Cats usually have five toes on their front paws and four toes on their hind paws. When it comes to polydactyl cats, they can have more than six toes on each paw. Polydactyly is seen at birth and hence, only polydactyl kittens grow up to be polydactyl cats.
Polydactyly is a genetic anomaly that can occur in cats irrespective of their gender, breed, and size, yet it is more common in some geographical areas of the world. This trait is commonly seen in cats found along the eastern coast of North America, Wales, and Southwest England. The presence of polydactyl cats in these areas has an intriguing story behind it.
The mutation may have developed in cats that originally resided in Boston but it is believed that during the 1600s, the English puritans took polydactyl cats on their ships to Boston.
Since this mutation can be passed on from parents to offsprings the number of polydactyls increased and the offsprings are believed to have traveled on trading ships from Boston to places like Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, Yarmouth, etc leading to higher incidences of polydactyl cats in these areas.
Polydactyl cats are also known as ‘ships cats’ in Norway as their extra toe is believed to give them better balance during rough weather on the ships. Sailors considered it lucky to have them on a ship and they were also considered better at hunting mouses compared to the ordinary cats. Due to all of the above reasons these polydactyl kittens joined European sailors and early British settlers on their trips to America leading to their high incidence in the Eastern part of the North American continent.
Polydactyl cats are also known as Mitten cats as their paws look like cute mittens due to the extra toe that looks like a thumb (which of course, is not opposable like ours). Another name for these polydactyl kittens and cats is ‘Hemingway cats’. Hemingway polydactyl cats were the name given to these cats with extra toe beans referring to the writer Ernest Hemingway, best-selling author of the book ‘The old man and the sea’.
History of Polydactyl Cats
Ernest Hemingway made his home on the little island of Key West in Florida, where he shared it with almost 50 cats that included a six-toed polydactyl. The six-toed polydactyls were named Snowball or Snow White. Snowball/SnowWhite was given to Hemingway as a gift by a ship sailor, who was his drinking buddy by the name of Stanley Dexter in the 1930s.
In the future, due to unrestricted breeding among the descendants of local cats with those of polydactyl cats, it resulted in a high number of polydactyl kittens on the island. Another famous person who was linked with polydactyl cats was President Theodore Roosevelt who had a polydactyl kitten as a white house resident.
Historically, 40% of the total Maine Coon population was found to have polydactyl cat paw and it was believed that this mutation served them a purpose of a ‘Snowshoe’ which also gave it the name ‘Snowshoe foot’. The polydactyl cat paw helped them walk better in the snow. Local folks also believed that their extra toe helped them catch live fish out of streams.
With almost half of the Maine coon population showing this trait of polydactyl cat paws, Maine coons were considered as a polydactyl cat breed.
No matter how adorable the above stories may seem, there is no evidence that polydactyly gives an upper hand or any natural selective benefits to the affected cats. Hence, breeding standards require cats to have normal foot configuration and polydactyly was bred out from Maine coons eventually.
Things To Know
Polydactyly affects the front paws of the cats more often than the rear. There are a lot of variations seen when it comes to the extra toe bean of the polydactyl kittens. Most often the cats have well-formed extra toes but sometimes they may just have an enlargement of the inside digit, making it look like a thumb.
Polydactylism is a simple autosomal dominant trait. Being autosomal means it is not gender-related and can be found in both genders. Since it’s a dominant trait, if one parent exhibits polydactylism there’s a 50% chance of the offspring inheriting this trait. This gene, even though dominant, shows incomplete dominance, meaning the offspring won’t have the same configuration of the extra toe like that of the parent.
Most polydactyl cats carry the gene for normal toes which means even if you mate two polydactyl cats, there’s a little chance that they’ll produce offspring with normal toes. The maximum number of toes ever found on a cat is 32, with 8 toes on each paw, reported in 1974.
Is Polydactyly Harmful to Cats?
Polydactyly is not harmful to your kitty. It’ll just make trimming your cat’s nails a bit more of a tedious task than it already is. Although polydactyly isn’t harmful there’s another condition that can lead to the presence of extra toes in your cat, known as the Feline Radial Hypoplasia.
In Feline Radial Hypoplasia, the extra toe develops right next to the normal toe of the cat which results in extremely large and flat feet. If these cats are bred, severe paw deformities may be seen in the offspring.
Remember to buy a scratch post for your cat as the extra toe can do a lot of harm to your furniture.
