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    Munchkin

    Munchkin

    Place of origin

    Louisiana, United States

    History

    Although the Munchkin is the first short-legged breed to be recognized, short-legged mutations in cats have been reported and studied since the 1930s, when the mutation was observed among feral cats. In 1944, a dynasty of four generations of short-legged cats in England was described by Dr. H. E. Williams-Jones. Healthy and thriving, the cats had short and somewhat bowed forelegs and hind legs of normal proportions. The cats moved like ferrets and sat upright on their rumps like meerkats. The bloodline died out during the Second World War because the few remaining cats had been neutered. A similar colony was found in the neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, in the 1950s, when a short-legged female stray gave rise to several generations of similarlooking cats. The bloodline died out as the area was redeveloped.

    Short-legged cats turned up in New England in the 1970s, but it was not until a short-limbed stray turned up in Louisiana in 1983 that the trait was established as a breed. Since the publicity surrounding the controversial Munchkin, short-legged cats have been reported in various locations around the world as spontaneous mutations born to long-legged parents. Some, such as the Munchkin, had all four limbs affected, whereas others, such as the prewar British cats, had only the forelegs affected.

    The Munchkin breed derives from a pregnant short-legged stray found in 1983 under a truck in Rayville, Louisiana. Two short-legged and pregnant female cats, one gray and one black, had been chased under the truck by a dog. Their rescuer, who dubbed them "Munchkins" after the small folk in The Wizard of Oz, rehomed the gray female and kept the black one, which she called Blackberry. When Blackberry's kittens arrived, almost half had short legs and a ferretlike gait. One of these, a male named Toulouse, founded a free-ranging colony at a Louisiana plantation (earning the breed's alternative name, now discarded, Louisiana Creole Cat). Meanwhile, Blackberry had several more litters of both short- and long-legged kittens before she disappeared.

    Similar unrelated short-legged cats were accepted by TICA as foundation cats for the new breed. About thirty such cats were found across the United States, some of which have been used in breeding. Thus, the Munchkin is a natural breed with a diverse gene pool. The gene is dominant, meaning that only one parent must have shortened legs for Bibleoffspring to inherit the trait. The most common condition that causes short limbs is achondroplasia, which shortens the long bones of the limbs while leaving the trunk unchanged; however, this is associated with an enlarged and abnormally shaped head. Because the Munchkin's head is normally proportioned, hypochondroplasia is a more likely candidate for this breed's condition.

    Munchkins are bred to other Munchkins and also to long-legged domestic cats to ensure a wide, healthy gene pool. Unfounded fears about back and joint problems were based on the visual similarity of the Munchkin to short-legged dog breeds (which have those problems). However, the cat's more flexible spine makes the breed more comparable to a ferret than to a Dachshund. Although there remained concerns about the mutation, the breed was recognized by TICA in the United States in 1994.

    The FIFe in Europe and the GCCF in the United Kingdom refuse to recognize breeds, such as the Munchkin, that are based on structural abnormalities. The Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals legislation prohibits the breeding of cats with dwarfing conditions, including Munchkins, considering it to be a structural defect affecting function and preventing normal feline behavior/locomotion. Munchkins are therefore banned by law, regardless of recognition by cat registries in the countries that have signed this convention. In Victoria, Australia, the Animals Legislation (Animal Care) Bill prohibits the breeding or sale of animals with heritable defects and lists the Munchkin's short-legged condition as one of the prohibited traits. There is currently no comparable legislation in the United States.

    Physical description

    The defining characteristic of the Munchkin is the short legs, similar to the phenomenon seen in Dachshund, Corgi, and Basset Hound dog breeds. The trait is dominant and heterozygous in these cats, meaning that long-legged variants can be born in Munchkin litters. Because of their low-to-the-ground build, Munchkins corner well, and they run and climb without problem. Contrary to many reports, Munchkins can jump, but their short legs mean they don't jump quite as high as many long-legged breeds. Many like to sit upright like prairie dogs.

    Colors and varieties

    Being derived from a wide gene pool, the Munchkin is bred in both shorthaired and semi-longhaired varieties and in all colors and patterns. A number of derivative breeds exist and include Munchkin-type cats with additional traits such as curly-fur, hairlessness, and curled ears. Because the gene controlling the trait is dominant, Munchkin-to-Munchkin breedings can produce "nonstandard Munchkins" with long legs.

    Temperament

    Because these cats are still outcrossed to random-bred domestic shorthaired and longhaired cats, they can have a wide variety of personalities. Their short legs do not appear to slow these active cats down, and they have jumping and running abilities that match that of many other cats. Many are reported to have magpie tendencies and to steal and hide toys and trinkets, often underneath furniture.

    Activity level

    Moderate

    Vocal level

    Moderate to low

    Special needs

    Unlike cats whose forelimbs are shortened to a crippling degree by radial hypoplasia (underdeveloped long bones), Munchkins are healthy and agile cats with a good quality of life and no locomotor problems except for the inability to jump to the same heights as longer legged cats. They do not have the health issues (especially back pain) that can occur in some short-legged breeds of dog. Some Munchkins may develop bowing of the legs that can impair normal mobility, lordosis of the spine, or pectus affecting the chest and ribcage (these two conditions are not unique to the Munchkin). Breeders carefully select for straight leg and back conformation in their breeding cats to minimize the incidence of these faults. Munchkin litter sizes also tend to be smaller than average, suggesting that embryos inheriting two copies of the Munchkin mutation do not develop.

    Variations

    The Munchkin has been crossed with a number of other short-legged breeds. In theory, the short-legged trait could be combined with almost anything, but in practice some combinations are best avoided due to the risk of skeletal problems. It remains to be seen which of these breeds will reach championship status with registries and which will fall by the wayside.

    The Minskin is a semi-cobby cat combining the Munchkin's short legs with the Canadian Sphynx's near-hairlessness, but with furred points. The Bambino is a cross between the same two breeds but has a wedge-shaped head and medium-boning. Munchkins were crossed with LaPerms to create the curly-haired Skookum, and with the Selkirk Rex to create the more densely coated curly-furred Lambkin (also called the Nanus Rex). Crosses with Persians and Exotic Shorthairs created the cobby, round-headed Napoleon (see page TK). Other short-legged varieties include the Dwelf/ Elf (hairless with curled ears), Kinkalow (curled ears), Jaguarundi Curl (curled ears, selectively bred to resemble a wild jaguarundi), Genetta (Bengal crossbred to resemble the wild genet), and Meerkat (selectively bred to resemble the African meerkat).

    TICA have since clamped down on what it considers mix-and-match breeding. To accommodate and foster a responsible approach to experimental breeds, the Designer Cat Association (TDCA) was founded; however, this does not deter unregistered breeders from creating "Munchkinized" novelties for the pet market.

    Munchkin kitten

    Longhaired Munchkin

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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