With the Munchkin Cat being a new breed in the eyes of the world, and indeed causing some controversy, there is a big question surrounding the health of the breed. It’s a very natural question, as similar short legged dogs, such as Dachshunds and Shih Tzu’s are known to be prone to spinal problems.
The short answer is no, the breed appears to have a relatively clean bill of health. Almost every cat breed has some problems that seem to be more endemic to a specific breed, but serious problems concerning their health haven’t been found. It’s important to remember the breed is very new compared to other more established breeds, such as the British Shorthair. With its similar short legs to the Dachshund, a dog breed well known for short legged problems, the Munchkin Cat seems to be remarkably free of similar problems. There appears, so far, to be very few breed specific problems that effect longevity. There are however, some issues with breeding that Munchkin Cat owners as well as breeders need to be aware of.
If we are talking about health, then perhaps a good place to start with is what is known about the Munchkin Cat’s lifespan. Surely if serious problems were an issue, the lifespan would be short, or at least shorter.
The lifespan of Munchkin Cats appears to be around 12-14 years, and that is pretty good. There are many breeds that perform far worse with this metric in mind.
Any internet search doesn’t bring up vet forums complaining about health issues either so it is reasonable to assume, there isn’t anything drastically wrong health wise.
I think the answer to this may just come from the fact that Munchkin Cats look different and there is some controversy surrounding them. Currently, The International Cat Association is the only significant organization that recognizes the breed. The Cat Fanciers Association does not.
Thus, people are curious to know the reason why.
Another reason is that a lot of people are familiar with the problems with short legged dogs, such as the Dachshund and the Shih Tzu. There is a natural concern that the same effect would be observable in Munchkin Cats.
Absent any other issue the Munchkin Cat is pretty healthy for a breed. It had an inauspicious start, however.
When it was proposed for breed registration, by Dr Solveig Pflueger, she was not without her critics. However, her work with Dr. David Biller proved scientifically that the short legged trait of the Munchkin Cats was as autosomal dominant mode of inheritance. They further confirmed that there didn’t appear to be spinal issues. This was the very research that led to TICA accepting the Munchkin Cat as a breed.
What ‘autosomal dominant’ means is that if the Munchkin Cat gets the short legged gene from only one parent then the kitten from a litter may inherit the disease.
The embryo carrying the gene can then be either Homozygous or Heterozygous.
Heterozygous embryos are the type that Munchkin breeders require. With a Heterozygous embryo, it will develop into short legged kittens. Heterozygous Munchkin Cats are then capable of passing on the gene.
One Munchkin parented litters can then produce short legged or normal legged Munchkin Cats. That means it’s possible to carry the munchkin gene and have a normal leg length cat.
An additional but very important point, is that the gene thought to be responsible for the short legs in Munchkin Cats was naturally occuring. It was not man-made or ‘bred’ for this purpose, Men in lab coats did not create the Munchkin Cats..
Thus, anybody going around saying Munchkin Cats are unnatural is unaware of this fact. Ignorance of this fact is causing a lot of problems.
For more information on this, it could be an idea to watch this video.
This breed is officially called a Scottish Kilt. It is the cross breed of a Munchkin Cat and a Scottish Fold.
There seems to be a great many people who think that this specific combination gives rise to health issues. I’ve not managed to find any specific data on it. There are forums suggesting some problems but the answers are very generic, and not known to be via qualified personnel.
I will mention that the Scottish Kilt is recognized by TICA, so apparently a large cat organization doesn’t have a potential problem with the breed.
As discussed earlier there are Homozygous or Heterozygous genes with respect to a developing embryo.
The Heterozygous gene is the gene that is required for successful breeding as only one parent has the gene.
Problems arise, genetically speaking with the Homozygous gene in an embryo. That’s a fancy way of saying that both parents are Munchkin Cats. The autosomal dominant gene also comes with what is known as Homozygous gene lethality. That’s another fancy way of saying the embryo will not survive if both parents are Munchkin Cats.
In order for a munchkin embryo to develop into a healthy kitten then it must be a heterozygous gene (ie only one Munchkin parent).
This is an essential point for breeders to remember obviously.
It also raises a rather important point. Perhaps something that we should be discussing more often. I am no science expert but as Munchkin Cats become more popular and their prevalence is more widespread, what exactly are the dangers from natural procreation.
As more and more munchkin Cats wander the neighborhoods, will we see a rising kitten fatality?
So Munchkin Cats are so far known to be relatively healthy with a good breeding program and widespread knowledge of the dangers of both parents being Munchkins.
To date, there are no known congenital or genetic defects specific to the breed. No one has studied and reported back with findings that Munchkin cats are susceptible to known problems that are not seen in other cat breeds.
Initially, in the early days of the Munchkin acceptance, there was a very real concern that the breed would develop known problems early on. In 1995 tests were conducted on the oldest living Munchkins that found no abnormal bone deformity, and nothing untoward with respect to joints ot the spine either. Early concerns were false.
