Cats are pretty cool but there’s none cooler than a cat with extra toes. Most cats have 18 toes but some have a few extra making them polydactyl.
Polydactyl is of Greek origin, “poly” means many and “daktylos” means digits. Being polydactyl is not unusual in cats. Most polydactyl’s have extra toes on their front paws, often looking like thumbs. Here’s some interesting facts about these beloved felines.
Polydactyly is a genetic abnormality in felines. Most cats have five toes on their front paws and four toes on their back paws. A polydactyl kitten may have up to eight toes on any given paw. This abnormality is passed down through a dominant gene. If one parent is polydactyl and the other isn’t, there is a 40 to 50 percent chance the kittens will have extra digits.
Ernest Hemingway was given a white polydactyl cat, named Snow White, by a sea captain. Being a prolific cat lover, Hemingway collected more than 50 cats from his beloved Snow White. Almost half of which had extra digits. Interestingly, most of the cats were named after authors. These kitties today are often referred to as “Hemingway cats”. You can visit the Hemingway Museum to see the cat colony that still thrives there.
The Guinness Records lists the polydactyl cat with the most toes at 28. He is a ginger tabby, from Canada, named Jake. Each paw has seven toes. Each with its own claw, pad and bone structure.
Polydactyl is a common trait in Maine Coons. This trait is not as predominant as in the past but, at one point, almost 40 percent of Maine Coons had extra toes. This trait is more common in cats found in western England, Canada, Wales and the eastern United States. Although the mutation can arise randomly in any cat population.
Sailors believed that cats with lots of toes brought good luck to ships. They felt these large feet provided better balance and made for excellent mousers. These felines were often called gypsy cats. It is thought that the first polydactyl cats were brought to America by Puritans in the 1600s. The first scientific recording of polydactyl cats was in 1868.
A severe condition called Feline Radial Hypoplasia mimics polydactyl. It may cause the formation on additional toes but is not caused by the same gene. With Radial Hypoplasia, the extra toes are immediately adjacent to the normal toes making the cat look like they have overly large, flat feet. This is often referred to as patty feet or hamburger feet. Breeding cats with radial hypoplasia can result in kittens with underdeveloped or twisted forelegs.
There are two breeds recognized by some cat fancier clubs- the American Polydactyl and the Maine Coon Polydactyl. There is also a strain of polydactyl cats in Ithaca, New York known as Ithacats. Some of the most common nick-names are mitten cat, mitten-foot cats, boxing cat, conch cat, cardi-cats, snowshoe cat, thumb cats, six-fingered cat, and the best-known, Hemingway cats.