The Munchkin cat is deliberately trying to achieve disproportionate short stature. This means that the cat's body and head remain normal in size, but the limbs - i.e. the legs - are greatly shortened. The same phenomenon can be found in various dog breeds, such as the Dachshund, the Basset Hound or the Corgi.
History of the Munchkin cat
In nature, there are sometimes spontaneous genetic mutations that ensure that cats are born with certain characteristics that are different from other cats. If this mutation proves to be useful for adapting to the environment, it can happen that it is passed on for so long and consistently that so-called natural breeds emerge - this happens among others with the Maine Coon, the Norwegian Forest Cat or the Turkish Van. However, the natural cat breeds are specifically bred today.
Short-legged cats with accidental short stature have not established themselves as a natural breed. But in the 1980s, the American Sandra Hochenedel found two small cats, both of which were pregnant, and adopted one of them. Her name was Blackberry and some of them had kittens that had inherited the short legs. She gave one of these kittens to her friend Kay LaFrance.
This kitten, called Toulouse, was a free lover and was not neutered, so one day she came home pregnant. As a result, there were kittens with disproportionate short stature that mated with the stray cats outside and passed on the trait. Hochenedel and LaFrance then tried to have the short-legged cats recognized as an independent breed. They introduced her to a jury member of TICA ("The International Cat Association"), the second largest organization for the registration of cat breeds in the world.
However, it was not until 1991 that the Munchkin cat was introduced as a breed in the United States. The breeders Laurie and Robert Bobskill started targeted breeding in 1994. To date, however, the cats are only recognized as breeds by isolated organizations in the USA, Great Britain, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Nevertheless, there are some people on the European mainland who breed Munchkin cats.
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Health of the "Dachshund Cat" has not been researched enough
Since the Munchkin cat is still a very young cat breed, the possible restrictions on its health due to the short legs have not yet been fully researched. The veterinarians who examined the first Munchkins do not want to have discovered any potential health problems. They suspect that the mutation is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, meaning that only one parent must have the predisposition to produce offspring who inherit this mutation.
Strictly speaking, it is even necessary to mate Munchkin cats with other, not short stature cats, because if a baby cat inherits the predisposition to short stature from both parents, it dies as an embryo in the womb. In a litter of Munchkin cats there are usually both kittens with long legs and those with short legs. Assumptions that the "Dachshund Cats" have to deal with similar back and spine problems as short-legged dog breeds have so far not been proven beyond any doubt.
Possible diseases and limitations of the Munchkin cat
Nevertheless, a so-called lordosis can be observed more often in Munchkin cats, a curvature of the spine that is expressed by a hollow back. There is also discussion that the animals are at risk of a herniated disc or osteoarthritis. The short legs prevent them from jumping, climbing and hunting like other cat breeds.
There also appears to be an increased risk of congenital funnel breasts, with the chest deformed and growing inward. This in turn can restrict the cat's organs and lead to massive problems, some of which are life-threatening. For these reasons, critics refer to the targeted multiplication of Munchkins as agony breeding. Nevertheless, breeders argue that the Munchkin cat is just as healthy, has the same high life expectancy and quality of life as its long-legged counterparts.