Recently there has been something of a fashion for tiny cats, in other words those which are much smaller than normal cats, and even smaller than the smallest breeds of cat such as the Devon Rex and Singapura. Some people have termed all of these cats 'Miniature Cats. So what are miniature cats, and where can you find them?
There are three distinct types of cats which are often all called miniature cats. The first of these are a group of fairly new breeds together called 'Dwarf Cats'. These are cats which are fairly small, but particularly characterised by their extremely short legs. Then there are another group of cats called 'Teacup Cats'. These cats are small, but unlike the Dwarf Cats, they are normally proportioned. Then, just to confuse the issue, there is a group of cats termed 'Miniature Cats', which are normal cats that have been selectively bred to get smaller and smaller. Let us take a look at each of these in turn.
The best known of these short legged breeds is the Munchkin, whose short legs are caused by chondrodysplastic dwarfism, a specific mutation which means the kittens are born with very short legs. There are now several other breeds of Dwarf Cats, generally developed by crossing Munchkins with different normally proportioned cats. Among these are the Genetta, Snookum, and Napoleon...which are all so rare that you probably have not heard of them before. Note that these cats are of normal size, though fairly small; they merely look very small because of the short legs.
These are small sized cats of normal proportions, with the size being caused by another type of dwarfism. When the mutation causing these tiny cats was discovered, the popularity of them spread dramatically in some circles. Most of the Teacup Cats currently being bred are tiny Persians – sometimes referred to as 'Toy Persians' - though there are rumours of the same genetic mutation having been found in other breeds, notably Bengals and Siamese. But it is unlikely that these exist at present, and any advertised are likely to be small sized normal cats being sold by unscrupulous breeders.
Finally, some breeders are selectively breeding for small size. There is nothing new in this practice; dog and cat breeders have been selecting for particular characteristics for many years, and it occurs with other domestic animals too. But the fashion for tiny cats has probably increased this trend in the feline world. Again, it seems to be most common in Persians at the present time.
All of the cats mentioned above should have the same characteristics as normal sized cats. But they may need to be treated with special care. New owners of Munchkins are often advised to keep them indoors, and this probably applies to all these extra-small cats. Their small size makes them somewhat more delicate than full sized cats, and they may require more care and attention. It is often recommended that you do not take a teacup or miniature cat home from its breeder until it is at least five months old.
Many breeders will insist that these cats are as healthy as normal sized cats, and suffer from no particular health issues. But this is not true in all cases. Munchkin cats tend to be fairly healthy, and the short legs do not appear to cause problems. But there have been reports of spinal issues and deformities of the rib cage. Of course, if this should prove conclusively to be the case, it would apply equally to other dwarf breeds. Not much evidence exists so far, but many cat registries, including the GCCF, refuse to accept any of them at the moment due to concerns over health issues.
Teacup cats are said to be prone to a variety of health problems, including muscle weakness, heart issues, neurological problems, and reproductive problems. The result of all of this tends to be a shortened lifespan. They need to be treated very carefully, and are much more vulnerable generally than normal cats.
Miniature cats born by selective breeding are generally healthy, but will of course be rather fragile owning to their small size. Prospective owners should also ensure that breeders have avoided excessive inbreeding in selecting cats for their miniature breeding programme. But since most of these cats are Persians they may well suffer from all the usual Persian health problems, with the flattened faces leading to eye, breathing, grooming, and eating issues.
Despite all of the above, you may still want to acquire one of these cats. This could be quite difficult, as none of them are likely to be available in the UK, and most can only be found in the USA. If you decide to import one, take care. Many are sold through private ads, and there are a number of unscrupulous breeders around who will try to sell a small sized normal cat and pass it off as either a teacup cat or a miniature cat. Talk to the breeder about their breeding programme, and the health of their cats. Keep well away from any breeder who refuses to discuss these issues with you.
These cats are likely to be expensive. All of them are likely to cost over $1000, and frequently double that amount. Cheap ones are likely to be simply runts of a normal sized cat litter, so steer clear.
After reading all of the above, you may feel, as many of us do, that breeding these small-sized cats is not a good thing. That is certainly the opinion of many cat organisations, including the GCCF and International Cat Care. After all, cats are beautiful and healthy animals which can generally take care of themselves. Do we really want to change this by breeding cats which can't look after themselves properly and which have health issues, just for the sake of fashion? If you want a small cat, there are a number of fairly small breeds around. Of course, every individual needs to decide this for themselves, but it is worth thinking about carefully before acquiring one of these cats.