Though a relatively new breed to the cat fancy scene, the Munchkin is surrounded in controversy and miseducation. It is important to begin the history of the Munchkin by noting that short-legged cats have been documented as far back as 1930's England and survived until World War II, which decimated much of the European feline population. One short-legged cat displaying the characteristic habit of sitting on its haunches was named the 'Stalingrad Kangaroo' in the 1950's Soviet Union. This breed is caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation which causes the legs to shorten, and is not the result of man-made breeding.
The Munchkin as we know it today has come up out of the South. In 1983, a schoolteacher named Sandra Hochendel discovered two cats pinned by a dog beneath a truck. Rescuing them, she noted that both were pregnant and displayed noticeably short legs. She gave the grey cat, Blueberry, away and kept the black one named Blackberry. Once Blackberry delivered her kittens, Ms. Hochendel gave a short-legged, male kitten named Toulouse to a friend who allowed her cats to run free and un-altered. This created a feral population of Munchkin cats in Monroe, Lousiana. They competed quite well with their long-legged counterparts for food and mating opportunities.
Genetic research of the Munchkin has determined that the short legs are the results of a dominant genetic mutation affecting the bones of the legs. It occurs spontaneously in the feline gene pool and any cat with the gene will display the short legs. The Munchkin gene pool, however is rather small and so breeders have outcrossed to any and all non-pedigreed domestics. This has led to a wide number of coat colors, patterns, and lengths, including a Siamese look.
In 1995, the breed received TICA recognition and one judge resigned in protest, calling the breed an affront to any breeder with ethics as there was at the time a strong belief that the shortened legs would cause spine issues. This has, however, not proven true. The shortened legs have caused no additional health issues and Munchkins live long, healthy and happy lives. Responsible breeders will not breed Munchkin to Munchkin and it is important that potential buyers ask for the pedigree of any Munchkin prior to purchase to ensure that only one parent is, in fact, a carrier of the gene.