Written by Ioana Busuioc, June 2019
All photos generously provided by Debby Harold
Cats typically have 18 toes, 5 on each front paw, and four on each rear paw. Polydactyl cats, however, have extra toes typically on their front paws. Interestingly enough, a polydactyl cat may have extra toes on their front paws, but not on their rear paws, however, if they have them on their rear paws, they always have them on their front paws.
Historically, they were popular with the shipping trade in the northeastern part of the United States, as well as in Canada, particularly in Nova Scotia; the majority of polydactyl cats are still found there. They were considered good luck, especially to sailors, and it was believed that their extra toes gave them better balance on ships.
Their name originated from the Greek words poly (many), and daktulos (fingers), however, they have numerous other names, such as “mitten cats”, “thumb cats”, and “Hemingway cats”. There is no particular breed for poly cats, however, Maine Coons are found to have a 40% chance of being born polydactyl. Tales tell of the breed had evolved the extra toes as a way to walk easier in the snow, or to use their larger paws to catch fish right out of the streams!
Ernest Hemingway had a fondness for the cats, and he shared his Key West island in Florida with almost 50 cats. One of these kitties was a six-toed polydactyl cat named Snow White, who was given to him by a ship’s captain; some of the cats living on the museum grounds of the Hemingway Home and Museum are descendants of Snow White, and while all 40-50 cats living on the grounds carry the polydactyl gene, not all of them have the physical polydactyl trait. Interestingly enough, Hemingway had named all of his cats after famous people, a tradition still followed by the Hemingway Home and Museum. Another famous cat lover, President Theodore Roosevelt, had a polydactyl cat named Slippers, who ended up being one of the first feline residents of the White House.
Polydactylism in cats is neither advantageous nor is it disadvantageous (so no, your extra-beaned kitty won’t be able to open doors and pick items up!), however, sometimes some extra toes’ nail beds can be deformed, which can lead to claw problems. The extra claw between the ‘thumb’ and the foot and grow around and “become embedded in the foot or pad, causing pain and infection” - it’s best to consult with a vet for proper instructions and care.
The most toes ever found on a cat to date was 32, 8 on each paw, almost 50 years ago! One of the last verified record holders is an Albertan kitty named Tiger, with 27 toes in total! Currently, a Canadian ginger tabby named Jake and an American cat named Paws both have 28 toes, thus holding the verified record for most toes!
All in all, polydactyl cats are just like any other cats, but they have more beans to love you with! It is a genetic mutation or anomaly, not a defect, and just like all animals, extra digits or not, they are deserving of a loving home!
Thank you kindly for reading, I hope this was helpful and informative!
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