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The Munchkin Cat: Lots to Love in a Small Package
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The Munchkin Cat: Lots to Love in a Small Package

Charlie, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Sep 18, 2020

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The stout-statured munchkin cat gets its name from the munchkins in the "Wizard of Oz." This cat’s short legs result from a natural, spontaneous mutation. While short-legged kitties have been around for a long time, today's munchkin breed only padded onto the scene in the 1980s, originating in the United States. Their friendly personalities and adorable looks make the munchkin cats highly sought after pets.

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Physical traits

White and grey munchkin cat outdoors

Despite their short legs, munchkin cats are considered medium-sized, weighing between 8 and 12 pounds. This mutated gene does not result in an enlarged head, setting it apart from feline dwarfism. The short legs are about half the length of a non-munchkin cat's legs, and they support a long body, giving the cat a dachshund-like appearance. A munchkin cat can have a short or long coat and any type of coloring.

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The munchkin cat personality

A cat from any breed, such as Siamese or domestic short hair, can be a munchkin if it has the gene to produce those recognizable stubby legs. As a result, a munchkin cat will most likely show the type of personality that is standard with that breed, such as tending to be a lap cat versus an active hunter. Of course, kitty personalities vary largely within one breed, so your cat might surprise you with its unique personality. One trait that many munchkin cat owners report is that these cats like to gather up small items like cat toys and hoard them, giving them the nickname of magpie cats.

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Best homes for munchkin cats

Sleeping tabby munchkin

Munchkins are adaptable felines that can fit into most households, from a single owner to a large family. They can also get along with other pets in the household, depending on the pet’s personality, life experience, and training.

The munchkin breed has a reputation for being laid back, but they like to run, play, and climb, and you’ll need to kitten-proof your home for a munchkin the same way you would for any active and curious pet you bring home.

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Caring for a munchkin cat

Fluffy munchkin cat Amthinkin / Getty Images

Munchkin cats are relatively easy to care for. While some of them might have long fur that needs weekly brushing, the breed standard doesn’t call for any very long fur that requires intense daily grooming and care. You may need to groom their stomach fur because its close proximity to the grown makes it more prone to matting. Just keep an eye out for these speedy low-riders sprinting around corners, taking advantage of their low center of gravity.

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Indoor versus outdoor

Orange Persian munchkin cat

Experts in cat health recommend that all cats are kept indoors for longer lives and better health. However, there is no reason that munchkins need to be kept indoors that does not also apply to any other cat. While they can’t jump high, they tend to be fast and, in some cases, their closeness to the ground is an advantage.

However, keep in mind that since their tummies are so low to the ground, they can pick up ticks and fleas a little easier than taller cats, so check them over carefully after any supervised outdoor time.

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Intelligence of the munchkin breed

Scottish straight munchkin cat

Munchkin cats are just as intelligent as any other cat breed. Besides doing well at standard training, like learning how to use a litter box and tolerate being groomed, most munchkin kitties can learn to do tricks. You can teach your munchkin cat how to sit, give high fives, wave, and more. A clicker and your cat’s favorite treat is all you need to get started.

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Munchkin cat health issues

Munchkin cat looking something outside the window rukawajung / Getty Images

Although munchkin cats are bred for a specific genetic mutation, the mutation is not linked to any health concerns. The mutation only affects the length of the cat’s legs, so your munchkin cat should not have any health issues specific to belonging to its breed. Munchkin cats typically can’t jump as high as cats from longer-legged breeds, but that is about the only limitation that they tend to have.

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One real munchkin cat concern

two munchkin kittens on a picnic table

The main concern with munchkin cats is responsible breeding. Two short-legged munchkin cats should not be bred with each other; a kitten embryo that is passed on a munchkin gene from each parent won’t survive to birth. Long-legged cats can carry one copy of the munchkin gene and be safely mated with another cat to produce munchkin kittens.

Only knowledgeable, experienced, and responsible breeders should raise munchkins. It requires an in-depth understanding of genetics and how they relate to this special breed.

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Record-holding munchkin

calico munchkin cat relaxing T G Photography / Getty Images

According to Guinness World Records, the world's shortest living cat is a munchkin from Napa, California, that measures 5.25 inches tall from her paw pads to shoulders. This cat's long-legged cousins typically stand between 9 and 10 inches tall. The world-famous tortoiseshell cat, named Lilieput, won the honor in 2013 at the distinguished age of 9.

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Munchkin controversy

munchkin persian kittens playing Amthinkin / Getty Images

There's been some controversy about the ethics of perpetuating a munchkin breed of cats. Critics argue that it's not right to breed cats with genetic deformities. Supporters of the breed point out that the munchkin cats don't show any known health issues, and many animals have developed short legs and use them to advantage. Because of this contention, the Cat Fanciers Association and the American Cat Fanciers Association don't yet recognize the munchkin breed. The International Cat Association does accept the breed and tracks its pedigrees.

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