Named after the Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz, the development of this relatively new breed dates back to 1983 when a pregnant Munchkin named blackberry was discovered under a pickup truck in Louisiana. Two out of four of the litter of kittens had short legs. One of them was named Tolouse, and it was Blackberry and Tolouse who became the foundations of the Munchkin breed. The Munchkin’s abnormally short legs are the result of the naturally occurring genetic mutation. It is a genetic condition known as “achondroplastic dwarfism”, which is seen in some dogs as well as humans too. It has been determined to be a dominant gene, and as a result breeding the Munchkin can be tricky business. If a Munchkin is bred to a Munchkin, one quarter of the cats born through the mating will die. Responsible breeders widen the gene pool to avoid serious health problems.
In the United States, the Munchkin was first popularized after appearing on the front page of a Wall Street Journal in 1995. It claimed recognition and achieved the championship status under The International Cat Association in 2003. However, not every cat registry extends recognition to the Munchkin as there have been many controversies surrounding its health due to the genetic mutation of its legs. There is however no concrete evidence that points to any specific health problems regarding this mutation.
Physical appearance and attributes
The Munchkin is a medium sized cat that weighs between 6 – 9 pounds. It possesses a semi-foreign body type with a well rounded chest and firm hips. The shoulders, hips and head when viewed from the top may seem to be of the same width. The body also disposes of a substantial musculature with medium boning. The breed’s most obvious feature is its unusually short legs that may be bowed and they come in three sizes of decreasing length namely, standard, super short and rug hugger. Though the legs are short, the hind legs do appear slightly longer than the forelegs, thus causing a slight rise from the shoulders to the rump. The legs extended into rounded and firmly placed paws. Balancing the body is a medium thick tail that is well-proportionate to its body and tapers into a rounded tip.
The head of the Munchkin is a modified wedge with rounded contours. Contours are marked by a firm and rounded chin, high cheekbones and well as strong and gently rounded jaws. Atop the head is a pair of medium sized ears that are broad at the base and that taper to rounded tips. Eyes of Munchkin are medium in size and of a walnut shape. They are set rather wide apart and present a slight slant at the outer corners towards the base of the ears. Viewed in profile, there is a slight indentation of the nose below the eye level and the muzzle appears fairly short and blunt.
Its coat can be of a shorthair variety or a longhair variety. The coat of the shorthair variety is described as plush, lustrous, dense and of a medium length. The longhair variety carries a coat of medium density and is silky in texture. It also wears a ruff, has britches and a plume tail. Both varieties of coat are described as weather resistant and can come in all recognized colors and patterns.
Personality and temperament
Though it appears different from typical cat breed with standard leg length, the Munchkin is a self-assured and confident cat. Though personalities vary as the gene pool is still undergoing development, this cat is generally a people-oriented, curious and playful breed. It loves its human companions and can mingle just as well with children and other family pets. The Munchkin has this special ability to perch on its hind legs and is sometimes nicknamed magpies to reflect its propensity to stash away small objects. Its mobility is not in any way hindered by its mini legs. In fact, it is the shortened legs that give it more mobility than one might think. It is capable of bounding like ferrets and climbing onto high perches, even though its legs do not provide for as much boost for high jumps. Besides its playfulness, it also has a mind of intelligence for tricks and puzzle games.
Care and health issues
The Munchkin has an average lifespan of 12 – 14 years. While it is generally a healthy cat, this breed can suffer from some genetic problems, such as lordosis, which is a deepening of the spine in front of the shoulder blades that can constrict the heart, lungs and trachea. Milder cases cause breathing problems or cardiac distress. However, it can become serious when the heart and lungs grow, causing the situation to become lethal. It is advisable to seek out a reputable breeder when buying the kitten and you are much more likely to get a healthy one.
Grooming this breed is fairly easy. The Shorthair variety requires only a weekly brushing, while the longhair variety would need a bit more to keep its coat matt-free. Other grooming practices should look into teeth brushing, ear cleaning as well as nail trimming.
The ideal family
The Munchkin is suited for indoor living. While allowing it to venture outdoors is possible, the space should be safe and escape proof. Its outgoing, friendly and affectionate nature makes it an ideal breed for most types of household. Younger children should be taught how to handle or carry the cat the right way. Provide it with the necessary cat toys, cat trees and cat gym sets to prevent boredom. Munchkin does not shy away from giving affections as long as it receives the right care, attention and love.