You may not have heard about this adorable breed of cat - they keep a low profile. But Munchkin cats are a new "short" breed of cat, quickly gaining fame and love worldwide. They come in all shapes and sizes, but have one thing in common: Unbelievably short, stumpy legs. If you're thinking about getting a Munchkin (or just want to see photos of adorable short kitties), this article's for you.

A Short History of Munchkin Cats

Although short-legged cats have probably been around for much longer, they were first mentioned in veterinary records in the 1940’s in England. They were later spotted in Russia during the 1950’s and in the United States in the 1970’s. However, the modern Munchkin breed originated from two kittens born in Louisiana in 1983.

Elizabeth Oliver
photo by Elizabeth Oliver

Munchkin Genetics

The Munchkin trademark (short fore- and hindlimbs) is caused by a naturally-occurring mutation in a single gene. This natural mutation is “autosomal dominant,” which means that if you breed a Munchkin with any other type of cat, there’s a 50% chance that each kitten will also be a Munchkin. Kittens that inherit a copy of this gene from both parents (if both parents are Munchkins) die before birth. For this reason, in-breeding is not required, and Munchkins are a very diverse breed of cat.

Kim Fairbanks
photo by Kim Fairbanks

8 Stereotypes About Munchkins

Because this is a new breed, most of us don’t personally know a Munchkin cat. However, there are TONS of rumors about them. We consulted with a few of our Munchkin friends to help us disprove 8 of the most common stereotypes about this adorable breed. Here’s what we found:

Stereotype # 1: Munchkins are laid-back cats because they’re physically impaired.

In reality: Although Munchkins may not be able to jump as high as the average cat, they can make up for it with lightning-speed cornering skills. Being closer to the ground has some advantages!

Stereotype # 2: Munchkins must be kept indoors.

In reality: Most cats are recommended to be kept indoors because outdoor cats are exposed to many dangers and have shorter life expectancies. While you may want to keep your Munchkin indoors to protect them from cars and other animals, they can still enjoy the occasional supervised romp outside.

Stereotype # 3: Munchkins need special food dishes.

In reality: Unless you typically serve your cats their food on a pedestal, your Munchkin should be fine getting food out of a standard food dish.

Stereotype # 4: Munchkins require extra grooming.

In reality: The amount of grooming your Munchkin requires will depend upon their ancestry and hair length. Longhaired Munchkins require regular bi-weekly grooming to keep their coats matt-free. Shorthaired Munchkins only require weekly brushings to keep their coats silky and smooth.


Stereotype # 5: Munchkins have anger issues that stem from frustration.

In reality: Munchkins are just like other cats, and like other cats they can develop behavioral issues. Most Munchkins are very happy cats. If your Munchkin is aggressive or depressed, you should consult with your veterinarian. Many cat behavioral issues can be fixed.

Stereotype # 6: Munchkins talk too much.

In reality: The munchkin breed is just like any other cat breed, where the amount of meowing varies by the cat. If your cat talks more than you’d like, try to figure out the cause. Once you know the reason, you can find ways around it. For instance, cats that meow and beg for food can be quieted with an automatic cat feeder.

Stereotype # 7: Munchkins enjoy hiding objects.

In reality: Most likely, your Munchkin is not a kleptomaniac. However, some cats are interested in playing peek-a-boo, especially with shiny objects. If your Munchkin likes to paw around your personal items, you may want to keep your valuables in out-of-reach places. General tips for cat-proofing a house: Hide loose cables, get rid of poisonous plants and lock up the cleaning supplies.

Stereotype # 8: Munchkins are genetic mutants with health problems.

In reality: Those cute little legs are inherited from a naturally-occurring mutation in a single gene. Although short legs could be a problem for cats in the wild, your Munchkin housecat won’t even realize what they’re missing.
Different cat breeds are prone to specific health problems (it’s in their DNA), and Munchkins are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis later in life. Unlike many inbred “purebred” cats, your Munchkin cat probably has a non-Munchkin parent. The genetics of that other parent will influence whether or not your Munchkin will face many health problems later in life.

Terri Harrison, TICA Munchkin breed committee chair says: “I can verify that many Munchkins older, over 8+ years have been x-rayed and there is no osteoporosis and disc disease.”

Every Munchkin is Unique

Munchkin legs are passed on to Munchkin kittens by a single gene (out of ~20,000 total feline genes). This means that if you have a Munchkin in your life, very little about your cat’s personality and health can be assumed by those short caterpillar legs. Don’t listen to the stereotypes: Every Munchkin is unique.

Meet some REAL Munchkins from the Basepaws community::

“Dealer: is a Cinnamon and white, long hair, Munchkin who owns the rights to claim he is the only Munchkin Longhair to be both Best Kitten in Show and Best Cat in Show in the USA. A very affectionate cat, he loved to show and is still a favorite amongst his Munchkin fan club. Dealer also graced the cover of Cat Fancy Magazine May 2014. Owner: Terri Harris”

Terri Harris
photo by Terri Harris

“TinyLegs Inspired Imagination aka Muta (Named after a Studio Ghibli character!)
Age: 4
Born in Germany, lives in the UK.
Muta is very sweet and gentle, he loves to play and his favourite games are running like a lunatic on his cat wheel and playing with a lure toy. Despite his short stature he is an excellent gymnast. He also loves being held and cuddled. Muta is my best friend and he is a wonderful little chap that passes his great temperament and good looks on to his kittens. “

Elizabeth Oliver
photo by Elizabeth Oliver

This is the first in a new series of Basepaws blogs devoted to the unique cats that are helping us improve the future of cat health care. To all the cats and humans that participated in our recent feline genetics study THANK YOU.

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