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Kittens are undeniably adorable, and many pet parents are searching for little cats with short legs that look like kittens even when fully grown. To satisfy this, there was the birth of miniature cats such as Teacup Persians, which are exactly like their full-sized counterparts, only smaller.
However, you can also get cats with disproportionally small legs compared to the rest of their bodies. All cats with disproportionally short legs are known as dwarf cats, and the Munchkin cat is the original and the most well-known dwarf cat of all. As of 1994, it is a registered breed characterized for its tiny legs. These short and thick legs are caused by a genetic mutation that stunts its growth.
Aside from Munchkin cats, there are also several other short-legged breeds, all of which are crosses of Munchkin cats with other breeds. Most of these hybrid cats are not yet given recognition as a breed, due to controversy over whether it is unethical to breed cats with a physical deformity.
In this article, I will talk through the history of Munchkin cats and their unusual appearance. I will also mention other different cats with tiny legs, the genetics behind this adorable trait, and any associated issues these cats could face as a result.
Munchkin Cat Breed Profile
The Munchkin cat, named so after the Munchkins in the popular movie The Wizard of Oz, is the original breed of dwarf cats. You may also hear them being referred to as Sausage cats thanks to their comparison to Dachshunds, otherwise known as Sausage dogs.
Here’s a little more information on their characteristics and history of the original short-legged breed.
Characteristics of the Munchkin Cat
A Munchkin’s most notable characteristic is its short legs. They have short and thick legs that are disproportionate to the rest of their bodies. Sometimes, you may also see a Munchkin cat with short front legs and slightly longer rear legs. A Munchkin also holds the current world record for being the shortest cat alive – Lilieput from California measures only 5.25 inches tall!
Aside from their little legs, Munchins have many other endearing characteristics. Temperament wise they make great family cats, thanks to their loving and playful personalities. They also can be long-haired or short-haired and come in a range of different colors and coat patterns. So, there’s sure to be a Munchkin cat to suit everyone’s wants and need!
History of the Munchkin Cat
Throughout history, short-legged cats remained somewhat of a rarity. There were reports of short-legged cats that existed in England in the 1930s, Russia in the 1950s, and the US in the 1970s. However, these lines were not conserved. Nevertheless, this all changed in Louisiana in 1983.
During this year, a woman named Sandra Hochendel found two pregnant cats and decided to keep one, naming her Blackberry. When the litter was born, it was discovered that half of the kittens had short legs. One of the kittens named Toulouse is where the entirety of the Munchkin breed today has descended from. This makes him the first-ever Munchkin cat in existence.
It took several years for Munchkin cats to be recognized after their official introduction in 1991 as their breeding was controversial. Many argued that, similar to Dachshunds, Munchkin cats could develop back and hip problems, and that breeding them was unethical. However, in 1994, TICA accepted Munchkins as a breed. The same cannot be said with other cat registries, the majority of which refuse to accept any breeds with embedded dwarfism.
Other Short-Legged Cat Breeds
Munchkin cats may have been the original breed of dwarf cats, but there has been much other experimental breeding in the years following its recognition. All of these experimental breeds have involved crossing Munchkins with another cat to create felines with unique appearances. However, the development of these breeds has also been extremely controversial.
Here’s a closer look at all the other short-legged cat breeds that have popped up in recent years.
The Minuet cat breed, formerly known as the Napoleon until 2015, was the next dwarf cat breed to be recognized. It was created in 1996 by a breeder called Joseph Smith by crossing the Munchkin cat with a Persian. The result? A beautiful cat with many qualities of a Persian yet the distinctively short legs of a Munchkin.
Aside from being known as a cat with small legs, Minuets are famous for their rounded faces and large, circular eyes characteristic of their Persian ancestor. However, unlike Persians’ short muzzles and squashed faces, Minuets have straight noses. They also have a combination of a Persian’s gentle temperament yet are more active and playful like their Munchkin ancestors.
Similarly, whereas Persians are a long-haired cat breed, Minuets can be long- or short-haired. Either way, the coat is always plush and thick. They also come in a large variety of different coat colors and patterns, from pointed coats to bicolor and mink kittens.
