Cat Health Issues

For dwarf cats..

Abnormal cat breeds
Abnormal cat breeds. Munchkin. Photo copyright Helmi Flick
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Cat health issues are important to all cat owners and lovers, particularly in respect of dwarf cats. Like me you probably would like to know as much as you can about the health of a dwarf cat. I have said on the leading page that they are generally healthy. Here I add some detail on the matter of cat health issues and dwarf cats.

Caveat: I am not a vet. This page has been very well researched, however. It is intended to be an objective look at this topic. If I have made a mistake please tell me by going to the contact page and emailing me. There is no substitute for seeing a vet. Also, please note this:- I am not saying that all dwarf cats have a problem. I am saying that some dwarf cats (perhaps a v.small minority) may present with other physical abnormalities other than short limbs. As I said dwarf cats are generally healthy.Responsible dwarf cat breeders will take action to minimize any negative aspects of the dwarfism gene. The Dwarf Cat Association responsibly state: “We always recommend that you spend time in email, on the phone or in person with the breeder that you choose your new family member from, so that you make that choice with as much knowledge of your new baby’s breeder & birthplace as possible. As in all transactions with someone you may not know well, follow the doctrine of Caveat Emptor, learn all you can before you buy. TDCA is available to answer any breed questions you may have…”This article is simply meant to assist you in formulating relevant and useful questions when you talk to a breeder. A good breeder will give transparent and open answers.

The question that you may have asked is this – is the dwarfism confined to the length of the limbs (in which case there will it seems be no ill effects on other organs of the body) or are other bone structures in the body also misshaped and therefore an underlying cause of a medical condition (i.e. are there cat health issues)?

In “genetics speak” mutations of genes (as is the case for dwarf cats) are referred to as “defects”. For breeders, defects produce the very thing that makes the cat desirable so the term is re-phrased “anomaly”. Although the vast majority of breeders present the facts objectively, they are in business. As for all businesses they will present the facts in the best light for them. This is normal and to be expected.

It is interesting that we find dwarfism in humans unattractive. This is because the underlying cause of what makes other humans attractive is the other person’s ability to produce healthy offspring (i.e. attraction is ultimately driven by survival and the survival of ones offspring).

Humans, though, like the appearance of small, interesting, unusual, rare and compact things and this includes animals because a lot of humans don’t think of animals as fellow creatures but as things to be owned and possessed.

The recurring issue with dwarf cats (meaning those with the anomalous genetic makeup) is that you like their appearance but do they have more cat health issues compared to an ordinary or normal cat?

What causes a cat to be a dwarf cat? The Dwarf Cat Association state on their website

“The gene for achondroplasia, the most common type of human dwarfism, was discovered in 1994. Achondroplasia is caused by a gene mutation that is the same in 98% of the cases. The mutation, affecting growth, especially in the long bones, occurs early in fetal development. It is believed that an achondroplasia-like gene is responsible for the dwarfing in the Munchkin & all hybrid breeds based upon the Munchkin breed.”

In humans the clinical features of achondroplasia are:

  • nonproportional dwarfism (short stature)
  • shortening of the proximal limbs (termed rhizomelic shortening)
  • short fingers and toes
  • a large head with prominent forehead
  • small midface with a flattened nasal bridge
  • spinal kyphosis (convex curvature) or lordosis (concave curvature)
  • varus (bowleg) or valgus (knock knee) deformities
  • frequent ear infections (due to Eustachian tube blockages), sleep apnea (which can be central or obstructive), and hydrocephalus
  • midface hypoplasia

This looks pretty daunting and suggests that there are a lot of health issues for humans suffering from this condition. Does this translate into cat health issues?

It seems that the clinical features for cats with dwarfism differs to those that are evident in humans with the same condition.

Sarah Hartwell confirms that “achondroplastic dwarfism” is characterised by short legs and enlarged head”. While pseudoachondroplasia is characterised by short limbs and a normal head.

As the Muchkin (the founding dwarf breed) has a normal head Sarah Hartwell says that this suggests that the Munchkin suffers from pseudoachondroplasia.

The prefix “pseudo” before achondroplasia means that the disorder resembles achondroplasia but is actually different in that the symptoms are the same as for achondroplasia except the head is normal size.

In a debateable classification (used by vets and breeders) of genetic anomalies, achondroplasia is considered semi-lethal and cosmetic. Cosmetic means medical treatment is not required but there are medical or physical repercussions and some limitations. This would indicate that dwarf cats have cat health issues.

