Can You Tell Me, What Are Polydactyl Cats?

Have you ever met a polydactyl cat? Do you need to ask, “What are polydactyl cats?” These animals have a genetic abnormality that results in extra digits. The cat can have as many as six (or more) toes on each paw.

Cat's paw with all toes marked

This unusual genetic trait can affect any cat breed, whether the animal is male or female, large or small. Kitty can develop extra toes if this gene comes into play.The condition most often affects the front paws, but it also occurs on the back toes. It is rare for all four paws of the cat to have polydactyly.

The trait of polydactylism is dominant, and unrelated to gender. To become a polydactyl, kitty only needs one parent that carries the gene. 

Port Town Prevalence

As you may have guessed, the name for these extra-toed cats comes from the Greek word for “many fingers.” A lot of these animals seem to come from certain areas of the country, and not just by chance. You can find them often in port towns, as they often served as a ship’s mouser; the crew believed them lucky.

The ship captains believed these cats to be better mousers. A common belief emerged that the cat could handle the movement of the ship better by having more toes, creating a more stable balance point for the animal. Therefore, it follows that kitty could do a better hunting job because of his increased stability.

More than 60% of polydactyls have extra toes just on the front paws, as having extra toes on the back is more unusual. Nearly all of these polydactyls have symmetrical toe numbers — the same number on the front and the same number on the back, even if the front paws and back paws do not have the same number of toes.

Cat feet, extra toe (mitten cat)

Nail Trimming Is A Must

Like it or not, if you have a polydactyl, you must keep your kitty’s nails trimmed. It is mandatory for this cat. If you do not keep the claws well-trimmed, they can overgrow into the foot pads. In severe cases, it will become necessary to surgically remove that claw, as sometimes the extra toes don’t develop fully, and can grow in between fully developed toes. These extra toes don’t get sharpened by the cat’s normal activity, so you must clip them for the cat before they become a problem.

Polydactyl cats enjoy good health generally, and live an average life span. However, those toes can sometimes grow at unusual angles, and can cause problems with kitty’s claws and with the skin on his feet.

 Keep those toenails short to prevent ingrown toenails. Also, by keeping them well-trimmed,you can monitor the skin appearance to make sure it does not become inflamed. Make sure as well that you see no discharge that could correlate with bacterial or yeast infection.

Guinness World Record Holders

In 2002, Jake, a ginger tabby, held the record for the most toes. Jake’s vet tells us that he counted 28 toes! The cat has seven toes on each foot, and each toe has its own claw, pad, and bone structure. Jakes lives in Ontario, Canada.

Orange cat with extra toes

Then, a cat from Northfield, Minnesota, tied Jake’s record. The cat, named Paws, also has 28 toes, but her digit distribution is a bit different.

They Are Expensive

If you decide you would like to buy a polydactyl cat, expect to pay a premium. Price can range from $600 to $1300, depending on such factors as breeding quality or the cat’s distinct markings.

This Cat Has Many Aliases

Polydactyl cats have accumulated many nicknames, having at least 11. One of the common ones is “Hemingway cat,” as Ernest Hemingway loved these cats and had many of them. Another nickname makes sense: “mitten” cats, as they appear to be wearing mittens. 

From Maine comes the name “snowshoe cats,” as many Maine coon cats have extra toes. The name came from the belief that the extra toes helped the Maine coon walk through snow.

A grey & white polydactyl foot
A Polydactyl Paw

A Dangerous Condition

Feline radial hypoplasia is often confused with polydactyls. Though not the same as polydactylism, cats who develop this condition will have extra toes. However, those extra toes develop immediately next to kitty’s normal toes. 

The result gives the cat’s feet the appearance of being extremely large, flat feet. The feline radial hypoplasia can be extremely detrimental to kitty’s health. These cats should not be bred,  as the condition can cause severe paw deformities in offspring.

Hemingway’s Love For Polydactyls

So, why did Hemingway come to have polydactyl cats? It’s all because a local sailor knew of Hemingway’s love for cats, so Captain Stanley Dexter gave Hemingway and his sons a six-toed kitten. Named Snow White, the cat founded a dynasty. By the time of Hemingway’s death, he had a collection of around 200 cats at his home in Key West, Florida.

Ernest Hemingway's house in Florida

Hemingway named each of his cats after a famous person, and now that his home has been turned into a museum, that practice continues. At present, about 50 cats reside at Hemingway’s home. Each female gets to have one litter of kittens before spaying, so population remains controlled.

The cats have now fallen under federal jurisdiction; thus, the Both cats and humans weathered the storm with no injuries or loss of life.

A Real Pet Cemetery At Hemingway’s House

When the cats cross the Rainbow Bridge, their bodies rest in their own cemetery. Behind the house in the gardens lies this restful spot, where each cat has its own small grave marked by a concrete gravestone.

Cat cemetery at Hemingway's house

Thus, you can visit the Hemingway Museum and learn about his life, his works, and his cats. Some of the ones still living on the grounds can claim a relationship to Hemingway’s first polydactyl, Snow White.

Thank You, Carole

My thanks to my friend, Carole Baker, whose recent trip to Florida and her visit to the Hemingway house gave me the inspiration for this post.

References I used for this post:

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