Two of these in a row, huh? (And is that a pun there in the first one?) Alright, I’ll talk about my opinion on munchkin cats, but I don’t think that anyone on either side of the debate is going to be thoroughly satisfied with my answer.
Yes- if you didn’t know, there is quite a debate on whether or not the breed should exist at all! And that largely has to do with potential health issues the breed may or may not have, which I’ll go into in more detail in a moment.
But in short, if I had my way, I probably wouldn’t want to buy one, but I don’t think the breed has had enough issues to justify outlawing its existence.
And I think at this point the debate is still nebulous on both ends, so I think it’s up to you to look through the facts and decide whether you think you would support the breed with your money or not. And may I remind you, there may be ways to adopt, rather than buy, munchkin cats through sites like petfinder. Then you can pick up your stubby friend with few moral qualms!
In fact, I’ll pause this post right now and list a few, in case anyone was thinking of adopting:
Hot Rod (MN)
Little John (RI, along with his brother Blackie)
Of course you won’t find terribly many of these cats up for adoption, as the breed is still both very new and somewhat expensive, and the demand for them is very high. But that’s no reason not to try.
Anyway, discussion of how munchkin cats came to be and the potential moral issues with breeding them below.
ALRIGHT. So, as you either knew or have realized by now, munchkin cats have very short legs. This is due to a condition which has not yet been definitively defined- I’ve heard achondroplasia, hypochondroplasia, and psuedoachondroplasia floating around- the point is that it’s got SOMETHING to do with chondroplasia, with cartilage not forming normally, resulting in a shortened bone in each leg. And the leg lengths can vary greatly between munchkins, as well, but they’re all short.
The condition stems from an autosomal dominant gene, Mk. This means that the cat only needs one copy of the gene to express the shortness trait. By the way, having two copies of the gene is lethal- the embryos are resorbed, not stillbirths, as is often claimed. In fact, even this is actually currently only speculation due to munchkin x munchkin crosses resulting in unusually small litters. No studies have been done on it yet, as far as I know.
Here’s some Punnett squares I stole from wikipedia because I am incredibly lazy.
MM = nonviable embryo (25%), Mm = munchkin (50%), mm = normal leg length (25%)
And here’s what happens when you cross a munchkin with a normal-sized cat.
No nonviable offspring come from this type of cross, but you are doubly likely to get standard-sized kittens.
The breed was started in the 1980s, from a short cat some lady found under a truck. Apparently short cats had been seen a few times before throughout history, and you can still have the mutation pop up randomly in other breeds. Anyway, the cat had kittens, some of them were short, yada yada. The founder cat’s son, Toulouse (haha I see what you did there) was reportedly quite the lover, and created a small army of feral short-legged cats before anybody had even considered making them an official breed.
By the way, if nothing else convinces you of the breed’s robustness, think of short-legged Toulouse mounting every lady farm cat he came across (he must have won a few fights with other males, too!)
Due largely to Toulouse’s persistence, the breed was officially recognized by the International Cat Association in 1994.
Ok, you know where they came from and what’s going on in the leg department, roughly. Now I’ll get to the controversy bit.
A lot of people, especially people who see it on the internet, absolutely fall in love with the munchkin cat on sight. It is hard to blame them, for it is an animal with a tendency to do this little move:
But then you have people on the other side who claim that it flies in the face of everything a cat should be. A cat is a graceful, noble hunter! This waddling monstrosity is an insult to everything your cat is trying to be!
I am exaggerating, yes. But really, people just get hung up on the looks. It’s not really what matters. If you can prove it’s healthy, I could care less what a breed looks like- if it’s short or it’s got seven toes, so what? Mutations aren’t automatically bad. Hell, they’re just as likely to be beneficial or neutral as they are to be detrimental. They are most often a mix of all three.
The problem with munchkin cats is that no one can really prove if and how detrimental this mutation is. Many people are quick to point out that the spinal problems that short-legged dogs often have rarely appear in munchkin cats due to their flexible kitty spines and hips. In fact, nearly everywhere I look, I see the breed characterized as “very healthy.”
The breed is still very new, and not well-established. Outcrosses with other cats, mainly domestic shorthairs, are still very common, which is good, as it continually widens the gene pool. This may be why the breed is so reportedly healthy at the moment; everything could change when the gene pool begins to close down.
Of course, the “very healthy” assessment is not actually backed up by official studies. I’ve found a single report of a veterinarian associating the breed with osteoarthritis, but I have not found any studies on this either. Similarly, there are reports of lordosis and hollowed chest in the breed, but no official research has been done.