Lambkin cats are another short-legged cat breed that also comes from cross-breeding a Munchkin. This time, the Munchkin was bred with a Selkirk Rex, a relatively new curly-haired cat breed that was recognized in 1990. Together, these two breeds create a feline that has the short legs of a Munchkin but the curly undercoat of the Rex breeds.
Aside from the recognizable coat and short legs, you may also notice a long fluffy tail and large round eyes. They’ll also have affectionate and calming personalities, love being around people, and can be extremely playful. This makes Lambkins great pets for families and seniors alike.
However, as with many crossbreeds, characteristics will vary largely as they depend on the traits of the mother and father. Munchkins and Selkirk Rex cats can be a range of different colors and both exist as long- and short-haired cats. So, you can purchase Lambkins with a range of different coat types and just about every pattern imaginable!
When Munchkins are bred with the American Curl, you end up with another adorable cat with really short legs – the Kinkalow. This is one of the few cats with dwarfism that is recognized as a breed by The Dwarf Cat Association, and TICA has also given this hybrid an Experimental Breeding status. As Kinkalow cats are another dwarf breed, they too exhibit short and thick legs that are disproportionate to the rest of their bodies.
They have also inherited the mutation in the American Curl breed that gives them their unique and distinctive curled back ears with rounded tips. Like their ancestors, Kinkalow cats are not born with curled ears. Instead, their straight ears will start to bend back towards their skull a few days after birth. How curly they go varies between felines.
As expected with crossbreeds, there is again much variety when it comes to Kinkalows’ coats. The most common patterns are calico, tortoiseshell, and tabby that are gray, cream, black, and orange. They can also be long-haired, short-haired, or somewhere in between!
The Genetta is another new dwarf cat with tiny legs currently being developed. Development started in 2006 by Shannon Kiley in the hopes to design a cat that was similar to a wild African Genet, but had a friendly and loving personality and was smaller in size. This has been done by crossing Munchkin cats with another breed known for its beautiful exotic coat patterns: Bengals.
The final result is a cat with small legs like a Munchkin, but with beautiful spotted, marbled, or rosette coat patterns. As with Bengals, their coats can be brown, silver, black, or snow. Eye colors also mirror that of Bengals, typically being either green, yellow, or brown. Their personalities are also similarly energetic, playful, and intelligent, and this breed loves attention!
The Minskin is the first cat with really small legs that has been derived from not one, not two, but four different breeds: the Munchkin, Burmese, Sphynx, and Devon Rex. This is also one of the only recognized breeds aside from the Munchkin itself. TICA awarded it with the status of a Preliminary New Breed and it is well underway to receiving recognition as an Advanced New Breed.
Aside from their tiny legs thanks to the Munchkin genes, these cats also have unique “fur-points”. They have short, cashmere-like fur usually seen in a Devon Rex, but the tips of its nose and ears are thicker like the pointed markings on a Burmese. They also have large ears like those of both the Sphynx breed and Devon Rex that the Minskin descends from.
In terms of personality, Minskins are extremely adorable creatures. Breeder Paul Richard McSorley specifically chose his Burmese and Devon Rex cats to be added to the mix thanks to their sweet temperaments. As a result, Minskins are affectionate, playful, and love people.
The Skookum is another short-legged cat breed made by crossing the Munchkin cat, this time with the LaPerm. La Perm cats are another new breed, first being recognized in the USA in 1996. They are most famous for their coats, which vary from soft waves to long curls.
It follows that the Skookum has inherited similar traits from its two descending breeds. It has a similar wavy coat covering its small body and short stocky legs. Both the eyebrows and whiskers of this new dwarf breed are also wavy and its luscious tail is long, plumed, and fluffy. This tiny cat truly has a unique and distinctive appearance.
Skookums also have an energetic and playful personality. Despite their little legs, they don’t seem to have any issues jumping and playing. They’re also affectionate, intelligent, and make extremely fun and lovable pets.
The Bambino is another new cat breed in development and the only hairless cat with short legs that’s around today. Again a descendent from Munchkins, this time combined with the hairless Sphynx. Together this genetic pool has created a hairless short-legged cat breed, hence the name Bambino which translates to “baby” in Italian.
As with many other cat breeds on this list, the breed is not officially recognized. TICA has awarded the Bambino with the Experimental Breed title, whereas the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) and the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA) refuse to do so.
