Sarah Holloway investigates the growing popularity of teacup cats and miniature cats, and answers your teacup cat questions
Despite being almost unheard of thirty years ago, dwarf cats,teacup cats and miniature cats have become hugely popular in a relatively short space of time.
With more and more prospective cat owners researching miniature cat breeds and teacup kitten prices, we take a look at these new cats on the block, and the things to consider before bringing one home.
The origins of miniature cats
Anecdotes of dwarf cats have been recorded since at least the 19th century, and there’s evidence that dwarf lines of familiar cat breeds often cropped up briefly before drifting out of existence over the course of the 20th century.
Then, like buses, two types of extra small cat appeared at once in the early 1990s. And instead of dying out again, this time a new market for them exploded overnight.
Those cats were the Munchkin cat and the Persian tea cup, and they have very different reasons for being small.
Unpicking the difference between dwarf cats and miniature cats
Because extra small cats are so new on the scene, there’s still a lot of confusion about how to describe them, and it helps to lay out the basics before we go further.
Put simply, dwarf cats have short legs on a normal-sized body.
Miniature cats are small all over, and teacup, micro and ultra-micro and just terms coined to describe different degrees of miniaturization.
Now, let’s see how that applies to our Munchkins and our Persian Teacups.
Munchkin cats – the dwarf cats
Munchkin cats carry a hereditary genetic mutation which gives them short legs in proportion to the rest of their body: this condition is known as pseudoachondroplasia.
Munchkin cats were the first dwarf breed of cat to receive some recognition as pedigree in their own right, but the foundation of the Munchkin breed was about as close to an accident as it’s possible to get.
In 1983, a teacher in Louisiana adopted an ordinary-sized stray female cat. When she delivered a litter of kittens, half of them were born with pseudoachondroplasia.
One of the dwarf tom kittens went on to live the life of Riley as an unneutered, outdoor tom.
Soon enough, dwarf cats were cropping up all over the neighborhood and being sold further afield.
Then, instead of dying out like previous dwarf lines, an enterprising couple in Massachusetts took the cats they bought to The International Cat Association (TICA).
In 1994 Munchkins were recognized in TICA’s New Breed Development Program, and a pedigree was born.
Teacup Persian Kittens and Cats
Persian cats can also be born with pseudoachondroplasia, and a lively market for dwarf Persian cats sprang up at the same time interest was growing in Munchkin cats.
But teacup Persian cats do not have pseudoachondroplasia: they are just very small, normally proportioned Persians cats.
So how do you miniaturize a Persian cat?
Ultra-typing is the term for a programme of sustained selective breeding designed to exaggerate a particular characteristic.
This process is common in breeding programmes for domestic animals of all kinds
In the case of teacup Persian cats, the smallest cats of each generation have been bred together so that their offspring became smaller and smaller.
Some breeders argue that this has been made possible by another hereditary condition, equivalent to primordial dwarfism in humans, but there is no genetic evidence to back this up yet.
Full grown teacup cats – how small do they stay?
Munchkin cats tip the scales at 4lb to 9lb when they are fully grown, compared with the average cat which weighs 10lb to 11lb.
Miniature Persians peak at a diminutive 4lb to 5lb, but there are breeders offering ultra-micro Persians which barely nudge 2lb.
Experimental miniature cat breeds – are there teacup Bengal kittens?
The rise of Persian teacups has inspired people to search for dinky versions of other popular cat breeds, such as miniature Siamese cats and teacup Ragdoll kittens.
These don’t exist yet, but unfortunately there are unscrupulous breeders who falsely advertize runts and malnourished kittens as teacup varieties in order to make a profit from them.
Sadly these kittens will have a lot of health problems, and purchasing them supports inhumane animal breeding.
New varieties of teacup cats and miniature cats
Meanwhile, TICA has acknowledged some new dwarf and miniature varieties with Experimental Breed status.
- the Lambkin (Munchkin x Selkirk Rex)
- the Skookum (Munchkin x LaPerm)
- the Minskin (Munchkin x Sphynx)
- the Napoleon (Munchkin x Persian)
- the Genetta (Munchkin x Savannah x Bengal x Shorthair)
The aim of this final experimental breed is to create a domestic cat which looks like a wild Genet.
