Once upon a time, the universe conspired to create an extra-special type of cat – one with a congenital physical anomaly called polydactyly.
All at once, it was obvious that this was no ordinary feline.
Get ready to enter the adorable and wacky world of polydactyl kittens as we explore 9 different things that you never knew about them!
It’s A Genetic Mutation
The normal amount of cat toes is 18 – five on each front paw, and four on the back ones. However, polydactyl kittens are born with extra. It’s a genetic mutation that’s passed down through the dominant gene of their parents. So if only one parent is polydactyl there’s a 50 percent chance of one or more of the babies being the same. Who would’ve thought!
Polydactyl cats most often are only found on the East Coast of North America and in South West England and Wales.
The Condition Is Harmless
You may be tempted to think that having extra toes means that there’s something wrong with the cat or it has some sort of disease. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. There are no underlying health issues that plague polydactyl kittens and they’re no different from other cats besides the fact that they look cooler.
The only thing that is even remotely considered a problem is the nails on the extra toes. If left uncut, the nails can curl around the paws and cause the cat harm. Most vets advice to trim the nails or have the cat de-clawed. Although removing a cat’s claws is considered inhumane by some, in this case, it does make sense to have the procedure done.
Extra Toes Are Helpful
In fact, it turns out that being polydactyl could actually be beneficial to cats. According to veterinarians, the extra digits should not be a cause for alarm from a medical perspective. Rather, these cats are seen as special and having the defect only increases their charm and cuteness factor.
Sailors believed that these cats could more easily find their balance when traveling over the oceans and that these also gave them an edge when chasing rodents. Coon cats in Maine found great use for their extra toes as aids in climbing tall trees and hunting in the forests.
They Were Considered Good Luck Charms
Polydactyl cats were the most popular companion of choice for wayfarers traveling from Massachusetts to Britain back in the day. Not only were their extra toes believed to provide unprecedented skill in hunting ship-loving rodents, they were also rumored to be much more proficient at climbing and hunting than their regular-numbered-toed relatives.
Some sailors always made sure to bring polydactyl cats when embarking on long voyages for extra helpings of good luck.
Maine Coon Polydactyly
At one point in time, up to 40 percent of all Maine Coon cats had extra toes. Residents of Maine believed that it helped them plow through thick snow, acting as a type of “snowshoe“.
Maine averages 75 inches of snow per year. The history of the Maine Coon is intertwined with that of sailors, schooners, and seasides, so the state could be considered the breeding grounds of polydactyly. One of the “hubs” if you will, from whence the mutation spread throughout the US.
Eventually, the polydactyl trait was bred out of the Maine Coon cats, but to this today there remains a fascination with them – to the point that fanciers have begun to breed polydactyl Maine Coons again exclusively.
These cats are highly sought-after and can only be found in the possession of specialized breeders.
There Is A Record for Having the Most Toes
Believe it or not, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, there are currently two cats that hold the record for having the most toes. The first is Jake, who was the first to set the record in 2002; and the second is Paws, who only just tied with Jake in 2018.
Both cats have 28 toes. Paws has three extra digits on each forepaw and one extra on each back paw, while Jake has seven toes on each paw. Their owners say that the extra paws come in extremely “handy”. Toe-tally awesome!
Hemingway Loved Them
In the 1930s, the famous writer Ernest Hemingway received a white polydactyl cat from a sea captain as a gift to bring good luck. The cat’s name was “Snow White”. Hemingway loved this cat so much that he ended up turning his house into a permanent residence for multiple generations of them. And to this day, the mansion has become an extraordinary exhibition of around 40-50 polydactyl cats.
Not all the cats at Hemingway’s home have extra digits, but they all carry the polydactyl gene which means that they can produce kittens that display the mutation.
Even A President Owned One
Theodore Roosevelt had a cat with him called “Slippers” which was polydactyl and had six toes on each paw. The president was greatly amused by this fact and named Slippers as the presidential feline.
Slippers lived in the White House and even attended important meetings with dignitaries! Although, of course, he much preferred to stroll the hallways, relax in the Oval Office, and snooze out on the lawn.
Sometimes It Looks Like They’re Wearing Mittens
For some polydactyl kittens, an extra “thumb” is present which makes it look like they’re wearing mittens. These mittens are incredibly cute but can also pose a risk at times. The reason is that the nail on the extra “thumb” toe may be growing the wrong way and will hurt the kitty every time it walks.
Another problem that might happen is that an extra claw between the “thumb” and the foot might grow too long and embed itself in the side of the cat’s claw, causing great pain and infection. The solution is to have these nails clipped, but if you’re not at all confident doing it yourself, visiting a veterinarian is always the next best step.