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Munchkin Cats: The Wiener Dogs of the Feline World

Munchkin cat
The Munchkin cat is bred to have short little legs supporting a normal sized body. Nazra Zahri/Getty Images

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The Munchkin is one of the world's newest cat breeds. Known for its short legs and normal-sized body, this charmingly diminutive kitty has been a polarizing force in the cat community. While pet parents adore Munchkins, some breed associations don't officially acknowledge Munchkins' existence. So what makes Munchkin cats so controversial?

Short on Height, Long on Personality

Most cats are considered curious, but the Munchkin cat takes it to a new level. It will explore every inch of its home — high and low — with great interest and is likely to take a few souvenirs. Munchkin cats are especially attracted to shiny objects — jewelry, bottlecaps, bobby pins — and will carry off the items so they can be hidden in a secret stash. Some hoarding behavior in cats is biologically based, such as moving plush cat toys from place to place just as they would move their kittens in the wild. But Munchkins appear to find, move and hoard shiny objects for no biological reason at all. The behavior is part of the Munchkin cat's quirky personality.

In addition to acting as cute little packrats, Munchkins are little cuddle monsters. They love to spend their time with people and have been known to occupy a lap as soon as it becomes available. Munchkins will perch on their hind legs, says Dawn LaFontaine, owner of Cat in the Box and animal shelter volunteer, in an email interview.

The Long and Short of Munchkin Cats

Munchkin cats weigh between 4 and 9 pounds (2 to 4 kilograms), which is about the size of a small to medium-sized cat. Their coats can be a variety of lengths ranging from short to long. Coats are allowed in any color, combination of colors or pattern. And, despite their low-slung frames, Munchkin cats are actually known as speedsters who love to jump.

The most remarkable feature of Munchkin cats is, of course, their short legs. This characteristic, of having a normal size body and tiny legs, is the result of an autosomal gene aptly known as the "Munchkin gene" or simply "M" for short. This dominant gene can be deadly to in-utero kitten formation if it is passed to the kittens by both cat parents, so Munchkin cats are made by breeding non-Munchkin and Munchkin cats. Most litters will have both normal-legged kittens and short-legged kittens, and they live a normal life span — up to 15 years.

While short-legged cats do sometimes occur naturally, the limited number of Munchkin cats that arise from planned breeding make them relatively expensive to purchase. The cost of a single Munchkin kitten can range from several hundred dollars to $2,000 or more.

Munchkin Cat Controversy

Munchkin cats are short on stature, but long on controversy. Short-legged cats have been reported for decades, thanks to a naturally occurring gene responsible for an occasional kitten with shorter-than-normal legs. But it wasn't until the mid-1980s that Sandra Hochenedel found a pregnant short-legged cat near her Louisiana home. Hochenedel named the cat Blackberry. The litter Blackberry produced included short- and long-legged kittens. One of the short-legged kittens, a male named Toulouse, was gifted to Kay LaFrance, who also was instrumental in the breed's initial recognition. Today, all Munchkin cats can be traced back to Blackberry and Toulouse.

Munchkin cats met the world during a nationally televised cat show at New York City's Madison Square Garden in 1991. In 1994, the breed was added The International Cat Association's Breed Development program.

Today, the Cat Fanciers Association and the American Cat Fanciers Association do not recognize the Munchkin as a breed. Those opposed to recognizing Munchkins as a breed believed the genetic mutation that gave the Munchkin its short legs would create negative health conditions. However, those health issues haven't cropped up for the breed and the Munchkin, by and large, seems to be as healthy as other types of cats.

"So far, Munchkins seem to enjoy a normal cat life span and no structural problems related to their short leggedness," LaFontaine says. "Munchkins are true extroverts who love people, other cats and even dogs. They're curious and intelligent cats."

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