Munchkin cats are known for their diminutive size and unique appearance. Because of their dwarven appearance, this breed of cat has gained somewhat of a cult status among cat lovers. As a result of this breed’s history and background, you may wonder if the Munchkin cat has the same lifespan and quality of life as other cat breeds.
In this article, we take a look at the Munchkin cat’s genetic history as well as what you should expect in terms of their lifespan and health if you choose to adopt one of these adorable cats for your home.
The History of the Munchkin Cat Breed
In many ways, the Munchkin cat is fairly different than most other types of cats out there.
A New Breed
The Munchkin is a relatively new breed of cat, only being officially recognized by the International Cat Association (TICA) in 2003.
A Different Breed
The way that these cats are bred is also markedly different than with other breeds, as it involves outcrossing. Outcrossing is the practice of using another parent that is not of a specific breed or history as one of the parents.
By breeding standards, the other parent cat of a Munchkin cannot be of any officially recognized breed, which is considerably different from the usual purebred standard of having two pedigreed animals bred for their young.
Now that you know a little bit about what sets them apart from other cats, you should learn more about how they live, how their lives are affected by their short legs, and other aspects of their care that will help you care for them properly.
How Long Do Munchkin Cats Live?
One thing that people may worry about when adopting a purebred cat is the potential life span of that cat. After all, purebred animals have a history of inheriting hereditary conditions that can drastically reduce the lifespan of a pet compared to a mixed breed.
Munchkin cats have a surprisingly lengthy lifespan of about 12 to 15 years compared to the average mixed breed cat living for about 15 to 20 years. This is mostly due to the outcrossing that is involved in breeding Munchkin cats.
Why Are Munchkin Cats Outcrossed?
The biggest reason why Munchkin cats must have an outcrossed parent is because of the gene that causes their short legs. This gene is considered a heterozygous dominant gene, or in other words, there only needs to be one copy of the gene for it to be active and affect the cat’s appearance.
When there are two copies of this gene present, the embryo does not gestate. There will either be no kittens born at all, or they will die during birth.
As such, to have a healthy set of Munchkin kittens, a cat that has no chance of having that gene in it needs to be one of the parents.
This eliminates much of the risk that comes with the process of creating purebreds. Because you are not repeatedly using cats that come from the same line of genetics, there is a much lower risk of having those hereditary conditions pass down.
Known Munchkin Health Conditions
Some conditions that are tangentially associated with the gene that affects leg length will also affect a Munchkin cat’s health. The two most prominent conditions are lordosis and pectus excavatum.
- Lordosis is a spinal deformity that refers to the spine dipping inward against the organs in the thoracic cavity, such as the heart and lungs.
- Pectus excavatum is a condition where the breastbone is sunken in and affects the surrounding organs.
Both of these conditions only have a small chance of developing and they can also present very mildly, to the point of not causing issues for the cat even after it has grown.
However, just as there is the chance for the condition to not manifest at all, there is also the chance for it to be severe. These conditions present themselves at their worst as the kitten develops into its adult size where the bone deformity will press into their organs and impact their function.
If you do have a Munchkin that seems as if it will have a severe variant of these conditions, the good news is that both of them can be surgically corrected. If they aren’t though, a severe version of one of these conditions will have a negative impact on the quality of their life.
Aside from the risk of those conditions, Munchkin cats are fairly healthy and even robust cats, mostly due to the presence of an outcrossed parent.
They tend to live healthy lives and are generally unbothered by their leg length. More often than not, once they are fully grown (at between two and four years of age), they will live their lives as healthily as your standard cat does.
Do Munchkin Cats Have Health Problems?
As mentioned above, Munchkin cats tend to be fairly healthy animals. There are a few problems that seem to be slightly more prevalent in the Munchkin breed than with other breeds, including the two conditions mentioned. However, the general consensus is that they are healthy and live with little risk of developing conditions that affect their health.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Munchkin cat is an exceptionally new breed of cat. It has been formally recognized as a breed for barely long enough for one or two generations to have lived their lives.
This means that there simply isn’t a lot of data to go by in terms of what conditions they can develop, especially when you factor in the unknown and random component of having that outcrossed parent.
