What Makes the Munchkin Breed Unique?
Catching Up With A Munchkin Cat Owner
Mini cats, better known as munchkin cats, are seen by some as the unicorns of felines, something to gawk at and be genuinely amused by. Others see them as a scourge within the feline gene pool. To Emma Philipsen, a Dutch feline owner, her mini cat is her pride and joy - the furry face she sees every night.
"Louis means everything to me. He follows me everywhere and is always so happy when I get home from work. When I go to bed at night, he always has his snuggle moment, where he purrs loudly and demands attention. Unfortunately for me, he wants to repeat that moment at 6 in the morning! Because he's so cute, I don't really care that he wakes me so early."
Emma adopted Louis from the Dutch equivalent of Craigslist. When she purchased him, he was certainly not in the pristine condition he's in today. He still deals with some lingering issues today, but lucky for him, Emma is a doting cat parent who takes care of his every need.
“When I first got him, he was covered in fleas and had really dirty ears. Thankfully that cleared up pretty quickly, he still has some ear problems once in a while, but I give him ear drops (which he hates).”
Emma's meander toward adopting a munchkin actually stemmed from her love of short dog breeds like Basset Hounds and Corgis, but after seeing a photo of a Munchkin cat, she quickly realized that she could see herself as a cat person.
"I saw a picture of a Munchkin cat on the internet once and decided that I only wanted a cat if I could have a Munchkin. Coincidentally, I found Louis on the internet."
"It's really no different from having a regular-sized cat, although Louis is a lot faster than long-legged cats - so he's harder to catch."
The History of the Munchkin Breed
While Munchkin Cats truly pounced into the spotlight in 1991 when they were featured at a cat show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Before that, in the late 80s, there were many documented accounts of cats with abnormally short legs - referred to as kangaroo cats due to them having strangely stumped forelegs.
The current Munchkin cat breed is believed to have descended from this marsupial-sounding meowser.
About 8 years before the big Madison Square Garden reveal, a music teacher named Sandra Hochenedel found a pair of pregnant felines hiding under a truck who had just escaped a bulldog attack.
She opted to keep one of the plumply pregnant cats, naming her Blackberry. To Sandra's surprise, half of Blackberry's litter had stunted limbs - thus the true beginning of the Munchkin cat!
Sandra gave one of Blackberry's offspring to a friend who named him Toulouse. Toulouse was given unfettered access to the great outdoors, and his non-neutered self made the most of the midnight prowls.
Soon many similarly short-legged strays began to pop up in the neighborhood - enough to garner the attention of The International Cat Association - and the rest is history!
A fun fact about this breed, the small-statured characters in The Wizard of Oz were the inspiration behind the breed's name!
The Science Behind This Unique Breed of Cat
It is believed that the birth of the munchkin cat breed, the original dwarf breed, was the result of a happy little accident. Much of what gives the breed its distinct look is from an autosomal dominant genetic mutation - specifically, its legs. Somewhere along the line, a gene mutated, causing the typically long leg bones to be somewhat stumpy. These abnormalities result in short-legged cats that captivate with their distinctively cute appearance.
Because this munchkin gene is a dominant gene, only one of the parents needs the mutation for the potential to create the marked stuntedness in the offspring - but not every kitten carrying the gene will be born with short leg length.
Breeders should be aware that if both parents have the gene, the results can be much more tragic. This gene is classified as lethal because if both parents possess it, the offspring are likely to die in the womb.
But feline health experts say that, outside of the neonatal risk, they are not exposed to any greater health risk from being born with short stature.
The Munchkin Cat Personality
Munchkin cats are known to be intelligent, curious problem solvers and maintain their kitten-like playfulness well into adulthood. They can quickly learn new commands or tricks and show a keen interest in puzzle toys and games.
These little guys are also quite affectionate and social, often referred to as "people-oriented." They make great family pets as they tend to get along well with children, dogs, and other cats in the house.
Do Munchkin Cats Have Health Issues?
The dwarfism that launched this breed to fame is also the same characteristic that labeled munchkin cats as one of the most controversial breeds of its time.
Over two decades later and there are still feline advocates up in arms over their proliferation.
While Munchkins were accepted as a new breed by the public and The International Cat Association (TICA), not all organizations feel the same, including the American Cat Fanciers Association (CFA).
In reality, while many people focus on what separates munchkin cats from the average domestic cat, they are strikingly similar. Mini cats have a normal average feline lifespan of 12 to 15 years and a standard head and body size. And they don't typically suffer from spinal problems like dachshunds and other short-legged dogs. The only real difference is that they're a little more down-to-earth than most.
That being said, while munchkin cats are not necessarily prone to more health problems than normal cats, they do have a unique set of health issues you should be aware of.
Common Munchkin Cat Health Problems
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a common condition in both humans and animals. In Munchkin cats, their unique body structure, with shorter legs and a longer spine, can put more stress on their joints and increase their risk of developing osteoarthritis, especially in older cats. This is especially true if they are overweight, which can exacerbate the condition. Symptoms of osteoarthritis in cats can include stiffness, limping, difficulty jumping, and a decrease in activity level. While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are treatment options available to manage the pain and improve the quality of life for affected cats, such as medication, weight management, and physical therapy. Regular veterinary checkups and early detection can also help in managing the condition.
Lordosis is another health condition that is more commonly found in short-legged Munchkins. It is a spinal deformity that causes an excessive inward curvature of the lower back. This condition is present from birth and can lead to difficulty walking and jumping. The severity of lordosis can vary from mild to severe, and in some cases, it can be life-threatening. While there is no cure for lordosis, it can be managed with pain medication and physical therapy. Owners of Munchkin kittens should be aware of the symptoms of lordosis and monitor their cats for any signs of difficulty in movement or discomfort. Regular veterinary checkups can also help in identifying and managing this condition.
Obesity is another common health problem in Munchkin cats, as well as in many other cat breeds. Obesity can lead to a variety of health problems, including joint issues, heart disease, and diabetes. Munchkin cats may be more prone to obesity due to their short stature, as they have less room to distribute their weight and are more susceptible to gaining excess weight. It's important for Munchkin cat owners to monitor their cat's food intake and provide them with plenty of opportunities for exercise to help prevent obesity and promote overall health.
Pectus excavatum is a condition that can affect Munchkin cats as well as other cat breeds. It is characterized by a depression or caved-in appearance of the chest bone, which can cause compression of the heart and lungs. The condition can be mild or severe, and in severe cases, it can cause respiratory distress and heart problems. Munchkin cats with pectus excavatum should be closely monitored by a veterinarian and may require treatment if they show signs of breathing difficulty or heart issues. It's important to note that not all Munchkin cats develop this condition, and it is not a breed-specific health issue but rather a congenital condition that can affect any cat.
If your Munchkin cat is dealing with digestive issues or struggling to maintain a healthy weight, talk to your veterinarian about possibly changing your cat food or adding a high-quality cat probiotic. Probiotics are like little superheroes for your cat's gut health, helping to promote a healthy digestive system and support the immune system. They work by introducing beneficial bacteria to the gut, which can improve nutrient absorption and reduce inflammation. But don't forget, not all probiotics are created equal, so it's always a good idea to chat with your vet before starting any new supplement to make sure it's safe and the right fit for your furry friend's unique needs. With the right probiotic on board, your Munchkin cat will feel like a happy and healthy little superstar in no time!