 inches from the ground to the shoulders compared to an average cat who stands around 12 inches tall.
Can you breed two munchkin cats together?
No, the homozygous munchkin, in which the offspring inherit the defective gene from both parents is non-viable and most will die in utero. Munchkin cats can be mated to domestic cats (of no breed) or munchkin variants, which are long-legged munchkin offspring which means they do not carry the defective gene.
Are munchkin cats natural?
The mutation which caused Blackberry and Blueberry to have short legs likely came about due to a spontaneous mutation. Mutations happen all the time, some are viable, some are non-viable.
From the spontaneous mutation, breeders elected to selectively breed to other cats to maintain this unique look which is how the munchkin cat became established. Had breeders not intervened, it is possible a colony of long and short-legged cats could have established, as records make note of at least one other short-legged colony. How long it would have lasted is a question none of us can answer.
Can munchkin cats jump on counters?
Yes most munchkins can jump on kitchen counters. The average cat can jump five or six times his or her height. Most cats stand around 12 inches from the ground to the shoulders, which means they can jump between 60-72 inches. The height of a munchkin is between 8-9 inches, which would mean they can jump anywhere between 40 and 54 inches. Countertops are approximately 36 inches high.
Are munchkin cats hypoallergenic?
There is no evidence that munchkin cats are any more or less hypoallergenic than other breeds of cat. Interestingly, for allergy sufferers, Purina announced it has developed a cat diet designed to manage allergies to cats. Fel d1, a type of protein which originates in cat saliva and is a major cause of cat allergies in humans, can be counteracted by an egg-based ingredient which contains Fel d1 antibodies to neutralise Fel d1.