The Munchkin cat is one of the most interesting cat breeds on the planet, so it’s no wonder that people are often curious as to its origins. It’s disproportionate limbs give it an almost cartoon-like appearance, so how did this incredible cat come to be?
In this article, we will explore the history and origins of the Munchkin cat, and how it became one of the most popular breeds in the world.
Are Munchkin Cats Real?
Munchkin cats are absolutely a real and recognized breed and not just a name given to cats with short legs. While it is rumored that there were sightings of cats that match the appearance of today’s Munchkin cat throughout history, the breed itself was officially showcased by The International Cat Association (TICA) in 1991 in a televised cat show.
TICA is considered to be the largest registry of pedigreed and domestic cats, where breeds can be registered and formally recognized.
Due to the concern among breeders about potential health conditions that their short stature would bring, it would be a little over 10 more years until the breed was fully incorporated into TICA’s registry in 2002.
While Munchkin cats are an exceptionally new breed of cat, they are a formally recognized breed with specific standards making them as real of a cat as they can possibly be.
Where Did Munchkin Cats Come From? A Timeline
The line of where Munchkin cats began is a bit of a blurry one. There have been documented reports dating back to the 1940s all around the world that depict cats with a strangely short stature.
1940s: Short-Limbed British Cats
The signature short stature of Munchkin cats was found between four generations of British cats in 1944 which supported the theory that this was an inherited genetic trait, and not just a one-off mutation.
1950s – 1980s: From Stalingrad to Blackberry
There are reports of these short-statured cats ranging from Stalingrad in 1956 to the New England portion of the United States in the 1970s and down to the southern Louisiana area in the 1980s.
Sightings of these cats continued and have been noted worldwide, but there was not a name for them. It wasn’t fully known why these cats existed, only that they were a known occurrence.
In 1983, a person named Sandra Hockendel came across one of these cats with a short stature that also appeared to be pregnant. This is widely regarded as the cat that would become the cornerstone for the Munchkin breed that people recognize today.
Hockendel named the cat Blackberry, took her in, and raised the litter.
One of the cats born from the litter, a male named Toulouse, was given to one of Hockendel’s friends: Kay LaFrance.
These two cats are considered to be the ones that established what would become the Munchkin breed as domestic cats. It is heavily believed that all of today’s Munchkin cats descended from these two cats.
1990s – 2000s: Becoming an Official TICA-Recognized Breed
More time would pass, and while it is not exactly clear the path the soon-to-be Munchkin breed would take, it was shown in a broadcast from TICA in 1991 and would then be added into TICA’s “New Breed Development Program” in September of 1994. This program tracks pedigrees of cats that are looking to become their own separate breed, monitors the statistics, and the committee of people who manage genetic research at TICA isolate what makes the cat its own breed.
In 2002, it was accepted during another showing and in May of 2003 the breed received Championship status from TICA. This status refers to the cat’s appearance, temperament, and other aspects of the cat, with Championship being the lowest of the titles that a cat can earn, aside from beginning titles such as Novice.
How Are Munchkin Cats Bred?
Breeding Munchkin cats is a little bit tricky because of the genetic mutation that gives it its short legs.
The gene has been found to be an autosomal dominant trait, meaning that there only needs to be one copy of the gene for it to activate. However, when there are two copies of the dominant gene in a cat, the cat will not survive birth.
Homozygous embryos of Munchkin cats, or in other words, cats that have two copies of the gene that creates Munchkin cats, do not gestate at all resulting in stillbirths.
As a result, in order to breed a Munchkin cat a breeder must take a standard Munchkin cat and breed it with another cat that does not have any copies of the gene to ensure that the breed survives.
This is a process known as outcrossing, as you are taking a cat that has no genetic similarity to the Munchkin cat or any relation to it (a cat outside of the breeding focus) and crossing it with the Munchkin.
Due to outcrossing, the appearance and personality of Munchkin cats (aside from their short stature) varies widely as the cat takes on the appearance of both the parent Munchkin and whoever the outcrossed cat was.
Most cats will bear a strong resemblance to your standard domestic housecats in terms of their face shape, their coloration, and aspects aside from their height. Some cats will have longer fur, other cats will have shorter coats.
Most cats are considered plush, meaning that their fur is not silky.
Munchkin cats that have long and silky coats are technically considered a separate breed known as the Munchkin Longhair, but unless you are planning on taking your cat to a show, this is unimportant.
The Genetics of a Munchkin Cat
Now that you are aware that the characteristic height of a Munchkin cat stems from a genetic deformity (not unlike the ones that cause Corgis and Dachshunds to look the way they do), it is important to note the genetic health of a Munchkin cat as well.
When all is said and done, the Munchkin cat is a considerably newer breed compared to other common designer breeds such as the Persian. This means that it is not fully known how much their genetics affect their long-term health, as there has only been enough time to pass for one or two generations of a Munchkin cat to have lived.
While breeding Munchkin cats does promote the genetic deformity that gives them their characteristic height, it should be noted that the Munchkin is an otherwise healthy breed.
There are still the risks of inheriting genetic conditions that are commonplace in the world of purebred animals, but depending on how healthy the outcrossed cat is, there may be a lesser chance of the Munchkin cat even developing those conditions.
Aside from its shortened stature, there are very few conditions that have been associated with the health of a Munchkin cat. There are some skeletal problems such as spinal issues and chest deformities that can happen, and there is always the risk that comes with breeding them due to the gene’s nature, but aside from these, the Munchkin cat is relatively healthy.
These cats are also relatively mobile as well, as they learn to adapt to their small legs. While they may take a little bit more time to get where they want to go, such as having to make smaller jumps or resort to climbing, they do not seem to be hindered by their short stature.
Because it is a condition that they are born with, they learn how to adapt to it and they make do with the resources that they have.
Ultimately, the Munchkin cat is a real and recognized breed of cat. The deformity that causes their appearance has been documented throughout time, coming to light sometime in the 1940s.
During the 1980s, the cats that would become the cornerstone for what the breed is today were born and cared for, and during the 1990s and early 2000s, the breed was further developed and recognized as being an official breed that is registered with TICA, the main organization that works to register breeds of cats.
Munchkin cats, while being a young breed of cat when speaking in relative terms, are healthy and seemingly unbothered by their stature.