When a cat possesses similar genes that result in the shortened legs of a basset hound, a dachshund, or a Welsh corgi, it is called a Munchkin. These unusual-looking animals have much shorter legs than other cats, but they don’t seem to have any joint or spine issues. The Munchkin has a tidy, compact body, and like several creatures in the wild (such as badgers, squirrels, otters, etc.) is low to the ground and can be very fast. They make very playful pets, and love to chase toys around, jump, and race around corners.
The first Munchkin was discovered in the United States in 1964 by a woman who adopted a stray kitten, but serious breeding did not begin until 1983 after another woman found two pregnant cats hiding underneath a truck where they had been chased by a bulldog. She kept one of the females, named her Blackberry, and when Blackberry had her kittens half of them had shortened legs. The kittens were given away, and one with short legs, a male who was named Toulouse, became the first sire of today’s Munchkin population.
The Munchkin was introduced to the public in 1991 as a breed authorized by TICA, The International Cat Association. There has been much controversy over this; critics argue that the short legs are because of a genetic mutation and will result in all sorts of health problems. Proponents argue that the Munchkin has been thoroughly analyzed by experts in the veterinary field and has not been found to suffer from any difficulties specific to their breed. There is an occasional case of lordosis (a spine problem, causing “sway back”), but that occurs in other breeds with the same frequency. There are those in the field of cat breeding that refuse to recognize the Munchkin because they regard it as an aberration. Much of this negative attitude stems from the fact that the Munchkin gene does not produce viable offspring when the kitten bears homozygous genes. Successful offspring are produced when the genes are heterozygous. (Genes are paired in DNA; one is normal and the other is Munchkin.)
Regardless of what others have to say, Munchkin owners will tell you that their pets are very lovable and intelligent, and also endearingly curious. They will often stand up on their hind legs like rabbits to get a better look at things, or a stronger sniff. They come in all sorts of colors, have long hair or short hair, and more or less behave just like any other cat. Of these, there are four categories according to the size of the animal (which have some of the greatest names): the Standard, the Super Short, the VW Microbus, and the Rug hugger.
As with dogs, there has been some cross breeding and a creation of new breeds: a Munchkin crossed with a curly haired (rexed) LaPerm makes a Skookum; a Munchkin crossed with a hairless Sphynx produces a Minskin.
Recently a Maine Coon cat was featured in the news as possibly being the longest cat in the world. It reached a length of over 48″ when measured from its nose to its tail. Well, the world’s smallest cat may just be a Munchkin–click here for the story. The editors of the Guinness Book of Records are waiting until the cat, now just a kitten, is full grown to make a decision.