Feline feet: 10 fun facts about polydactyl cats

Feline feet: 10 fun facts about polydactyl cats
Margaret Davies

While most cats have 18 toes, some felines have some extra ones. Read all you ever wanted to know about these special kitty cats.

Polydactyl cats have special feet!

While most cats have 18 toes - 5 on each front paw and 4 on each rear paw - polydactyl cats are born are a little different.

Due to a genetic mutation, these kitties have extra digits, which often makes them look as if they’re wearing mittens. That’s so cute, right!

No 2 polydactyl cats are the same

Not all polydactyl cats have the same number of extra toes. Some cats may have just one extra toe, while others may have multiple. These extra digits can appear on a cat’s front paws as well as on their rear paws, and some felines even have additional dewclaws!

Polydactyl cats are not a separate cat breed

Despite looking quite different from most cats, polydactyl cats are not a separate breed. Polydactyly can occur in all cat breeds as well as in cats of all different sexes, colours, and patterns. There is just one breed that’s more likely to have extra toes: the Maine Coon.

Polydactyl cats were popular as ship cats

For thousands of years, cats were kept aboard ships to kill rodents and other pests that could eat the food supplies or damage precious cargo.

Seafarers were especially fond of polydactyl cat as these felines were better than 18-toed cats at keeping their balance and would often excel at climbing the ship’s rigging. Eventually, polydactyl cats became so popular with sailors that they were considered indispensable aboard as good luck charms.

Polydactyly is pretty common in Maine Coons

The Maine Coon cat originated in the northeast of the USA, in the state of Maine. In the Early 19th century, many seafarers set sail for Maine to trade their goods, often keeping polydactyl ship’s cats on board. When these polydactyl felines went from board to explore the land, they didn’t just survive, they thrived!

As a result, polydactyl cats became common in Maine, and as the Maine Coon breed originated in this US state, many of the early Maine Coon cats were polydactyl. Even today, polydactyly is much more common in Maine Coons than in any other cat breed.

Those extra toes can be beneficial

While all those extra digits might look like they’re sitting in the way, the extra toes can come in handy. The appendages are helpful when climbing trees and keeping balance, but more importantly: the extra toes turn the cat’s paws into the perfect snowshoes!

As polydactyl cats’ paws are much wider than regular cats paws, polydactyls are better at running on snow and ice, which is why they managed to do so well in snowy Maine.

Ernest Hemingway loved polydactyl cats

American novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway was a huge fan of polydactyl cats. In the 1930s, the famous writer was given a six-toed kitten by a ship’s captain.

As the kitty was plain white, Hemingway and his sons decided to call it Snow White. That little furball’s legacy is still visible at Hemingway’s estate and beyond. Did you know that polydactyl cats are also referred to as Hemingway cats?

The Ernest Hemingway House is full of polydactyl felines!

Hemingway once said “one feline just leads to another”, and it sure shows at the Hemingway House in Key West. The late writer’s Florida estate is home to about 60 polydactyl cats, many of them descendants of Snow White. The animals are well cared for by on-site staff, as Hemingway’s former home is now a museum.

The world record for most toes on a cat is 28!

While cats normally have 18 toes, Jake has 10 additional ones! On September 24, 2002, a vet hired by Guinness World Records officially confirmed that Jake the ginger tabby cat had 28 toes - seven on each paw, each with their own claw and bone structure! While this world record has since been equalled several times, it has never been broken.

Polydactyl felines were believed to be witches

While polydactyl cats are relatively common in the USA - especially at the east coast - there are barely any to be found in Europe. The reason for the lack of European kitties with extra toes lies in the belief Europeans used to have in witchcraft. For the longest time, polydactyl cats were associated with witches and therefore hunted and killed.

(Article source: Catit)

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