As a result of their breeding and dwarven appearance, many people believe that Munchkin cats might have serious health issues that inhibit their ability to lead a long, comfortable life, but is that really the case? In this article we will explore the genetic background of the Munchkin cat breed and how that affects their health throughout their life.
Are Munchkin Cats Just as Healthy as Other Cats?
Since the Munchkin cat breed is a relatively new breed, there hasn’t been time to assess the overall health history of Munchkin cats compared to other breeds, but from the amount of research we currently have on the breed they don’t appear to be at any more risk for debilitating health conditions than any other breed of cat.
Despite the deformity that causes the shortened appearance of their legs, Munchkins are not at an increased risk for hereditary conditions compared to other purebred cats.
Keep in mind that purebred cats will always be at an increased risk for hereditary conditions, as this is the nature of breeding them. They do not suffer from increased risks the ways that other breeds with known deformities do, such as Persian cats with their flat faces.
But What About Their Legs?
They do have some health conditions that are related to their shortened legs, but some vets argue that because these conditions can develop in cats with normal legs that it is not a breed-specific issue.
Vets who argue that Munchkin cats should not be bred the way that they are claim that there are correlations between the genetic mutation that causes the shortened legs and the conditions that the Munchkin cats can develop.
Again, Munchkin cats have only been recognized as a breed for one or two full generations of cats, so it is hard to get information on breed-specific illnesses because it is such a new breed.
The Genetic Abnormality Behind the Munchkin Cat Breed
Prior to becoming such a popular cat breed, extremely short legs were considered to be a deformity. Consider dwarfism in humans, how that often resorts to an elongated torso and shortened limbs.
Cats are commonly kept as companion pets rather than being the vermin-hunters that people kept them to be long ago, so these shortened legs were seen as heightening the cuteness of the cat.
After the mutation and deformity was being noted around the 1940s, interest in them began to grow until people were breeding them specifically to have shortened legs. It was around the early 1990s that the Munchkin cat, with its short legs, was officially recognized as a specific cat breed.
Are Munchkin Cats in Pain?
It is difficult to determine if Munchkin cats are in pain for a few different reasons.
For one, cats are notorious for hiding their pain from everyone around them, including from their owners. So even if your cat is in mild pain or discomfort, you may not know it no matter how closely you pay attention to your cat.
Conditions that cause pain for Munchkin cats do seem to be of a somewhat higher prevalence.
One of the more problematic and more common conditions that these cats can develop is a condition known as lordosis.
Lordosis refers to the spine having a curvature that dips “inward” toward the heart, lungs, trachea, and all the other organs in that area. Depending on the strength of the curvature, the condition can range from mild discomfort with movement to being fatal as the spine presses on the organs as the cat grows up.
This condition can be seen on an x-ray and it is possible for corrective surgery to be done, though it is expensive and the recovery time is long and difficult.
Another condition that Munchkin cats can develop is a condition that is known as pectus excavatum.
This refers to the chest being caved in and with a sunken appearance. For some cats, it is congenital and other cats develop it as they grow into their adult-sized bodies. Mild deformities may only impact how well the cat can run and play, as it may tire easily due to the decreased cardiac and pulmonary function. More severe deformities can affect its lifespan and may need to be treated surgically.
While it is not “painful” per se, this condition is known for causing trouble breathing, coughing, and other issues that can reduce the cat’s quality of life.
Can Munchkin Cats Climb Stairs?
The size of a Munchkin cat’s legs definitely impacts its speed and agility. Some cats will have legs that are only three inches in length while other cats may have legs that are vaguely more proportional and are not quite as debilitating.
For the cats that have legs that are so short that their chest fur brushes along the ground, they may have trouble with steep stairs.
For cats that have slightly longer legs, there’s a good chance that they will be able to climb up the stairs, though it may take some effort for younger cats.
Do Munchkin Cats Need Special Care?
Whether or not a Munchkin cat needs special care is heavily dependent on how pronounced the genetic mutation is. Munchkin cats that have the shortest legs will need a lot more special care than Munchkin cats that are only somewhat shorter than your standard cat.
A good rule of thumb to follow will be that the shorter your Munchkin’s legs are, the more assistance it will need.
Shortened legs are something that Munchkin cats are born with, so they will quickly learn to adapt to living life with them. As a result, they are far more likely to develop alternative methods of getting where they want to go and moving around the house, rather than struggling and needing assistance.
For example, they will not be particularly good at jumping, so instead, they will resort to climbing surfaces to get to where they want to go. While this may cause damage to your walls and furniture, it means that the cats won’t necessarily need “special care” to reach their destination.
There are ways that you can make things easier for your cats, though it is not fully required for them to live their best life.
One way that you could do this would be to choose to purchase cat trees with climbable poles, rather than trees that encourage the cat to jump. This way, if your cat is in the mood to sit in the cat tree, it can climb itself up there.
If your cat is determined to sit in a particular spot that it needs to climb to reach, and it ends up tearing your furniture in the process, you can choose to either place something to help it climb without destroying the wall or you can choose to teach it not to do that, depending on where the cat wants to go.
For the most part, healthy Munchkin cats will learn to work around their deficits and will be able to get to where they want to go, even if it means climbing or having to jump a few times to reach the destination.
Cats that are more severely affected by the condition that leads to the shortened legs may need some special care though, as they may have trouble getting around as nimbly as other cats do.
While Munchkin cats may be prone to a few more problematic health conditions than some of their other cat counterparts, by-in-large Munchkin cats are still able to lead long, fruitful lives and will not be overly limited by their limb deformity.
That being said, as a loving cat parent you will need to make certain accommodations to ensure they are as comfortable as possible, such as avoiding storing food in hard to reach places or using items like top-entry litter boxes and cat trees that require your cat to jump to higher surfaces.