Sarah Hartwell says that Munchkins can suffer from lordosis (inward curvature of the spine – the spine drops down around the shoulder blades) and pectus excavatum (funnel chest – flattened ribcage), indicating cat health issues may be in evidence.

Lordosis in humans can be minimized by the use of a cross trainer a device which helps to straighten the spine; also exercise helps. Surgery is the last resort.

(The term “lordosis” is also used to describe the raised posture of a female cat in heat when she is assuming a mating position.)

Lordosis causes misalignment in the thoracic region of the spine, which is the upper part of the spine including the vertebrae that connect to the ribs.

The spine dips down compressing the heart lungs and trachea. When severe, the kitten will die apparently at 10-11 weeks of age. The cats appear swaybacked or humpbacked. The condition may be due to shortened muscles that cradle the spine. Some breeders refuse to accept that this condition exists. Breeders need to do genetic studies to see if this condition can be bred out. Not enough is known about the secondary problems surrounding the dwarf gene in cats. How many die of this in breeding programs? When mild it causes infections, pneumonia and breathing and cardiac distress. When very mild, the cat can lead a normal life.

Breeders need to do studies to see if this condition can be bred out and if not perhaps thought should it seems be given to the breeding programme generally.

Pectus in humans (and I think it is fair and helpful to look at this from the human standpoint as there is less research data on these conditions in relation to cats) can cause pain and result in breathing problems, if it is a severe case. There is a procedure to help correct it. This may indicate that there could be cat health issues for cats with the same condition. A cat’s chest cavity is normally oval dwarf cat normal chest cavity while in pectus the chest cavity is narrower top to bottom, the sternum being displaced upwards dwarf cat pectus chest cavity {see the diagrams and x-ray picture}.

cat health pectus chest x-rayIn severe cases of pectus the reduced space in the chest results in a compression of the heart and lungs. This in turn leads to aversion to exercise, breathing difficulties, coughing, weight loss or failure to gain weight; in other words cat health issues. There appears to be no information as to the frequency of occurrence of this condition. Clearly then in severe examples of pectus there are accompanying cat health issues.

I believe that breeders of dwarf cats refer to these conditions as “LP”.

Confused…? Well you might be because I’m still not sure if dwarf cats have a higher frequency of cat health issues than a normally proportioned cat and that is the question we set out to answer.

It would seem that good breeding is the key as to whether lordosis and pectus occur. I’m sure good breeders try to track these problems to minimize their occurrence. Although as they are part of the genetic make up of a dwarf cat it would seem that these conditions cannot be eradicated. If you have views on this and if I am incorrect, please leave a comment.

However, in conclusion, if I were homing a dwarf cat I would at least have a thought for these conditions before proceeding and to check for cat health issues. This is good practice anyway and, as mentioned, recommended by The Dwarf Cat Association and by good breeders. Also, by working with a responsible breeder who will speak openly about health issues, you are encouraging sound breeding practices. This is all for the better for dwarf cat breeders and the association as it must always be wise to air (through discussion) cat health issues that people are concerned about.

There is still not enough information about dwarfism in cats it seems. This article is intended to help not criticise.

One final thing; I would suggest that you instruct your own vet, if that is practical, to carry out tests on your intended adopted dwarf cat, as this would provide an independent appraisal.


  • Wikipedia
  • Yahoo Answers
  • Sarah Hartwell, MessyBeasts
  • who refer to:


Boudrieau R et al. Pectus excavatum in dogs and cats. Comp Contin Edu Pract Vet 12(3): 341-355, 1990

Fossum TW et al. Pectus excavatum in eight dogs and six cats. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 25:595-605, 1989

McAnulty JF, Harvey CE. Repair of pectus excavatum by percutaneous suturing and temporary external coaptation in a kitten. J Am Vet Med Assoc 194(8): 1065-1067, 1989

Sturgess C. Flat chested kittens – does taurine have a role to play? Burmese Cat Club News (U.K.), vol 12, no 8, 1995

Sturgess CP, Waters L, Gruffydd-Jones TJ et al. Investigation of the association between whole blood and tissue taurine levels and the development of thoracic deformities in neonatal Burmese kittens. Vet Rec 141:566-570, 1997

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18 thoughts on “Cat Health Issues”