It was witnessed that some Munchkin kittens were born with their paws curling back slightly but these straightened out as the kittens grew, so again, is not considered a deformity.
Despite being healthy in most respects, munchkin kittens are said to be vulnerable to a condition called Lordosis.
Lordosis is a rare spinal condition whereby the muscles in the spine do not grow to full length. This then allows the spine to ‘collapse slightly’ and curve into the body. It can come with a range of severity, from mild to severe. If it’s very bad, then a kitten may well not survive.
The majority of breeders feel that this a genetic problem that is not Munchkin specific so can happen to any cat breed. Thus it is not considered a Munchkin specific abnormality.
This is considered a structural deformity of the chest. A caved chest look gives it a sunken appearance, which can either be present at birth or develop later, often early in the cat’s life.
It is a genetic deformity and also known as ‘funnel chest’.
Once again though, it’s not breed specific. It’s debatable whether a Munchkin Cat has a higher propensity for acquiring this condition either.
Other cat breeds are prone to this deformity so the jury is still out, but no-one seems to be claiming Munchkin Cats are so prone to this that selective breeding needs to take place.
A major concern is that Munchkin Cats suffer from a condition known as Dwarfism, more properly known as achondroplasia.
The Munchkin is more properly classified with hypochondroplasia or pseudochondroplasia. This because the size of the head is in complete proportion to the body. Only the legs are shorter.
With Dwarfism the head is disproportionate to the body, and this is not the case with Munchkin Cats.
With the breed having existed less than 20 years on an official basis, and certain organization not even recognizing it as a breed there are not many public studies that have been done.
In 2012, a Japanese study conducted by Mika YAMAZAKI, Mai INOUE and Katsuaki SUGIURA found a slight increase in the propensity for Urinary Tract Disorders
The study into dwarfism and Munchkin Cats found nothing significant that I can locate. and still seems to be ongoing.
Linden E. Craig and Keith G. Thompson in 2016 concluded that–
…….in Bengal kittens, and chondrodystrophic Munchkin cats may also have an increased incidence of pectus excavatum and spinal lordosis. This retraction of the caudal sternebrae and xiphoid is also seen in lambs and calves, and is apparently caused by shortness of the tendinous portions of the diaphragm.
The study by S Sellers, B Gandolfi, NA Gustafson, JR Coates, DB Fox, LG Britt, K Kuroki, and LA Lyons for the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri – Columbia, Columbia, MO concluded that;
After visual inspection of the associated region and literature review, none of the loci in the interval were associated with any form of dwarfism.
Many critics were against the Munchkin Cat having its own status as a breed. Indeed, many still are today. It’s a contentious topic. Early on, maybe they were probably right to be concerned.
After all, it was a new breed that was being considered for recognition and many felt that intentionally breeding Munchkin Cats was an atrocity because you were perpetuating a problem.
Over time though, many of the initial concerns have fallen by the wayside. With more and more studies documented with circumstantial evidence leads more people to conclude that it should be classified as a breed.
While Lordosis is perhaps more a common problem that a Munchkin Cat may face, as a breed it is no more prone to this condition that other, more regular cats.
All in all, the Munchkin Cat get a relatively clean bill of health.
The main issue, if not the most serious issue with Munchkin cats comes with the recognition that two parents CANNOT both carry the Munchkin gene. Whatever else is said, whatever the experts decide really, it will have to reflect this scientific reality.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a really common question in relation to health is, can they jump?
The answer is yes, of course. Because of their shorter legs they cannot jump as far as a normal cat but they can still leap.
I have had up to 8 Munchkin Cats at my home at any one time, and can say that they can leap on a bed, or a small coffee table, but a kitchen countertop maybe a little too much.
They tend to get to higher places in shorter bounds. In reality, they can get to anywhere a normal cat can.
It’s often said that if you want to get to the heart of a problem, go to where the money is.
Thus if you want to consider what might be health problems for Munchkin Cats, why not go and see what a health insurer considers the issues for Munchkin Cats with respect to health.
According to Nationwide pet insurance, a provider of pet policies supplied the following list in 2015.
They consider, in order of pervasiveness the following to be common health concerns for Munchkin Cats
What you might notice is there nothing specific to the Munchkin breed in that list, they are conditions that can affect any cat breed.
As a final word it seems Munchkin Cats are free from any serious debilitating disorder as a result of the gene that gives them short legs.
There are no studies that confirm any susceptibility to diseases and conditions that are not aligned with the range seen in other cat breeds.
I have owned several Munchkin Cats and have bred some to sell to friends and fellow citizens and non have complained, nor have I seen evidence of significant health issues to the breed.
The Munchkin is no more prone to something than other cat breeds. Munchkin Cats can, and indeed do, live very healthy and fulfilling lives if they are treated well. They make an excellent house cat. Munchkin cats were initially feral before being considered a breed and they seemed to have survived just fine.
The studies and evidence no doubt will continue to come in but when considering a Munchkin Cat for a house pet, please don’t let any health concerns put you off.