Can the Extra Toe Benefit Your Cat in Any Way?
They might not make your cat a Supercat but they do provide little benefits sometimes. Since the polydactyls have wider paws they can maintain better balance on various surfaces. It also gives them a little added benefit while catching hold of their prey, which again isn’t much of a benefit if your cat is a house cat who eats packaged food and does not need to hunt.
Are There Any Other Names for Polydactyl Kittens?
Other than the names like Mitten cats, Hemingway cats, or Snow Footed cats, polydactyls are also known as Conch cats, Snowshoe cats, Thumb cats, Cardi cats, Boxing cats and Six fingered cats.
Current World Record
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, a polydactyl ginger tabby named Jake holds the world record for the most toes with a whopping 28 toes. Jake has seven toes on each paw, with each toe having its claw, pad, and bone structure.
A Minnesota cat named Paws tied with Jake for the record of a cat with most toes. She too has 28 toes, three extra on each forepaw and one extra on each back paw.
What Makes a Six-Toed Cat or a Seven-Toed Cat Special?
Six-toed cats and seven-toed cats are the most commonly found version of polydactyl cats.
Among sailors, a 6 toed cat was considered lucky as they were better hunters on board as well as balanced themselves better during the rough weather with the help of their extra toe.
Many people consider six-toed cats and seven-toed cats as better athletes as they have an extra grip on things that aids in hunting, climbing, and maintaining their balance on certain surfaces.
6 toed cats and 7 toed cats are considered lucky in many parts of the world as they are thought to be better mousers than the non-polydactyl cats, which proves to be a boon for people who suffer losses due to destruction caused by rats and mice.
They are met with extra love and amusement due to this quirk and become a conversation starter among car lovers.
Also Read: Curly Haired Cats : Unusual or Unique?
Polydactyl Cat Breeds
1. The American Polydactyl
American polydactyl, also known as the Hemingway cat displays the unique mutation we mentioned above. This mutation leads to the kitties being born with extra toes. Even though it is a genetic defect, The American Polydactyl cat is recognized by a few cat fanciers’ clubs and you can find them anywhere.
They have high energy and are extremely social. They respond well to training due to their intelligent nature and are considered to be one of the healthy breeds of cats and don’t face health issues often. There may be some paw and joint issues if their claws or toes grow irregularly but that’s rare.
American polydactyl kittens cost around 500$ to 1500$ depending on the breeder, quality of breeding, and some other factors.
They are suitable for cat-loving families and are good with older children who respect their space. They even get along with other pets in the house. They are lovable, fun-loving, and smart with even temperament. Some of them are calm, sweet, and laid back whereas the others may be lively and active. Also, they are intelligent and make excellent hunters.
These cats can have any coat color. American polydactyls have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years. They stand 8 to 12 inches tall and weigh approximately 15 to 20 pounds.
Males are larger than females with blockier faces. Females tend to be shy and may attach to one person more than the others.
When it comes to grooming, like most cats they groom themselves often and you may just need to bathe them once a month. Their short hair does not require tangling or matting so you need not worry about brushing them.
Get them neutered before they reach sexual maturity as they’ll start spraying around the house and mark. They pick up concepts quickly and get easily litter trained.
2. Maine Coon
Maine coons are one of the largest domestic cats. Being among the fluffy and cutest cat breeds they are referred to as gentle giants. They are among the oldest natural cat breeds and are the state cat of Maine, USA. Originally 40% of Maine coons were polydactyls and hence they are noted among the polydactyl cat breeds.
Maine coons get along well with people of all ages, kids, and other pets sharing the house. They are cited to have a sweet, playful, gentle, intelligent, and sociable demeanor which makes them very dog-like. They are friendly and vocal.
Maine Coon carts have a medium to long hair coat with a leonine ruff around the head. They come in more than 50 color combinations. Their coat is generally soft and silky and requires minimum brushing and grooming.
Hereditary health concerns in Maine coons include HCM, hip dysplasia, and spinal muscular atrophy.
Maine coons weigh around 8 to 20 pounds with a height of 10 to 16 inches. They have a lifespan of 12-14 years.
Polydactyl or not every cat is special and unique with a personality of its own. We always recommend adoption over buying as it gives the animal a second chance at life. We hope you get a kitty home irrespective of these little quirks. They will surely make a great companion and add joy to your life.
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