  1. I had not mentioned the issue with the dwarfism gene because at this point I had hoped that it was a mute point. Dr. Solveig Pflueger a geneticist which is on the TICA genetics committee had received some Munchkins when the breeders were first starting the breed. Dr Pflueger had done multiple exrays after studying them for a lengthy time, and deemed these cats to be healthy with no deformities. The Munchkin have been in Championship status (final status) for many years now and the designer breeds have been around a few years now too. At this point there is no issue about the dwarf gene since its questionable health issue was cleared so many years ago. The question about deformity in a dwarf cat was asked and answered so many year ago that to question it now is my opinion a waste of time. Anyone who wants to get answers to this subject would simply need to search for the history of the Munchkin cat. The Cat Channel has an article on its website
    I have a brief history about the Napoleon is on my webpage and my cattery Face Book page named Purwaky Cattery and there are links for the other websites on my FB page for more details about the breed. It mentions the issue of the dwarf gene being cleared by Dr Pflueger many years ago.
    The Napoleon breeders have moved way past that history now and they are in the process of trying to move the Napoleon up through TICA. The breed is presently in Provisional status and about to go to another board meeting at the end of May 2013 (this month). The Nap breeders have met all the criteria to go to the board this month which accounts for the required number of cats and breeders in all the regions along with other requirements. Napoleons have been allowed to be shown in Provisional status but not for titles yet. There have been enough Napoleons shown to meet that criteria too and the breed standard was changed years ago per the boards request regarding the wording of the standard. If the board denies the breed again it will be most likely based on the personal opinions of the judges. I my opinion that is not a fair way to judge a breed. I think the breed should be based on meeting the requirements of the association and and the uniqueness of the breed. The breed standard has been revised to describe the Napoleon as a breed unique to its parent breeds and to any other breed in existence. The Nap has acquired the best qualities of its parent breeds which IMO makes it better than them. I think that once enough of the public finds out about the breed that it may surpass the Persian in popularity. Since the Persian and the Exotic are first and second in popularity the Napoleon my become the most popular breed given time for the word to be spread about the breed. Most of the Nap breeders have long waiting lists and feel that there are not enough Nap breeders now to fill the demand for the standard (short legged) Nap. The long legged (non-standard) looks like a baby doll faced or traditional Persian which has become popular to those who are willing to pass on the short legged version.

    • Just for the record your comment was not published immediately because it has a link in it and the program thinks it might be spam requiring moderation because spam comments have links in them. Your comment is not spam but the computer can’t read English. I will respond properly to your comment soon.

  2. How would a reader know if Sara Hartwell was knowledgeable about genetics? Most people who have knowledge in a specific area usually have a degree or some other credits to their name. Does she have a degree is this area? I have been studying genetics for over 20+ but I don’t claim to be any sort of an expert. I could set up a site and write articles too. Writing articles also does not prove that anyone is an expert in any specific area. When some people read your articles the are impressed with them, but do they know that the information contained in the articles are correct? Or are they impressed because it is a well written article and your statements convinced the reader that the statements within it seem to be true?
    Just because you have read many of the authors articles written by Sara or have worked with someone for many years does not mean that you know how much knowledge someone has about a specific area like genetics. I was merely reading articles about the various breeds and came across several statements that I knew were incorrect and thus stated so. After researching some of Sara Hartwell’s information I came across a statement were she admits that she is not a genetics expert. Here statement about genetics were incorrect and I was simply pointing them out. Since she is not a genetics specialist then why are you quoting here statements as though she is? If I were going to quote a statement about genetics in an article I was writing, I would look for statements from a University or person with a degree in genetics. I would not quote a person who clearly states that they are not a specialist or expert on that subject.
    From my research I have not found that the Napoleon, or any other dwarf breed is prone to any predisposed decease like the flat chested disorders. I have found that these disorders are some of the disorders that are in all cats. This means that they can occur in any breed or non-breed (domestics)of cats.
    The Nap breeders are watching for all the health problems that can occur in cats and they are keeping records so that some day this information could be useful to breed out of all cats. I don’t understand why you have singled out dwarf breeds to write about in your articles that may be prone to these deceases. Singling them out and writing about a general cat decease gives the public a false impression that this decease is prone in this group of cat breeds and thus they should avoid getting one of these breeds for this reason. That was my impression when I read your article.
    Why did you pick out just the flat chested deceases to write about in your article about dwarf cats? Why not add all the deceases that cats in general are prone to have? Why not add all these deceases that all cats are prone to have in all the breeds of cats that you are writing articles about? This is a more fair thing to do than to pick out a specific group of breeds of
    cats and to pick out a couple related deceases and state that these breeds are prone to these deceases. Even if this is true the way you worded the article did not make it clear the these breeds are no more prone to it than any other breed. I think that is a fair question. If you go to Dr Susan Lions webpage, she states that this is not a breed specific decease. Why did you not make this clear in your article? You seemed to avoid making this clear throughout your article. Instead you quoted a non genetics expert (without a degree) to state the opposite.
    Yes I am writing in defense of breeders, because I am a breeder. And I am writing in defense to the group of dwarf breeds because I have researched these breeds and I have decided to breed some of them. I did not make my decision lightly. I made the decision based on the information that the breed that I have chosen to breed, has no known breed specific deceases. After surfing the internet and finding information about the breed, I came across a group of articles that contained information that stated incorrectly about the Napoleon breed. Which articles should I believe? The other articles from people and Universities with degrees and the breeders who have helped to create the breed or your articles?
    As a breeder myself for 28 years, my experience does not correspond with some of the information contained in some of your articles. I did however admit to some of the health problems I had with the Persians on the Persian health pages and I found that some of the information in your article to be somewhat true on some specific occasions. But I must point out as you did that not all Persians have these health problems and not all the time. I do not in anyway claim to be an expert in any area of cats. I only make my statements from my specific experiences as I know them to be true. I am not a creative writer such as someone that makes up fictional stories for entertainment purposes. My motives are simply to state that from my experience that some of your articles contain incorrect information and I am questioning some of your quotes and some of your sources. As a reader that is all I can do. And as a reader and a breeder I am powerless to do any more. Since the Internet contains many articles and pages with incorrect or false information, the reader has no power to do anything more than to point out that some of the information is incorrect in a reply such as this. I suggest to all readers who read information on the Internet, please do not automatically assume that the information is true. Check out the sources yourself before you make any important decisions.

