Unlike more mainstream breeds of cat, such as a Maine Coon or an American Curl, this is not quite as odd a question as it first seems. The Munchkin Cat is a relatively new breed of cat and there is some controversy as to whether it should be officially defined as such.
In short, the answer is both yes and no. Although short legged cats have been documented since the 1930s, in 1983 Sandra Hochenedel acquired a short legged cat which she named Blackberry. Her friend, Kay LaFrance took one of Blackberry’s litter and this short legged cat was named Toulouse. From these cats Dr Solveig Pflueger who was actively involved in The International Cat Association (TICA) determined it was worthy of breed status. The Munchkin Cat was introduced in 1991 at Madison Square garden and officially given breed development in 1994, with championship status following in 2003 by TICA. However, other standard bearers in the industry, like the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) still do not recognize the breed.
Many people have never seen a Munchkin Cat, and there are a great many people who have never heard of them either. There are no requirements for the breed other than to have short legs.
Because the Munchkin is recognizable by its short legs, this essentially allows them to be identified. As such, many people argue this is what makes them a breed.
Webster’s dictionary defines ‘breed of cat’ as;
KIND, SORT —often used with different
Perhaps a better definition comes from The Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) that defines a purebred domestic cat as;
“a cat whose ancestors are all of the same breed, or whose ancestry includes crossbreeding that is allowed in the breed standard. For example, a purebred Bombay may also have Burmese cats in its background.”
Generally speaking, the pedigree of a cat must be certified and genetically registered before it can be called a purebred.
So TICA has the Munchkin on its list of breeds.
Wikipedia also lists the Munchkin cat as a breed.
Until 1983 the breed was only talked about as a generality. There no specific records of these earlier times that can be said to be specific to what we would describe as a Munchkin Cat today.
The advent of DNA testing and genome research have given a whole new array of scientific tools to isolate genes that we can now use to classify a breed more accurately.
Stories of British vets, and sightings in Stalingrad and New England are all very well, but there is currently no known proof they were indeed Munchkin cats as we classify them today.
The gene that produces Munchkin Cats is a naturally occurring mutated gene and no-one can identify the cat with the first mutated gene, cat-zero if you will.
The first known story with a provable paper trail starts with Sandra Hockenedel, who found a pregnant female which was short legged, hiding under a truck from a bulldog. Taking pity on the animal she brought it home, and named it Blackberry.
When the litter arrived, she gave one of the short legged male offspring to her friend, Kay LaFrance, who named this cat Toulouse.
These are the two cats, Blackberry and Toulouse which form the basis of the Munchkin breed we know today. Toulouse fathered several offspring with domestic cats which ensured a genetically diverse gene pool so the breed could survive.
Reasonably certain this could qualify as a new breed, Sandra Hochenedel and Kay LaFrance contacted The International Cat Association and were soon in correspondence with Dr. Solveig Pflueger, c committee chairwoman and a show judge.
Dr. Pflueger then worked with Dr. David Biller who was Head of radiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University to answer questions about the proposed new breed.
Their worked concluded that these new short legged cats have an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance with no health issues that might be advisable to breed out.
TICA then formally introduced the new Munchkin breed to the public at Madison Square Garden in a 1991 televised event.
3 years later, in 1994 TICA placed the Munchkin in its New Breed development program. This program helps track the evolution of a new breed by monitoring genetic data.
Nearly a decade of research under TICA’s program found that the short legs followed a dominant pattern of inheritance, much like famous short legged dogs, with no health specific abnormalities.
The Munchkin Cat then became an official breed in 2003, according to TICA when it achieved championship status.
The importance of the sanction of the Munchkin Cat as a proper breed by TICA should not be overlooked as something trivial.
TICA is considered to be the world’s greatest repository for cat genetics. TICA started as an organization in North America but has gained worldwide prominence. It is now considered the leading authority in cat genetics.
TICA possesses a genetic registry second to none for pedigree and household domestic breeds, being one of the largest bodies for overlooking cat shows.
TICA currently recognizes around 71 as official breeds.
It classifies championship breed status to those breeds partaking in international cat chows, a status the Munchkin Cat has had since 2003.
It’s not all plain sailing though. TICA is not the only authoritative body on cat breed status.
The reaction hasn’t all been positive. While I love them, some people are a bit worried by the cats shape. Even inside TICA, a prominent judge resigned with some choice words.
The argument to this day still rages that breeding the Munchkin is unethical largely due to the perceived notion that it perpetuates a physical deformity.
Although TICA disagrees and says there are no known health issues that are the result specifically of the short legged gene.
Despite this the main thrust of arguments appears to be that there could be long term health consequences. The strongest argument comes from the fact that if both parents possess the mutated gene that produces short legs then this is lethal for the embryo’s.
Breeders, therefore must be extremely cognizant of this fact. If you try to breed a munchkin Cat from two Munchkin parents then this can be fatal.
Breeding proponents are now pointing to evidence that after 15 years there does not seem to be any health specific issues to the breed, but data is still continuing to be collected. So far it seems, Munchkins Cats seem to lead very full and active lives without ill effects.
Perhaps the strongest argument comes from the fact that breeding short legged cats is little different from breeding short legged dogs, such as the Corgi or the Dachshunds.
While TICA is very much on board with this argument, it has to be said, the other two large feline associations, the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), and the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA) do not accept the Munchkin as a breed due to the current controversy.
The debate rages on.
To me, the Munchkin Cat is a breed. I have no specific training or expert point of view, it’s just that I think the Munchkin deserves its own status.
No doubt this will all be hot topic for years to come. Ultimately it comes down to the authoritative voices in this space reaching a consensus.
Everybody seem to have their own opinion, but there seems to be more and more Munchkin breeders around the world, and there is growing awareness
It seems we still need more data, which continues to be collected, and maybe this will decide the Munchkins future. Presumably there is more and more growing awareness that there are no significant health issues with this cat breed that are breed specific.
They don’t appear to develop and relatable health problems to the gene that gives them the short legs. As more and more data comes in, and with the passage of time we may see the Munchkin Cat become more and more accepted, and thus adopted by more and more people as a specific breed.
As acceptance happens then maybe the Cat Fanciers Association and the American Cat Fanciers Association will relent somewhat and that may then be the final nail in the debate of acceptance.
However, should the opposite happen and relatable data that would cause problems for these cats become an issue, then TICA could reverse its previous decision.
Irresponsible breeders aside, which could be an issue that flares the debate, perhaps the future looks bright for the Munchkin Cat.
At the moment though, the momentum is on the side of the new Munchkin Cat breed. We are a good number of years into the first acceptance by TICA of the breed, and as each new day dawns there is less and less chance of hiccups along the way. The lifespans of several Munchkin Cats have been tracked with no apparent problems developing.
Time will tell, and I hope it comes in the Munchkins favor.