Although the Munchkins have only recently been discovered by the cat fancy, cats with short legs are not new to the scientific world. In the 1944 Veterinary Record (Great Britain), Dr. H. E. Williams-Jones described four generations of cats with short limbs, including an 8-1/2 year old black female reported as having had an extremely healthy life. Her dam, great dam, and some of her progeny were similar in short-legged appearance. The cat's movements were described as ferret-like, but other than the short legs, the cat was reported to be normal in every way. Unfortunately, these cats seem to have disappeared during World War II, not surprising in that many established feline bloodlines were markedly depleted and some disappeared completely during this period of deprivation. Available stock was apparently altered and the line was not preserved so far as may be determined.
In the 1956 Zoologischer Anzeiger, Max Egon Theil of Hamburg, Germany, described a cat he had seen in Stalingrad that had unusually short legs but was in no way functionally hindered. This cat was seen playing among its normal siblings and other young cats. At times it was noted to sit on its haunches with its front legs in the air, similar to the alert stance of a rabbit. Because of this behavior, the cat was dubbed the "Stalingrad Kangaroo Cat" by the author. The day before the author was to return to Germany, the cat was taken away by a Russian physician, and there is no further information about the cat available. However, based on the description, this undoubtedly represents the same trait seen previously in Great Britain.
Although the short legged cats from Europe seem to have disappeared, the trait reappeared in New England in the 1970's and in Louisiana in the 1980's. From a pregnant black female short legged cat found by Sandra Hochenedel in 1983, several colonies have been established which now span multiple generations. The breeding data clearly support an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance. The cats exhibit shortening and bowing of the long bones similar to that seen in the Dachshund and the Corgi, but no other skeletal changes associated with the gene. The spine is usually indistinguishable from that of other cats.
At this point there is no evidence to suggest that the gene for short legs hampers survival or quality of life, which is consistent with the British and Russian/German reports of these cats. Careful study of the short legged cats is being undertaken by Dr. Solveig Pflueger, a clinical geneticist at Baystate Medical Center and on the faculty of Tufts University School of Medicine, and Dr. David Biller, a veterinary radiologist at Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine, in order to evaluate further the inheritance and expression of the short legged trait and the resultant changes in skeletal structure through the natural lifespan of the cat. The results of these studies will ultimately determine the feasibility of establishing the breed within the cat fancy.
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