    • Hi Rebecca. It is OK what you have said and to be expected. I don’t mind and even like it to a certain extent because it is a good dialogue. Polite argument is good as it airs thoughts and beliefs.

      Of course, not everything I write is true and correct but then nothing really is anywhere. There is always something that is disputed or about which people disagree and so on.

      All one can do it be careful, research well and be respectful. I hope I have done that all the time. Even the experts get things wrong and it is not rare either.

      The reason why I mentioned health issues on dwarf cats is because that is the subject of the page. The page is about that and nothing else. Other pages on the site discuss other issues and present a very balanced viewpoint and of course such as you can balance things when needed. That is why I like your comments. They add something that in the end helps the page.

      To be honest a lot of people criticise the dwarf cats because they are based on a health problem: dwarfism. That is why the CFA don’t accept them. I have not gone into that or been too hard on dwarf cat breeders or the cat itself. I think that was decent of me 😉 I hope you agree.

  3. “Sarah Hartwell is not a breeder or a geneticist. She has no knowledge of cat genetics. ”

    Dear Rebecca – I may not be a cat breeder, but I’ve been studying feline genetics for almost 30 years. Which is a long way from having “no knowledge of genetics”. I contributed material to the 4th Edition “Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians” and sometimes geneticists email me with “have you come across this?” questions.

    • Sarah, I found Rebecca’s statement very odd.

      To say that you have no knowledge of cat genetics is simply absurd.

      I have read a lot of your pages, and your writing is careful and very informed.

      • Totally agreed. Rebecca is being defensive of cat breeders. Understandable but it has resulted in a slightly insulting comment with respect to Sarah Hartwell and I don’t like that.

    • You are considered an authority on almost everything to do with the domestic, stray and feral cat. Rebecca is wrong. She is defending the breeding fraternity as I am sure you have guessed, which is odd because I wrote this article in a very respectful and gentle way (for me!).

    • This is to Sarah or Rebeca, I am not a long time cat breeder but live on a farm and have breed many types of animals over the years and had many feral /barn cats and never have seen this before. I have Bengals and have been raising them for 6 years now. I have a male kitten that is 6 weeks old I notice that his spine behind the should blades started dipping.(pectus excavatum or lordosis) I think that what you are calling it. I took him to the vet and she had never seen this before. Otherwise he behaves like a normal kitten. I don’t know what to think or where to get information on this. there isn’t much on the internet about treatments or about this please help me out if you can. Micheal thank you for writing about this even if my cats aren’t dwarfs. Apparently it can happen in any breed.

