Dwarf cats are nothing new; since the mid-twentieth century, cat breeds with embedded dwarfism have been developed for commercial sale. However, the rise of popular photo-sharing platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) has led to an increased awareness of these impossibly cute animals. Dwarf cats are domestic felines which have the condition of dwarfism due to a genetic mutation.
Unlike cats who are simply undersized, dwarf cats—known affectionately as Munchkin cats—display symptoms of osteochondrodysplasia, a genetic disorder of bone and cartilage. Put simply, these little guys have noticeably short legs. Therefore, small cats who may be marketed as dwarfs or Munchkins, such as Toy and Teacup Persians, are not truly dwarfs.
The Munchkin is the original breed of dwarf cat; the International Cat Association (TICA) gave recognition to the breed in 1994, along with a Persian-Munchkin hybrid known as the Minuet. However, unlike TICA, most cat registries and pet associations do not recognize any dwarf cat as a legitimate breed. The animals are therefore excluded from most major pet shows and contests. In any case, the cats are largely an American phenomenon and not widely popular outside of the United States.
The fact that cat dwarfism is an American phenomenon points to a larger issue within the community. The ethics of Munchkin cat selective breeding are hotly debated, and many countries prohibit the animals in order to dissuade the unnecessary cruelty caused during the breeding process. As a result, the Federation Internationale Feline prohibits breeds based on dwarfism, specifically mentioning the Munchkin as an example of unacceptable manipulation of genetic disease. Furthermore, the animals are banned under the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals and have been strongly condemned in Cat World, a popular British magazine.
If you are interested in adopting a Munchkin cat, do not go to a breeder. Instead, keep a close eye on your nearby shelters; these animals are popular, and the genetic mutations occur with relative frequency in the wild. With a bit of luck and patience, you can have a pygmy cat of your own without supporting the inhumane industry that created them.