Well, I read an article in Catster magazine this week about polydactyl cats, and I thought I would blog about this since they are some of my favorite cats!
What is a polydactyl cat, you ask? Basically, they are cats with extra toes. The name comes from Greek words “poly” meaning “many” and “daktylos” meaning “digits.” Cats normally have 18 toes – 5 on each front foot and 4 on each rear foot. Polydactyls can have up to 8 toes on each foot. Most frequently, they have extra digits on the front foot, and they can occur on the inside of the foot, looking like the cats have thumbs. They can also occur on the outside of the foot.
Here are some interesting facts about polydactyl cats:
Having extra toes is a genetic trait. In fact, it is an autosomal dominant trait, and if one parent has extra toes, approximately 40-50% of the kittens can be affected. Cool, huh?!
This characteristic is just a trait and not a breed of cat. Now, at one time, approximately 40% of Maine Coons had polydactylism, but this is no longer a predominant feature of Maine Coons. Plus, this trait can be seen in other breeds, including domestic shorthairs.
There are certain parts of the world where polydactyls are seen with an increased frequency, including western England, Wales, and the eastern US and Canada. In fact, because sailors considered polydactyls good luck (they are great climbers and hunters), they likely brought the cats from England and Wales to the United States. Their popularity and increased numbers likely spread geographically because of ships that sailed out of Boston.
According to Guinness Records, the record for the most toes belongs to a ginger tabby from Canada named Jake. He had 7 toes on each foot for a total of 28 toes!
Ernest Hemingway loved polydactyls. A ship’s captain had a queen named Snowball, and when she had a litter of kittens, he gave one to Hemingway. He named her Snow White, and she went on to have multiple kittens. Hemingway named all of his cats after famous people, and on his estate in Key West, they continue to have approximately 40-50 cats, many of whom are descendants of Snow White. Here's a link to the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum Cats!
Theodore Roosevelt had a polydactyl named Slippers when he lived in the White House!
You may wonder – why do I love polydactyls so much? Well, I had never seen one until I moved to Boston for my internship, and I fell in love with the toes! At Angell, there are certain things that are just done the “Angell Way.” One of those is how animals’ legs are prepped for catheter placement when they are hospitalized. We always shaved a front leg from elbow to carpus (wrist) all the way around, and when you took your bandage off that leg, polydactyl cats looked like they were wearing oven mitts. Just darling! Well, I had to have one before I left, and I went into the MSPCA shelter every single day for 3 months of my internship. I wanted an orange and white male polydactyl kitten. I found him the day before my internship was over, and I named him Harley after a Kathy Mattea song (the YouTube video is below, if you want a good laugh). Harley moved with me to Virginia, Missouri, and finally Oklahoma. He was the best-natured cat. He would come when you called him. He also answered to “Fat Boy” because he was overweight from the time he was 6 months old on. No matter what I tried, he was a big boy. He loved everybody, and he was a darling cat.
When I lost Harley, one of my colleagues brought two little polydactyl kittens to my office, and I picked out the orange boy. That was Truman – my clinic cat. He is named after Truman, the Missouri tiger. Now, Truman doesn’t love everybody and everything like Harley. In fact, he is Garfield in the flesh – just rotten to the core. Sometime, I will tell you Truman stories to make you laugh.
I will close with a quote by Hemingway about his beloved polydactyls, “One cat just leads to another.”