      • Hi Heidi, yes it can happen to cats other than dwarfs. I surprised to read that it has occurred in a Bengal cat. It is the first time I have heard this.

        I have a page on it here:

        You may have seen it. It was written years ago and is quite comprehensive and concerns dwarf cat health issues.

        Thanks for commenting.

  4. Jeri Newman was referred to as a man in the article regarding the Lambkin which is a hybridization between the Selkirk Rex and the Munchkin. There are some misspellings of Miss Depesto’s name in this article as well. I will look through your articles to see if I can find the picture of the “curly Brit” again.

    • She was 😉 I apologise. I think that has been corrected. There were some misspellings. At the time I was under a lot of time pressure. My tying is faster and more accurate these days (touch type)! I will recheck the page today.

  5. I meant to say that Jeri Newman is NOT a man but she is a woman. And as a last note, the cat she used to start the Selkirk Rex breed is Miss Depesto not Miss Drpresto. Thank you

  6. You have several statements within your article about dwarfism that are misleading. Dwarfism is not directly related to pectus excavatum or lordosis. I bred Persians, Exotics and Selkirk Rex between 1985 to about 2006 and through the years I had about 3 kittens born with a flat chest. I have been breeding Napoleons for about 3-4 years and I have not had any kittens with this problem. These two conditions can occur in most if not all breeds of cats whether purebreds or not. Do you have documented proof that these problems occur only in dwarf cats or that there is a way to genetically breed this out of a purebred breeding program?

    Your article about Jeri Newman who is responsible for creating the Selkirk Rex breed is a man and referred to him several times. Jeri Newman is a woman. You have a picture of a curly hair British Shorthair. There is no such breed. Once a British SH is bred to a Selkirk Rex, it can only be a Selkirk Rex whether it has curly hair or straight hair. The You also have some grammar and spelling errors. Do you have someone that edits or verifies facts for your articles?

    Sarah Hartwell writes articles and runs the website Messybeast in Britain.
    While Messybeast will try to answer general email queries (or refer you to an appropriate source of information), it is not qualified to give veterinary or specialist advice. Please refer to the webpage:
    Sarah Hartwell is not a breeder or a geneticist. She has no knowledge of cat genetics.

    I understand your good intentions for the need to write articles whatever they may be but the articles that I have read about the dwarf cats and Selkirk Rex have several incorrect facts. People who read these articles will be misinformed and in my opinion this does not help but hinders the discussion about these 2 articles specifically the articles about the dwarf cats.

    I would suggest that you gain your information about genetics from U C Davis or Cornell University. I am sure Terri Harris would love to give you correct information about the dwarf breeds. Thank you for your time. Rebecca Warren owner of Purwaky Cattery

    • Dwarfism is not directly related to pectus excavatum or lordosis.

      I know and I have not said that. I have said there is a possibility of this disease occurring.

      About Jeri Newman, on the pages you refer to I have not referred to her as a man. Please tell me where I have done that. I can’t find this.

      You have a picture of a curly hair British Shorthair. There is no such breed.

      The cat you refer to is a Selkirk Rex! I simply don’t know what you are talking about. Please explain yourself. All your comments don’t make sense to me.

      I am very careful in my research. I appreciate your input and visitation to PoC but at the moment I can’t agree that your criticism is justified.

    • Hi Rebecca, thanks for visiting and commenting. I wrote this article about 6 years ago. It was one the first cat articles I wrote and I was very careful and respectful of the dwarf cats and the Dwarf Cat Association. I believe I was fair. The page was carefully researched. Sarah Hartwell can be relied upon to provide quality information and I have credited all the sources carefully. Not many people do that.

    • _To whom it may concern-
      Was it not clearly stated that not enough information has been tested & documented concerning Dwarf Cats? Let the experts research and carry out a genetic program to breed out the anomaly’s in cross-breeds to prevent future mistakes and then post your own Proffessional results to this reputable and respectable link for yourselves. No one knows all-that’s why we as humans share our thoughts-discoveries & concerns. As for the Photo of a >British SH is bred to a Selkirk Rex, it can only be a Selkirk Rex whether it has curly hair or straight hair.So what about the photo> It is still derived from the same gene pool_ is it not? correct me if I am wrong.And lastly-I must caveat on the typos which may be ” DISCOVERED” herein.I am handicapped. Every cat Lover who visits this web site enters for a good reason__Because right or wrong-they Love Cats *Let’s take ego out of the equation.


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