With short little legs and low-slung torso, some people see the Munchkin cat as the cat version of a Dachshund. Here are seven facts about the stubby-limbed kitty.
1. The Munchkin breed begin from a genetic mutation.
Similar to other unusual cat breeds, the Munchkin arose from a spontaneous genetic mutation. The Munchkin’s short legs are caused by an autosomal dominant gene, causing the bones in a cat’s legs to grow shorter. A cat only needs one copy of the gene to inherit short legs and to pass the trait along to its kittens.
One warning to breeders: The Munchkin gene is referred to as the “lethal” gene because if a Munchkin cat embryo receives one of these genes from each parent, it won’t survive. That’s why breeders don’t mate two short-legged Munchkin cats together. Cats born with long legs can carry the Munchkin gene, and they’re often mated with each other, or a short-legged Munchkin cat, to produce a litter of healthy, stubby-limbed kittens.
2. The first American Munchkin was a stray
Throughout the 20th century, various individuals documented sightings of short-legged feral cats in Great Britain, Russia, and New England. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that people officially began breeding the “Kangaroo cat,” which some people called the kitty because its forelegs were shorter than its hind legs.
The modern-day American Munchkin cat descended from a short-legged stray cat, rescued in Rayville, Louisiana in the early 1980s. The cat later gave birth to similar-looking kittens. The geneticists were worried that the Munchkin would have problems with its spine, similar to short-legged dog breeds. They didn’t find any deformities in the cats’ joints or backbones, but, since the breed was new, some critics didn’t believe that these studies were definitive.
3. It’s unclear how the Munchkin got its name
The Munchkin cat is presumably named after The Wizard of Oz’s munchkins, but there are two different tales as to how they received the title. According to one story, the first owner’s daughter named one of them Mushroom the Munchkin, and voila, a breed was born. But another states that when the cats were asked to appear on Good Morning America. The show called the owner and asked the name of the breed, and she quickly chose “Munchkin” in honor of the classic film and novel.
4. The Munchkin is a controversial breed.
The Munchkin breed wasn’t met with outstretched arms, but with unsheathed claws. The public were horrified over the cat’s physical shape, even calling the breed “an insult to ethical breeders.” Presently, many people argue that breeding the Munchkin is unethical because it encourages physical deformities even though experts say that Munchkins are healthy.
5. The Munchkins may have health problems, but it wasn’t confirmed whether they’re breed specific.
Aside from their slightly funny walk (and a difficulty jumping onto high surfaces), Munchkins are considered to be a healthy breed, living up to 12 – 15 years. However, some kittens do suffer from lordosis—a condition in which the spinal muscles grow too short, making the spine sink down into the cat’s body. In worst-case scenarios, this condition can be fatal. Munchkins are also sometimes afflicted by pectus excavatum, a deformity that’s also called “funnel chest” because it causes the cat’s breast bone to sink inwards. But since other cat breeds are afflicted by lordosis and pectus excavatum, many Munchkin breeders argue that it’s not specific to their beloved short-legged kitty.