A genetic mutation causes polydactyly. This mutation affects the front paws most, but the back paws can also be affected. It’s pretty rare for a cat to have all four feet affected. So this genetic flaw is harmless to these cats’ health and well-being.
Polydactyl cats have extra toes on their paws and are sometimes called Hemingway cats. Cats without this genetic mutation have five toes on their front feet and four on their back. Therefore, polydactyl cats can have up to eight toes per foot.
This mutation makes them truly unique and fascinating creatures.
These cats are supposed to have personalities all their own. However, their breed temperament and any quirks they’ve inherited by having polydactyly will be evident. As an owner of a polydactyl cat, I can say that my Thumbs has a different personality than other domestic shorthair cats. Thumbs is a mackerel tabby and white male about six years old. He is a colossal lovebug who loves to be held where he can tuck his head under my chin. Give him a chance, and he will tear the house down. He races through the house, slides across the kitchen table, and on through the house. Thumbs also loves to watch birds. He meows and clicks at them. Another favorite game is playing with his Sheltie sister by grabbing her around her back legs and biting her. Luckily, she has thick hair, so he doesn’t hurt her. So my point is that these cats will have the traits of their breed but can have quirky personalities.
Fascinating Facts About Polydactyl Cats
- A condition sometimes confused with polydactyly is very detrimental to a cat. It’s called Feline Radial Hypoplasia. It can cause the cat to be born with extra toes, but the difference is that these extra toes develop close to the cat’s other toes. This results in the cat having a huge, flat paw and can cause the cat’s legs to be shorter than usual or twist. Cats with this should not be bred because the deformities can get worse with each new generation.
- Polydactyl cats are not a specific breed of cat. Instead, they can appear in any breed. Some people consider a breed they call the American Polydactyl cat their own breed, but any cat association does not recognize these cats. The two breeds where polydactyly happens enough to be considered a normal variation.
- The word polydactyl comes from two Greek words—the first poly, meaning many, and the second daktylos, meaning digits. So, together they mean many digits.
- Polydactyl cats are called Hemingway cats. The reason is that Hemingway developed a deep love for these cats. A ship’s captain named Stanly Dexter gifted Ernest Hemingway a white polydactyl kitten named Snow White by Hemingway’s son. Snow White went on to parent numerous polydactyl kittens at Hemingway’s Key West, Florida home. Hemingway once wrote, “One cat just leads to another.” Hemingway died in 1961. His estate became a museum and home for fifty descendants of the original pack of cats he had. Half of these cats are polydactyl. That is why these cats are called Hemingway cats.
- Polydactyl cats are considered good luck in some areas. For example, in Boston, polydactyl cats are called Boston Thumb Cats and are supposed to bring good fortune to their owners.
- A cat born on a farm in Canada named Jake has the most toes recorded, with twenty-eight toes, and has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Jake holds this record now with a cat from Minnesota named Paws.
- A dominant gene causes the polydactyl mutation in cats. If only one parent has this gene, half their kittens will be polydactyl. However, this percentage does not go up if both parents are polydactyl.
- Polydactyl cats may have issues grooming because of their extra toes.
- Polydactyl cats are normal, healthy cats. There are no specific health issues ever noted in polydactyl cats.
- Many famous people have loved and admired the polydactyl cat. Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, and Theodore Roosevelt are a few. In addition, President Roosevelt shared the White House with a polydactyl cat names Slippers, the first Polydactyl Cat resident of the White House.
- Some polydactyl cats are famous themselves. The New Zealand Prime Minister’s beloved former cat, Paddles, had a Twitter account of her own. Lil Bub, who died in 2019, continues to be an internet sensation. She still uplifts people’s spirits and has been proven a descendant of the famous Hemingway cats.
- Some polydactyl cats have opposable thumbs. These cats can grasp objects with their extra digits. For example, my cat Thumbs can do this.
- Sailors used to prize polydactyl cats because they were considered good luck at sea. Polydactyl cats were good on the ships because their extra toes allowed them to balance and climb rocky terrain better.
- Polydactyl cats are considered good luck in Japan and are highly sought after. The Japanese word for polydactyl cats is yubikiri, meaning finger cutter.
- Polydactyl cats are good at setting records. Seventy-Nine of these cats living at Hemingway’s Florida estate set the 2012 Guinness World Record for the largest number of polydactyl cats in one place.
- In some cat shows, Polydactyl cats are usually not eligible for competition because they don’t meet breed standards.
Polydactyl cats are truly unique and fascinating creatures. From their extra toes to their connections to famous figures like Ernest Hemingway, these cats have captured the hearts of many. These cats make awesome pets and have the biggest personalities. Their genetic anomaly has helped researchers understand the genetics of cats and other animals. Polydactyl cats are special and will remain popular because of those huge, cute paws.