In an Instagram video posted in 2014, two cats with short, stumpy legs slink across a tabletop, then patter up to each other and touch noses. They could almost pass for kittens because of their short legs, but the cats – Munchkin and Shorty – are actually fully grown adults.
Munchkin and Shorty are munchkin cats, a relatively new “breed” characterized by a genetic mutation that causes short legs. These two cats belong to hotel heiress Paris Hilton, who seems to have penchant for buying tiny dogs and cats.
“Love my lil low rider kitties Shorty & Munchkin,” Hilton wrote below the video. “Look how cute & tiny their legs are.”
Shorty and Munchkin may be cute, but behind their appearance is a dark reality.
While cats can be naturally born with the genetic mutation that causes short legs (which is actually a type of dwarfism), people are deliberately breeding cats like this, simply because they think munchkin cats look “cute” and “adorable.”
Yet that genetic mutation also brings about a host of health issues. Most of these issues are related to bone deformities.
“As far as what we know, the inappropriate bone formation absolutely leads to abnormal loading, which predisposes them to osteoarthritis,” Dr. Carol Margolis, a veterinarian and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, told The Dodo. “They can have spinal malformations, lordosis and scoliosis … and they can be born with rib abnormalities.”
Muchkin cats also can’t jump the way normal cats can, but the reason for this could be twofold. “Many of the descriptions of these cats is that they cannot jump due to their deformities, but the question is: Is it that they cannot jump, or they will not jump because their deformities are so painful?” Margolis said.
While it’s unknown how many munchkin cats exist, or how many people are breeding them, a quick Google search shows how easy to buy a munchkin cat. They can sell for between $300 and $1,200, which is a hefty price considering the vet bills owners may need to pay if the cats develop health problems.
Munchkin cats are not yet recognized as a “breed” by the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), which is the world’s largest cat organization.
“Breeding animals for exaggerated physical characteristics, particularly when it compromises overall health, is irresponsible,” Katie Lisnik, director of cat protection and policy at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), told The Dodo. “Breeders should place the long-term health and welfare of their breeding animals and offspring above their efforts to win shows and garner fees.”
Munchkin cats can live between 12 and 15 years, although their lifespans are much shorter if they have health issues, Margolis said.
What’s more, breeding cats – not just munchkins, but any kind – can contribute to the serious problem of pet overpopulation. “Millions of dogs and cats are killed each year in U.S. shelters and approximately 25 to 30 percent of these animals are purebreds,” Lisnik said.
If you’re looking for a furry friend, look at adopting a cat or dog from your local shelter, rather than buying an animal from a breeder. “Millions of companion animals in shelters across America are waiting to be adopted into loving homes,” Lisnik said. “Adopting a wonderful dog, cat or small animal is a great way to help animals, help your local shelter or rescue, and find a new furry member of the family.”
If you’d like to provide a home for an animal in need, you can get started at Adopt-A-Pet.com or Pet Finder.