Most cats a born with five toes on each front paw and four toes on each back paw, for a grand total of 18 toes.
However, some cats are born with more than the usual number of toes. This phenomenon is known as polydactylism or polydactyly. The word polydactyl is derived from the Greek words “poly” (many) and “dactylos” (finger).
Simply put, polydactyl means extra digits (extra fingers or toes). People are fascinated by polydactyl cats. Something about those adorable mitten paws makes polydactyl cats irresistible.
Read on to learn all about polydactyl cats, polydactyl kittens, polydactyl cats’ personalities, polydactyl cats’ behavior, polydactyl cats’ health issues and more.
1. What Causes Polydactyl Cats?
Polydactylism is caused by a genetic mutation. It is a simple autosomal dominant trait, which means just one parent needs to carry the gene for it to be potentially passed on to the kittens. If the mother or father cat has the genetic mutation, each kitten in the litter has about a 50 percent chance of being polydactyl, too.
2. How Many Extra Toes Do Polydactyl Cats Have?
Polydactyl cats may have one, two, or even three extra toes on each paw. The cat that currently holds the Guinness World Record for the most toes, a Canadian cat named Jake, had a total of 28 toes on all four paws.
The extra toes of a polydactyl cat usually appear next to the cat’s dewclaw. The dewclaw is a smaller digit on the inside of the paw that grows higher up on the “wrist” than the other toes.
The dewclaw is sort of like the cat equivalent of a thumb, although it doesn’t function like a human thumb. Polydactyl cats most often have extra toes on their front paws, but polydactyl cats can also have extra toes on the back paws.
Very rarely, a polydactyl cat will have extra toes on both the front and back paws. Sometimes these extra toes are fully formed, complete with toe bones, claws and paw pads. Other times, the extra toes are less formed and may be missing a claw or a paw pad.
3. What Are Polydactyl Cats Health Issues?
For the most part, polydactyl kittens are just as cute and healthy as their normal-toes brothers and sisters. Having extra toes does not cause any known health issues in polydactyl cats.
However, having extra toes carries a slightly increased chance of snagging a claw on furniture or the carpet. You will also have a few extra claws to trim! Because extra toes are not always well-formed, the extra claws can sometimes grow oddly and be more prone to become ingrown.
Staying on top of your polydactyl cat’s nail trimming should help avoid this minor issue. Sometimes, veterinarians might recommend removing an extra toe if the nail has a tendency to become ingrown and infected.
4. How Long Do Polydactyl Cats Live?
The life span of polydactyl cats is the same as that of normal-toed cats. Many cats, including polydactyl cats, can live to be 12 to 15 years old or even older.
5. Are Polydactyl Cats Rare?
In a word, no. With their extra toes, polydactyl cats do indeed look unique. Their extra toes can make it appear as if the cats have thumbs or like they are wearing mittens. Pretty cute! However, polydactyl cats are not exceedingly rare.
Many animals, including humans, can behave with extra fingers or toes, but in cats, this congenital anomaly is more common than you might think.
6. What Cat Breeds Can Be Polydactyl?
Any cat of any breed can have extra toes, although a few breeds are also known to exhibit polydactylism more frequently. It is not unusual for Maine Coons to have extra toes and Pixie Bobs with extra toes are even permitted to compete in cat shows.
For some reason, a higher number of polydactyl cats are found in the Northeastern United States. Polydactyl cats can be any color, be male or female, and have any coat type.
7. How Much Is a Polydactyl Cat Worth?
It may come as a surprise, but a cat with extra toes is worth the same as a cat with the normal number of toes. Extra toes provide a cat with no benefit and no real downfall (aside from a few extra claws to trim).
Some unscrupulous people purposely breed polydactyl cats and claim them to be rare and worth a lot of money. Don’t be duped into paying a lot of money for a cat with extra toes.
Many polydactyl cats and kittens are available for adoption through animal shelters and rescue groups, often for minimal fees.
8. What Is a Polydactyl Cat’s Personality Like?
Believe it or not, a polydactyl cat’s personality and behavior aren’t much different than that of a cat with the normal number of toes. The extra “thumb” polydactyl cats have is not a true thumb, meaning it is not opposable like a human thumb.
However, some polydactyl cat owners claim that their cats do use their extra toes sort of like thumbs, grasping toys and even figuring out how to open things with their paws. Clever kitties!
Some polydactyl cats seem to be extra good at climbing (possibly due to the extra width of their paws and additional grasping capabilities of the extra toes), but others just seem to be clumsy, as if they have two left feet (errr… toes).
9. Why Are Polydactyl Cats Called Hemingway’s Cats?
Polydactyl cats are sometimes called “Hemingway cats.” This is because American author Ernest Hemingway owned a polydactyl cat, a white cat aptly named Snow White.
Hemingway’s cat interbred with local cats, resulting in many polydactyl cats running about the grounds of his home.
Today, Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida, is a museum that houses not only Hemingway memorabilia but 40 to 50 polydactyl cats, some of which are descendants of Hemingway’s cat Snow White. These Hemingway cats are protected and looked after by the museum staff.