Unfortunately, it is simply not as well-known whether or not there are definite risks you take when bringing a Munchkin cat into your home. Even the conditions that have shown slightly increased prevalence in Munchkin cats are rare enough that it could simply be the same baseline risk that all other breeds have, although there is increasing notion that both of the conditions are related to the gene that brings about their shortened legs.
The health of the outcrossed parent also plays a highly variable role in this. Some of the cats that may be used to help breed more Munchkin cats are healthy and have no hereditary conditions to pass down, leaving the kittens about as healthy as a kitten of a purebred animal could possibly be.
Other times, not a lot of research is done on the outcrossed parent, and they may pass down conditions that the cat would not otherwise develop, leading to more health problems.
Use a Reliable and Ethical Munchkin Cat Breeder
A reliable breeder will be more than happy to show health records of the parent cats and the best breeders will go out of their way to do some testing to see what conditions both parents of the kitten are going to be carriers of. Make sure not to work with a breeder who tries to hide the information of a cat’s health or pedigree.
Some conditions may not even develop fully or “activate,” even if your cat is a carrier for these harmful genes. Likewise, some conditions may develop later in life. Testing only shows the possibility of those conditions being passed down.
Is Your Munchkin Cat at Risk?
Whether or not your Munchkin cat is at risk for developing a number of health conditions depends heavily on the health of both the parent Munchkin as well as the parent of the outcrossed cat.
In many ways, the Munchkin is one of the most variable purebred cats out there because of the outcrossed parent. This can be a wonderful thing when you have so many colors, patterns, and fur coats to choose from, but it can also be problematic when you are faced with trying to discover whether or not your cat is going to be at risk of developing various conditions.
Do Munchkin Cats Stay Small?
The trademark appearance of the Munchkin cat is something that many people are drawn to and one of the main reasons they choose to adopt one.
Because of this, some people may want to know whether or not the Munchkin cat actually keeps its short stature into adulthood.
The truth is that it depends on the genetics of your cat, but as a whole, Munchkin cats will always be at minimum two inches shorter than your standard cat’s height. When measuring and comparing Munchkins, the “standard height” of a cat being compared is usually about 10 inches tall at the shoulder and not including the head.
Munchkin Cat Sizes
Munchkin cats come in three different sizes, all denoted by the length of their legs:
- Standard Munchkin
- Super Short Munchkin
- Rug Hugger Munchkin
The standard Munchkin is going to be the tallest, being about one to two inches shorter than your standard cat. Because of how close this can get, many official breeders and showers will use centimeters to determine if the cat can be considered an official Munchkin cat or not.
There is some chance that a cat may just be short and doesn’t carry the gene necessary for the cat to be considered a Munchkin at this height.
Super Short Munchkin
The super short Munchkin is typically what people envision when they imagine a Munchkin cat. These cats tend to be two to three inches shorter than your average cat and it is notable enough that people tend to stick to just using inches.
These cats definitively carry the gene to be passed down to offspring. Again, there is no true classification of this and it is considered to be a general consensus among people who breed Munchkin cats.
Rug Hugger Munchkins
Finally, there are the rug-hugging Munchkin cats. These are going to be the shortest cats and are often considered to be the most popular variant of the Munchkin cat because of just how noticeable their shortness is.
These cats are typically three to five inches shorter than your standard cat and they definitively carry the gene that relates to their leg development.
Their name refers to the fact that they often look as if their chest fur is hugging the ground because of how short they are.
Another aspect to note about the Munchkin cat size is that they typically have the trunk of a standard sized cat, which gives their breed the affectionate nickname of “Sausage cat.”
Their trunks tend to be the same width, length, and proportions of your standard cat, regardless of how short your cat’s legs are. The same applies to the tail and head of the Munchkin cat, often being the same size as your standard cat’s tail and head and the same proportions as well. This is not a part of their body that is affected by their genetics.
As a whole, Munchkin cats start out small and they grow up to be much smaller than most other cats, staying that way throughout their lifetime.
Additional Resources: https://www.petinsurance.com/healthzone/pet-breeds/cat-breeds/munchkin/