Basically, there isn’t evidence that the breed is without health problems, but there is an equal lack of evidence that the breed has a high propensity for any health issues. I’m afraid the jury is out until more studies are done.
And they will probably get done, too, because the breed is starting to get really popular. Which means that there will be a lot more irresponsible breeding. Hooray. Please, if you are adopting any kind of purebred animal, MAKE SURE YOU CHECK OUT THE BREEDER. Do not support irresponsible breeding practices with your money in any way. A good breeder will grill you about your living situation, even ask for proof of things like neutering, and will initially try to talk you out of adopting. If the breeder is being a pain in the ass and making you jump through hoops, it may be a good sign. If a breeder asks you to write the check at the door, maybe not.
Before I go on, two other problems I have with the breed that are rarely addressed:
The breeding of munchkin cats will result in 25-50% non-munchkin kittens. Where will these other kittens go? Do breeders have plans to put them in good homes, or will they quietly cull them?
Outcrossing. The tendency to cross the munchkin with other cat mutations (see the bambino, the dwelf, and the napoleon, among others). If we don’t fully understand the health consequences of the munchkin mutation, I don’t think we should be so quick to load it with other mutations.
Also, I know a lot of people take issue with MM being a lethal mutation, but the embryos are resorbed (though again, this is based on speculation and not science in the first place) and it doesn’t seem to incur any damage to the mother. So it’s a slight concern, but it troubles me less than what might happen to the other kittens once they are born.
So… those are the facts on the munchkin cat. Like I said earlier, I find the breed just iffy enough to err on the side of caution and not want to make any more of them myself. I certainly wouldn’t pay for one from a breeder. But there really isn’t any real evidence suggesting that the munchkin cats, on the whole, live unhappy or painful lives. If you want to adopt one, I won’t try to burn you at the stake or anything; I think it’s perfectly valid to fall in love with the fat meerkats.
Here’s hoping more research gets done on them very soon.
BEFORE I BRING THIS POST TO AN ACTUAL CLOSE, let me point out a couple of other cat breeds I do actually oppose.
Scottish Fold: Every single one of your favorite lop-eared cats is suffering from a condition called osteochondrodysplasia, which causes not only that cute ear-fold but a likelihood of developing severe osteoarthritis at young ages. It has been seen in all Scottish folds so far tested, even heterozygous ones. The reason the breed is described as quiet and ‘placid’? They’re in constant pain.
The really horrible thing is that many Scottish fold breeders claim that heterozygous cats don’t get the disorder and don’t suffer, but when FIFe (the international cat fanciers’ association) offered to examine 300 cats for free to confirm this, no one took them up on the offer. I find these actions greedy and immoral and I definitely won’t ever spend my money on a Scottish fold. I’d be delighted for further breeding of this cat to be outlawed.
Manx: The gene that causes the taillessness in Manx cats can sometimes shorten the spine too much, causing spinal bifida and improper formation of the urogenital area and organs. These kittens are either stillbirths or only live to about 3-4 years old. Even without this, Manx cats are prone to megacolon and incontinence due to their tailessness. I couldn’t dig up any official statistics on how common this disorder is. I did find one vague report that it was ‘decreasing.’
If you want a tailless cat, I suggest a Japanese bobtail. The breed seems to be highly genetically diverse and very healthy.
Persian: I think the issues with brachycelphalic (smushed-face) animals are pretty well-known in the popular consciousness by now, but the Persian also suffers from many other genetic diseases- for example, polycystic kidney disease, which affects 1/3 of all Persians. Additionally, roughly 20% of all Persian kittens are stillborns due to dystocia (abnormal/difficult labor).
Let me say, when we’re talking about upwards of 5% of a breed having a debilitating genetic disorder (and 5% is still pretty fucking high)- THAT IS AN ISSUE. THAT IS NOT OKAY.
I guess my point with all this is, before you buy a breed, RESEARCH. Please, please research and don’t buy an animal on a whim just because of its looks. You can help promote better breeding and healthier animals with your money.
…And again, if you really want a certain problematic purebred, adopt one!! In fact, adopt anyway. ADOPT!! A d o p t.
Breed-related disorders of cats
On munchkin cats: IAMS does a pretty good breed overview, and here’s another page on the controversy surrounding them.
On Scottish folds: prevalence of osteochondrodysplasia, and more on that. Note how both papers suggest that the cats stop being bred.
On Manx cats: spina bifidia, congenital anomalies, and a breeder’s page on Manx health issues
On Persians: brachycephaly, polycystic kidney disease, dystocia, and about a million other things.
Not cats, but an expose documentary of the problematic breeding of dogs: Pedigree Dogs Exposed (warning: some footage of dogs in pain, etc., is very distressing)