Have you ever seen a Munchkin cat? The dwarves of the Cat Fancy world are easily recognized. Their short legs keep their bodies closer to the ground, creating a unique look. This breed is controversial though. Opponents lament turning a naturally-occurring deformity into a cat breed. Breeders and owners insist that Munchkin cats are happy and active pets that do not suffer due to their abnormality.
Munchkin Cats: Breed History
Cats with very short legs occur from time to time in the general feline population. There were reports of such cats in 1930s Britain and later on in Russia and the US. However, it was only in the 1980s that someone found a short-legged cat and decided to do something about it.
That someone was Sandra Hochenedel, a music teacher from Louisiana who found a stray pregnant cat and named her Blackberry. The litter that Blackberry delivered included several unusual kittens with very short legs.
One of the short-legged kittens was adopted by Hochenedel’s friend, Kay LaFrance. She named him Toulouse after Toulouse-Lautrec – the short-statured French painter. Toulouse and his mother Blackberry are considered the founding cats of the Munchkin cat breed. They were bred with regular cats, and their short-legged offspring were included in the breeding program.
In 1991, Laurie and Robert Bobskill of Massachusetts proposed the Munchkin as a new experimental breed. Their proposal met with the approval of TICA (The International Cat Association), one of the world’s largest cat registries. In 2003, TICA accepted the Munchkin as a full-fledged championship status cat breed.
Munchkin Cats: Breed Description
Other than their short legs, Munchkin cats look much like any other cat. The breed standard does call for walnut-shaped eyes and an overly proportioned look and states that Munchkin cats should not look like miniature versions of other breeds.
Their short legs should be set evenly apart and generally be of the same length. Back legs slightly longer than front legs are acceptable within the breed standards.
Domestic shorthaired and longhaired cats are allowed in Munchkin breeding programs, resulting in a variety of coat lengths, colors and patterns. TICA now has separate categories for Longhair Munchkins and Shorthair Munchkins.
The temperament of Munchkins is as versatile as their heritage. These cats are active and mobile, despite their dwarfism. Owners say that their cats easily run around, jump, and climb.
The Genetic Mutation That Makes Munchkin Cats
There is a unique identifiable gene that’s responsible for the short legs. Like every gene, it has two copies – each parent donating one copy during conception.
It only takes one mutated gene to cause short legs. If both copies carry the gene, the embryo isn’t viable and never develops into a kitten. This means that every Munchkin cat carries only one copy of the mutation. If that mutated copy is passed on to the offspring, then the kitten will be short-legged.
The breed genetics also mean that when a Munchkin cat is bred with another Munchkin cat, some kittens will have long legs and some short legs. Any fertilized eggs that get two mutated genes during conception will not develop, so litters will be smaller than usual.
When a Munchkin cat is crossed with an ordinary domestic cat, again some kittens will have long legs and some short legs. The ones with long legs do not carry the Munchkin gene.
Munchkin Cats: The Debate Over Ethics
More than two decades after the Bobskills made their suggestion, only a few of the Cat Fancy associations recognize Munchkins as a breed. Three of the largest associations, the Cat Fancy Association (CFA), the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) and the Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) all refuse to grant these cats breed status.
Those who object to the breed claim that the short legs are in fact a congenital defect. Cats should have long legs just like they’re supposed to have eyes and ears. We wouldn’t think of breeding blind cats on purpose, so why breed short-legged ones?
Breeders and breed aficionados say that short legs are not a defect or a problem. According to them, it’s a trait that does not inhibit the cat’s mobility in any way. If hairless cats and cats with short tails are legitimate breeds, then why not short legs?
The debate continues, as does the breeding of Munchkin cats.
How do you feel about Munchkin cats? Do you think this is a legitimate breed or an unethical creation of unhealthy cats? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment!