My Cat Is A Polydactyl, Now What?
Well, count yourself in some unique company.
Normal cats have a total of 18 toes, with five toes on each front paw and four toes on each hind paw. Polydactyl cats may have as many as eight digits on their front and/or hind paws. The word is Greek in origin, with “poly” meaning “many” and daktylos” meaning “digits.” According to Guinness Records, Jake, a ginger tabby from Canada, boasts seven toes on each paw, for a grand total of 28. Each toe has its own claw, pad, and bone structure. Most polydactyls have extra toes on their front paws, which sometimes resemble thumbs and make your kitty look as though she’s wearing mittens!
Various combinations of anywhere from four to seven toes per paw are common. Polydactyly is most commonly found on the front paws only, it is rare for a cat to have polydactyl hind paws only, and polydactyly of all four paws is even less common.
Back in the day, polydactyl cats got their sea legs by accompanying sailors on many journeys. And they earned their keep—they were rumored to be excellent mouse hunters, and their extra toes gave them better balance on ships the encountered rough waters. Some sailors also considered them to be extremely good luck when at sea. The cat’s many travels might explain their widespread presence today, predominantly in the United States, Canada, England and Wales.
Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was a famous aficionado of polydactyl cats, after being first given a six-toed cat, named Snowball, by a ship’s captain. Upon Hemingway’s death in 1961, his former home in Key West, Florida, became a museum and a home for his cats, and it currently houses approximately fifty descendants of his cats (about half of which are polydactyl). Because of his love for these animals, polydactyl cats are sometimes referred to as “Hemingway Cats.”
Bonus fact: Polydactyls are such a big deal that they’ve made it all the way to the White House: President Theodore Roosevelt had a six-toed first kitty named Slippers.
Historically, polydactyly was a useful trait for Main Coon cats. For a breed originating in snowy Maine, doublewide paws with extra digits functioned as natural snowshoes. At one time, as many as 40% of all Maine Coons had extra toes. Though the trait is no longer a predominant in the breed, Main Coon polydactyls are still recognized as an official breed by many cat fanciers.
We don’t see too many polydactyl cats, but when we do, they make us smile! So, if you’re lucky enough to have one, just enjoy your unique friend!
By: Vicki Schroeder