Cats have a total of 18 toes: five on each front paw, and four on each back paw. But some cats boast extra toes, usually on their front paws. These cats are called “polydactyl.” The word polydactyl has a greek root, “poly” meaning multi, and “dactyl” meaning “digit” or “toe.” Polydactyly, as this condition is called, 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.

What causes polydactyly?

Polydactyly is a a congenital physical anomaly. A genetic mutation causes the cat to be born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more of its paws. If one parent is polydactyl and one parent has normal feet, then 40 to 50 percent of the kittens will also be polydactyl.The condition is not specific to any one breed.

The extra toes can show up in any position. Some polydactyl cats present with their first digit being so large that it looks like a thumb, which is known as thumb polydactyly.

The Hemingway House cats

The most famous polydactyl cats in the world are the cats living at Hemingway House in Key West, Florida. The story has it that a ship captain gave the writer a white six-toed cat named Snowball. Hemingway became obsessed with these beautiful cats. At Hemingway’s island home off Key West, FL, he collected more than 50 cats, almost half of whom had extra toes. After his death in 1961, his home was turned into a museum, where about 50 descendants of Snowball live to this day. Thanks to Hemingway’s fascination with these cats, polydactyls are frequently called “Hemingway cats.”

Fascinating facts about polydactyl cats

Polydactyl cats were considered to bring good luck by sailors. Sailors revered them for their mousing skills, and the extra toes were said to help them to better balance on rough seas.

The world record for the most toes on a cat is 28. Jake, a Canadian orange tabby, has seven toes on each of his four paws.

President Theodore Roosevelt’s cat Slippers was the first polydactyl cat to live in the White House.

Polydactyly is not unique to any one breed. Cats of all breeds and colors can have this genetic mutation, although at one time, Maine Coon cats had a high incidence of the condition: as many as 40 percent of all Maine Coons had extra toes. Though the trait is no longer as predominant in the breed, Maine Coon polydactyls are still recognized as an official breed by many cat fanciers.

All cats are special, and even though polydactyly is relatively common in cats, if you ask a guardian of a polydactyl cat, they will probably tell you that their multi-toed cats are extra special.

Do you have a polydactyl cat? Share a photo on our Facebook page!

Photo by brownpau, Flickr Creative Commons

This article was originally published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.

14 Comments on Polydactyl Cats: Why Do Some Cats Have Extra Toes?

  1. Did you know that the penetrance of the gene responsible for polydactyly does not have a penetrance of 100%? That means that a cat whose both parents are polydactyl can have a normal set of toes. However, its own kitten can be (or not) polydactyl. It is fascinating 🙂

  2. I have a Polydacltyl orange Tabby name Kraftwerk. He has 2 thumbs on each of his front paws. 6 claws on each front paw. He is male head of the Household. The other 6 cats all respect and adore him as I do.

    • I want to add, he is the only cat of my 7 cats who uses the scrathing post for his manicures. He is my favorite cat. I do love all my cats equality.

  3. I have two – Shadow is a black Maine Coon and he has huge paws, 7 claws front and 5 backs. Fireball is a cream tabby and white DSH and has just 6 fronts, 5 backs. Maine Coons and Pixie Bobs are the only breeds where the show standard allows for polydactyl. The Coons have a separate class for the polydactyl guys.

  4. We have a polydactyl kitty that has been at our shelter for over 1 year. They are considered good luck kitties.

  5. We had a cat many years ago who had five toes on both her back paws – it never made any difference to her, she was the “usual” sort of cat if there is such a creature and as one lady has said – all the more of her to love and I found her VERY easy to love in the 18 months we had her – another victim of an r.t.a.

  6. I knew two kitties who were litter mates that both had multiple toes. They were named Sugar and Spice. Spice has gone over the rainbow bridge but Sugar is still here. They belong to one of my good friends and her family. I had never seen a cat with extra toes before this.. So now I always look for them. 🙂

  7. We have a polydactyl cat named Cricket who has six toes on both her front paws. They look like little mittens and are the cutest paws ever. She is an amazing hunter and grabs things like we do. She’s the best. A cool sweet mellow cat.

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