8. Scottish Kilt
Finally, we have the Scottish Kilt, which is a mix between the Munchkin cat and the Scottish Fold. These cats with tiny legs have both the characteristics that their ancestors are loved for – the Munchkins’ short and stocky legs and the Scottish Folds’ small and folded ears. Together, these two traits make for an adorable and unique combination.
Other notable features of Scottish Kilts are their large round eyes and thick coat. They are also loved for their fun personalities. These cats are sweet, friendly, and playful. Scottish Kilts also enjoy being around people and get along well with children. This temperament combined with their good look makes this breed extremely desirable.
They are also a recognized breed according to TICA, but this is the only cat registry worldwide that accepts the breed.
Why Do Some Cats Have Short Legs?
Now we know which cats have short legs, the next question is “Why?”. To answer this question, it’s best to turn our attention to Munchkin cats. After all, this cat is used in the experimental breeding for every other cat on this list, so it is safe to say the answer lies with them! And, if you haven’t guessed it already, the answer all lies in genetics.
Genetics determines everything about our cats’ appearances. Their unique set of genes will be what separates long-tail cats from short-tail cats, large cats from small cats, and allows for cats of all different colors! Here’s a closer look at the genetics specifically responsible for short-legged cats.
Genetics of the Munchkin Cat
A Munchkin’s short legs, the distinguishing feature of the breed, are a result of either hypochondroplasia or pseudoachondroplasia. These are genetic forms of dwarfism whereby the growth of the limbs is stunted, but the length of the body stays the same. The result is limbs that are shorter and disproportional to the rest of the cat.
This dwarfism is caused by a genetic mutation known as the Munchkin gene (M). It is autosomal dominant, meaning that only one copy of the mutant gene is needed for the short-legged trait to present. In comparison, the gene for cats with curly tails is recessive, and the offspring needs to inherit a copy from both parents for them to have a curled tail.
Interestingly, homozygous Munchkin cats that have two copies of the gene (MM) will fail to gestate in the womb and never be viable, which explains why Munchkin litters may be smaller than expected. Therefore, every Munchkin cat that exists has a heterozygous genetic profile (Mm) – a normal gene from one parent and a Munchkin mutant gene from the other.
Because of this, there is also a chance that two Munchkin cats could end up having a kitten with normal length legs. In this case, the offspring would have inherited the normal gene (m) from both parents. Without any copies of the mutant gene, the cat will be considered a non-standard Munchkin.
Pulling all this information together means that for each kitten that is conceived from two Munchkin parents there is a:
- 25% chance that the kitten will be non-viable (MM)
- 25% chance they will have normal length legs (mm)
- 50% chance they will have the characteristic short-legged trait (Mm)
Genetics of Munchkin Derived Breeds
The reason that all of the breeds on this list also have small legs is that the Munchkin gene from the Munchkin cat is passed on to the offspring through selective breeding. As mentioned, the mutant gene is dominant, and so any offspring that have the Munchkin gene passed on to them will also have tiny legs. It overrides the normal length leg gene received from the other parent entirely.
The reason these crossbreeds are distinctive from the regular Munchkin breed is a result of the genes it receives from its other parent. All of the breeds chosen have unique mutations of their own which, when combined, with the M gene, create adorable combinations.
For example, Scottish Folds, one of the most famous cats with small ears, carry a dominant folded ear mutation (Fd). When offspring receive a copy of the M gene for short legs and the Fd gene for small folded ears, the result is a standard Scottish Kilt. These small ears make it easy to differentiate this breed from the traditional Munchkin cat.
Similarly, the Rex mutation is a genetic variation that causes Rex breeds such as the Devon, Cornish, and Selkirk Rex to have their unique curly coat. These are all cats with undercoats, but they lack the topcoat, creating a unique fur that is cashmere-soft to touch. It is these genes passed to the Minskin which are responsible for its comparable curly coat.
All of the recognized cats with really small legs are either Munchkin cats or derive from this breed. However, there are a few other reasons why a cat should have short legs. These are not recognized breeds but explains why there may be random short-legged cats that appear in the feline population:
- Spontaneous Mutations: Random mutations not passed down from a Munchkin cat can also occur, which could cause felines to have smaller limbs. Mutations like this are rare, and are made even rarer as many kittens with abnormalities may die in the womb or be stillborn. Still, it is possible! After all, the initial Munchkin gene was a random mutation but it has been conserved through selective breeding.
