7 Facts About Polydactyl Cats

Interesting Things to Know About Polydactyl Cats

Polydactyl cats are born with more toes than are normal for cats’ paws. Cats are normally born with five toes on each of their front paws and just four on their hind paws. Polydactyl cats often have six or more toes on each paw. 


Polydactyly is a genetic abnormality that is more commonly found in certain parts of the world. It affects both male and female cats of all sizes and breeds. Keep reading for more information on the genetic issues contributing to polydactyly. 


1. A Genetic Mutation Causes Polydactyly

A dominant gene’s mutation is what causes polydactyly and the additional toes that form as a result on a cat’s paws can number four to seven. These extra toes are often found on the front paws but can also be on the hind paws as well. Very few cats have additional toes on all four paws. 


2. Polydactyl Cats Are Known for Being Lucky

Certain cat breeds are associated with bringing good luck to sailors, like calico cats and black cats. Interestingly, polydactyl cats are thought to be lucky for sailors as well and have commonly been brought onboard for long journeys. Due to all those extra toes, their paws are quite wide, making them excellent mousers on ships, which keeps the supplies free of vermin. Their wide paws also help them keep their balance, even on rocky seas. 


Due to time spent traveling on transcontinental ships, polydactyl cats are more often found in the Eastern United States, Canada, Western England, and Wales. They likely came across the Atlantic Ocean from England to America, and proliferating the genetic trait by breeding with non-polydactyl cats. 


3. Polydactyly Is Often Found in Maine Coon Cats

The state of Maine is on the East Coast of the United States where polydactyl cats are more common and where Maine coon cats first appeared. The state’s harsh winters and snowy conditions have caused the breed to evolve so that they have big, insulated paws that work like tiny snow boots.  ❄️


Luckily, polydactyly is quite common among Maine coons, with about 40% having extra toes. This gives the breed larger, wider, more insulated paws, which are great for traversing on snow. Today, the genetic mutation has been bred out of a lot of Maine coons, but there is a breed of cats called polydactyl Maine coon, which is still recognized by some in the world of cat fanciers. 


4. Polydactyly Can Actually be Beneficial to These Cats

The extra toes on polydactyl cats are more than just cute, they can be quite beneficial as well. Because they cause the paws to be wider and larger, polydactyl cats have an easier time balancing on different surfaces, as well as hunting, climbing, and capturing their prey. 


If your cat is a polydactyl, make sure you have plenty of scratching posts and boards around your house because their extra toes have nails that can do a lot of damage to your upholstered chairs and sofas. 


5. Some Polydactyl Kitties Have “Mitten Paws”

Cats with “mitten paws” have their extra toes in the center of the paw, which makes the paw look kind of like a mitten with a thumb. These extra toes may look like thumbs, but they are not opposable like actual thumbs. 


6. The Record Holder for the Most Toes is a Polydactyl Cat 🏆

The Guinness Book of World Records has a polydactyl cat named Jake who is a ginger tabby, and he holds the world record for having the most toes. Jake has a total of 28 toes, with seven on each paw. Each of Jake’s toes has a nail and a pad. 


7. Polydactyl Cats Were a Favorite of Ernest Hemingway

Polydactyl cats are also known as “Hemingway cats” and it’s because the famous author loved them. The captain of a ship gave Hemingway a fluffy white polydactyl cat that he named “Snow Ball.” Ernest Hemingway then grew to adore these multi-toed cats. 


Upon his 1961 death, Hemingway’s Key West, Florida home was turned into a museum and home devoted to his beloved cats. Today there are about 50 descendants of his brood living there and about half are polydactyl. 


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