These breeds, especially the Napoleon, begin to blur the distinction between dwarf and miniature cats.
Some of them are so new we don’t even know what their average life expectancy is yet, so it’s too soon to comment on their suitability as pets.
But if the trend for extra small sized cats continues, expect to hear more about them soon.
Choosing a dwarf or miniature cat
As humans we are programmed to protect and nurture anything small and vulnerable.
Dwarf cats and miniature cats tap straight into that instinct; they undeniably very cute.
They also seem like the intuitive choice if you have a small house or apartment. So it isn’t surprising that many people find them appealing.
Here are the things to consider if you want to bring one home…
Choosing an extra small cat: temperament
According to TICA, Munchkin cats are sociable, playful, curious and active.
Despite their short legs, they are still agile enough to jump onto furniture and kitchen counters, and love to explore.
Miniature Persians and teacup Persians have the same reputation as their full-sized counterparts: they are usually loyal, friendly, and docile.
Because of this they are sometimes recommended as ideal pets for children and older people, but bear in mind their small stature makes them fragile, and often means they require special care.
Teacup cats and miniature cats need special care
I’ve seen mixed advice about whether Munchkin cats should be let outdoors, and the right answer for you will probably depend on the environment you live in.
However, miniature Persians and smaller are almost certainly unsuitable for life outdoors.
In fact, the smaller they get, the more complex they become to care for.
The challenges of caring for a teacup Persian
Miniature Persian kittens are rarely ready to leave their mothers at twelve weeks, and often need to stay with her for five or six months before you can take them home.
Like their full-sized cousins, miniature Persians need daily help with grooming to prevent their coat becoming matted.
Miniature Persians are also vulnerable to a range of health problems which require financial and time commitment to manage. We’ll come to those in a moment.
Health problems in Munchkin cats
Munchkin cats are generally considered pretty robust, but breeders and critics are divided over the health implications of deliberately breeding cats with pseudoachondroplasia.
Fans of the breed maintain that they don’t suffer any ill effects from their short limbs, but critics report an increased rate of lordosis (curvature of the spine) and rib cage deformities.
The Munchkin breed simply hasn’t existed long enough yet for a proper evidence-based answer. But the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri has begun to research the breed, and hopefully this will be a future objective for them.
Health problems in miniature Persian cats
Miniature Persian cats on the other hand are incredibly delicate animals.
Being Persian, they are prone to all the same health problems of a full sized Persian cat.
Selective breeding for very flattened faces is an increasing problem in Persian cats, and especially so in miniature varieties, because it complements their tiny, smushed-up look.
Unfortunately it frequently results in problems with breathing, grooming, eating, and eye health.
Kidney disease and health screening in cats
Persian cats also prone to Polycystic Kidney Disease.
This is a hereditary disease which can be screened for before cats are mated, and your breeder should be able to provide evidence of this.
You can find out more about the health problems which affect Persian cats in our breed review of Persian cats.
In addition Persian teacup cats are prone to health problems caused by their size.
Miniature cats – the complications of getting smaller
Pet insurers Pet Assure list the known complications of extreme miniaturization as:
- soft and misshapen bones, especially in the jaw and legs
- diminished muscle mass, leading to reduced mobility
- heart murmurs and an enlarged heart
- neurological problems, including seizures
- a soft spot in the skull, making them vulnerable to head trauma
- missing or malformed reproductive organs
The small the cat is, the more of a problem these will be.
Miniature cats – the controversy
Dwarf cats and miniature cats have been created by either deliberately preserving genetic mistakes, or by selectively breeding very small cats.
In the new experimental breeds, both strategies have been used.
This start in life has created a massive division in the cat-loving community.
Whilst TICA has proved willing to acknowledge dwarf and miniature breeds, other agencies, including the Cat Fanciers Association, the Fédération International Féline, and the UK’s Governing Council of the Cat Fancy have all refused, on the basis that it is unethical to regard genetic disease as desirable.
Across Europe, the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals effectively makes breeding dwarf and miniature cats illegal in Europe.
Many vets have also gone on record to speak out against dwarf cats, including Dr Patty Khuly over at VetSTREET.
Until dwarf and miniature cats have been around long enough to conduct long term health studies, we can’t say who is right.