- Pituitary Dwarfism: This is another form of dwarfism, also referred to as midgetism. With this type of dwarfism, the mutation affects the function of the pituitary gland rather than the limbs themselves. The pituitary gland is what produces growth hormone, so these cats simply won’t grow properly and stay kitten-like for life, including keeping their small legs.
- Congenital Hypothyroidism: This is where the thyroid gland does not develop properly and cannot produce enough thyroid hormone. As a result, cats with congenital hypothyroidism will have stunted growth, smaller limbs, and larger heads. This form of dwarfism is also linked to poor mental development.
- Environmental Factors: Cats can also have short legs due to environmental factors, such as poor nutrition during the key stages of development. This can cause cats to not grow as they usually would, sometimes resulting in stunted growth in their legs.
The Health of Cats With Short Legs
Dwarfism is known to cause health conditions in other animals. Many short-legged dogs, such as Dachshunds and Shih Tzu’s have spinal problems and other health conditions. As a relatively new breed, the health of a Munchkin cat is still questionable. Their short legs, while as cute as can be, are technically a limb deformity and could carry problems.
Thankfully, many experts now believe that Munchkins and the other derived breeds are fine health-wise. They seem to be remarkably free from the health issues that their canine counterparts suffer from! However, there are still common health issues that these cats face. As such a new breed, it is still unclear whether these health problems are breed-specific or not.
Here’s a closer look at the health issues short-legged cats seem to be more prone to having.
Joint Disease & Arthritis
Arthritis is a painful condition where a cat’s joints, most commonly its legs and spine, become swollen. This can make it extremely uncomfortable for them to move around and your cat may become extremely lethargic and stop practicing learned behavior, such as using their litter box.
The condition is common in senior cats whose joints have slowly been worn down throughout their lives. Overweight cats are also more prone to developing this disease younger as they bear extra weight on their limbs. However, it is also thought that cats with really short legs are prone to arthritis as their short legs alter how a cat moves. This means that weight is distributed strangely, pressing down on joints it shouldn’t.
There is no cure for the condition and it will gradually worsen over time. However, by adapting your cat’s life to make it more comfortable and administering pain relief prescribed by your vet, cats with arthritis can live a more comfortable life.
Another concern for short-legged cats is that they suffer from spinal malformations such as lordosis and scoliosis. This is where their spinal column is distorted and has an unusual curvature. The spine can also curve sideways which can lead to compression of the spinal cord. This can lead to paralysis or death in worst-case scenarios.
As mentioned, this is common in dogs with short legs and so many people anticipated the same issue would arise in Munchkin cats and other related short-legged breeds. Indeed, there have been Munchkin kittens born with lordosis, which varies from mild to severe.
However, any cat can develop this rare abnormality and most breeders don’t think it is breed-specific. In other words, this is not the result of the Munchkin mutation, but rather another mutation that could randomly occur in any member of the feline population.
Munchkin cats are also thought to be more vulnerable to a condition called pectus excavatum. This is usually where their ribs and chest do not form properly during development, but the chest can also become deformed later on in early life. The result is a chest that sinks inwards, known better as “funnel chest”.
As with spinal malfunctions, the severity of the condition can range from mild to severe. Those with mild concaved chests tend to not suffer too much, whereas severe cases can compress the lungs and heart, causing more serious health risks. Yet, this too can arise in any breed and it is not thought to be breed-specific.
Munchkins and other short-legged cats are loved not only for how they look, but how they move. They have a distinctive waddle unlike that of a normal cat. However, although not studied enough to be sure, there are also concerns that Munchkin cats live less fulfilling lives. Their short legs can make it difficult for them to run, jump, and play as usual.
As you can see, there are now many different cats with short legs. These cats all carry a mutation that causes dwarfism, meaning their legs don’t grow as usual. The original dwarf cat was the Munchkin cat, who has since been crossed with many other breeds to create adorable and unique combinations.
However, all short-legged cat breeds are highly controversial. TICA is starting to recognize some of these breeds, but other cat registries refuse to because breeding a physical deformity is seen as unethical. There were also health concerns associated with Munchkin cats which present in dogs with dwarfism, but experts now believe cats are fine health-wise and can live happy lives.