Munchkin cats are quick, energetic, fun-loving, and affectionate. What they lack in leg length they more than make up for with their unique look and loving temperament.
The Munchkin, as you may have guessed from her name, is on the short side. She's actually unique among dwarf cat breeds—this petite kitty actually fits all the other size indicators of a normal adult-sized cat, except for their little legs. Never heard of a Munchkin? That's probably because they're relatively new, having been legitimized by The International Cat Association as their own breed in the early 2000s.
Munchkin cats have a distinct look that most cat aficionados either love or hate. These petite pets are noticeably low to the ground, with legs that are about 3 inches shorter than the average feline. The rest of the Munchkin body is pretty typical of your run-of-the-mill house cat, with most of adults weighing somewhere between 6–9 pounds. Visually, many might consider the Munchkin the Dachshund of the cat kingdom. Some even refer to the Munchkin as a "sausage cat," a similar nickname to the beloved "wiener dog."
The Munchkin's short limbs are due to a natural genetic mutation and are the breed's defining feature. Munchkin cats come in all color combinations and coat styles, and can have short coats, long coats, or be hairless. Short-haired Munchkins have plush medium-density coats, while long-haired Munchkins have silky smooth fur. Popular coat shades and patterns are tabby, calico, gray, and solid black.
An important note: Although the Munchkin cat comes in many shades, they are their own distinct breed—not miniature versions of other cat breeds.
Munchkins are active, friendly cats who typically get along with children and other pets. These curious kittens love to explore the world around them—they'll even perch on their hind legs like a rabbit to get a better view!
These cats are known to keep a fun-loving, kittenish attitude well into adulthood. When they're not busy playing with toys and running around, these cuddly cats love to snuggle up with their people. Munchkins are sociable, intelligent, and self-assured felines who love spending time with their humans.
"Munchkins are known as confident extroverts," says Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behavior consultant. "As a general rule, they love to socialize with people, are full of energy, and enjoy playing and exploring. They are curious about their environment [and check] out everything."
Munchkin cats can have hoarding tendencies similar to that of a magpie—they love to stash away "favorite" objects to play with later, Krieger says. If your jewelry comes up missing, your little Munchkin may be to blame.
The Munchkin cat is well-suited to most indoor living situations, as long as she has space to run and play.
"They are extremely active and energetic," Krieger says. "They enjoy playing alone and with others, and frequently race around the house amazingly fast."
This energetic cat loves working up serious speed on her little legs, and can round tight corners with precision. She may not be able to make it to the top of a bookshelf in a single bound, but she will still love jumping and climbing.
A cat tree with a low entrance point is a great way to help your Munchkin explore heights easily. They can usually get enough air to land on couches and sofas in search of a lap or sunny spot on a cushion, and they're just as good at climbing as other cat breeds. So keep an eye on the curtains and make sure she doesn't skedaddle up any trees.
The Munchkin is an easygoing breed who gets along well with dogs, other cats, and small children. These adorable cats make a loving addition as family pets or as a companion to adult owners. Basically, whatever your living situation, a Munchkin can fit right in. Just make sure she isn't left alone for long periods of time.
"These cats are social butterflies," Krieger says. "They love attention from their favorite people and most enjoy sitting on laps, being petted, and cuddling."
Grooming your Munchkin will be guided by their coat style. Short-haired Munchkins should be brushed weekly, while long-haired Munchkins should be brushed more frequently to keep their coat free of tangles. Your Munchkin will clean herself, but her limited leg reach can make hygiene a little more difficult for this cat. Occasional bathing is a good idea to help keep your little kitty friend clean. You should also keep her nails trimmed and ears cleaned.
"Munchkins love to run and jump, despite their small stature," says Natalie L. Marks, DVM, CVJ, Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago, Ill. "Encourage cat tree play, feather toys and interactive play with other cats and dogs."
Munchkins are an intelligent breed of cat who can be trained to fetch and even walk on a leash. Krieger says they respond well to clicker training with ample positive reinforcement. They're naturally social, but early introduction to family members (especially children and other pets) will help your Munchkin kitten feel secure.
Provide your kitty a diet of high-quality cat food and fresh water. Because of her short legs, make sure litter boxes, food dishes, and water bowls have low edges so your Munchkin can access them without problems. Check in with your veterinarian to make sure your cat is getting her nutrition needs met.
"As a relatively new breed, they are so far thought to be a healthy breed without any increased disease risks," Marks says. "However, because of their very short legs, it's very important to avoid obesity and keep a lean body condition."
The jury is still out on whether the Munchkin's controversial leg mutation can cause other health issues or spinal problems; this breed is relatively young, so there's still a lot for experts to learn. You can help keep your Munchkin in good health by keeping regularly scheduled veterinarian appointments.
While they weren't recognized as a breed by The International Cat Association until 2003, short-legged cats have existed for many years. Their appearance is the result of a genetic mutation that can occur naturally in litters, but today the Munchkin is specifically bred to produce cats with little legs. Some debate whether or not it's ethical to breed Munchkins, because it intentionally passes on the physical deformity of their incredibly short legs, which can impact their mobility. Because of the controversy, the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) and the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA) still don't recognize the Munchkin as an official breed.
Despite the argument around their official recognition, instances of short-legged cats have been around for many years. According to TICA, tiny cats were recorded around the globe throughout the 20th century, but their condition appeared naturally and wasn't bred intentionally. In 1983, a short-legged cat named Blackberry gave birth to a litter of kittens. This was the beginning of the modern-day Munchkin.
The modern breeding process involves mating one Munchkin (the mutation is not sex-selective) with a cat who doesn't have the mutation. The mutation is dominant, and will result in a litter of Munchkin cats. However, when two Munchkins are bred together, the mutation is fatal—this is another reason why the Munchkin breeding practice is controversial. Before bringing home any pet, make sure you're working with an ethical breeder.
- Munchkin cats got their name from the small-statured Munchkin characters from author L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The short kitties are also known as “sausage cats.”
- According to Guinness World Records, the shortest living cat on record is Lilieput, a female Munchkin cat from Napa, Calif., who measured 13.34 cm (5.25 in) from the floor to the shoulders in 2013.
- Heiress and socialite Paris Hilton has two Munchkin cats, aptly named Shorty and Munchkin, whom she affectionately refers to as her “low-rider kitties.”