In the meantime, be prepared that if you do decide to bring a teacup kitten home, you may have to defend yourself against some fierce criticism.
Where to buy teacup cats
Owing to their controversial history and unresolved health concerns, dwarf cats and miniature cats are not widely available outside of the United States.
Specialist breeders can be found online, and are preferable to private ads on websites such as Craigslist.
Remember these breeds are new, so the number of responsibly-bred, healthy animals is still small.
This makes them valuable, so many litters will be placed by word of mouth without ever being advertized.
How to buy a healthier teacup cat
Miniature cats sold cheaply through private ads, are far more likely to be runts or emaciated kittens, which should be bigger, but are simply very sick.
A responsible breeder will have the welfare of their cats at the forefront of their minds, and be happy to talk candidly about the health problems facing dwarf and teacup cats.
A breeder who tries to brush these concerns under the carpet is likely to be more interested in profit than animal welfare.
Dwarf cat and teacup kitten prices
Dwarf cats typically cost in the region of $1,000.
Responsibly bred teacup kittens start there, and easily reach $2,000.
The cost of a kitten from a responsible dealer will reflect the costs of screening for known health risks, and careful breeding from a wide gene pool.
If a breeder wants a lot of money, but can’t provide evidence of screening for health problems, or a documented family tree, then alarm bells should ring – more likely than not they are just lining their own pockets.
Finding teacup cats for adoption
Because the numbers of dwarf cats and miniature cats is still small, healthy cats are very valuable, and therefore they are simply not found up for adoption.
If you see a teacup kitten for adoption, the reality is that they are likely to be ill. If they are listed as free, it’s tempting to take them in anyway, but please don’t, as this perpetuates cruel breeding practices.
If you are serious about bringing home a miniature kitten, research breeders and ask to join their waiting lists. Be prepared to be patient, and to part with a significant amount of money.
Alternatives to teacup cats – naturally small cat breeds
If you’ve decided that you (or your wallet) aren’t ready for a miniature cat, don’t be despondent.
These well-established breeds are naturally petite (for scale, an average domestic cats is usually around the 9-11lb mark):
Tipping the scales at 5-8lb, affectionate and playful Singapuras have a characteristic ticked tabby coat, and are known for perching in high places to get a good view of the world.
At a dainty 6-7lb, the friendly and adventurous Cornish Rex only has down hairs in its coat, making them exceptionally silky soft.
Blessed with big eyes and even bigger ears, Devon Rexs are smart, mischievous and loving. They weigh between 6lb and 9lb.
Teacup cats and miniature cats – a summary
They’re nothing new, but this time it seems dwarf cats and miniature cats are here to stay.
They have all the makings of charming and loving pets, but it’s going to be some time before we know for sure how healthy dwarf and miniature breeds are.
If you want to be part of the growth of these breeds, you’ll need commitment and patience.
And finally, more than ever in a breed review, we’ve had to broach the problem of dishonest and inhumane breeding practices in this article.
So if you meet a breeder treating kittens badly, please use this link to ASPCA guidance on reporting animal cruelty.
Do you own a teacup cat or a miniature cat?
We’d love to read your experiences if you have a miniature cat, or a dwarf cat with achondroplasia.
What advice would you give someone looking for their first teacup cat?
Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
Today’s article is by Sarah Holloway. Sarah holds a bachelors degree in Zoology and has a special interest in animal behavior and communication
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Federation Internationale Feline, www.fifecats.org
Hartwell, S., (2013), “Ultra-Typing – A Breed Too Far?”, Messy Beast, www.messybeast.com
Khuly, P., (2012), “Why I Can’t Stand the Hype Over Dwarf Cats”, vetSTREET, www.vetstreet.com
Sellers, S., (2012), “The Munchkin Cat: Phenotypic and Genotypic Characterization”, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri – Columbia, MO
Pet Assure, (2010), “Speciality Cats: Dwarf, Miniature and Teacup Cats”, www.petassure.com
The Cat Fanciers’ Association, www.cfa.org
The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, www.gccfcats.org
The International Cat Association, www.tica.org
Wedderburn, P., (2008), “Cat Breeds – Trophies with hidden problems”, Journal of Small Animal Practice, 49(10): 7-9