a polydactyl cat with extra toes splays his paws to showcase this incredible genetic trait

7 Incredible Facts about Polydactyl Cats


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Are polydactyl cats rare? Before we answer, there are a few other important questions to address. Like, what is a polydactyl cat anyways. Well, we share many marvellous traits with our cats… and when it comes to polydactyl cats with extra toes, that includes a thumb (or two, or three)! Yep, we’re talking cats with thumbs. Or more.

In this article, PD Insurance answers seven questions about the amazing polydactyl cat. Hopefully your curiosity is budding – they say curiosity killed the cat, but maybe, just maybe, curiosity made it all the wiser.

a sweet polydactyl kitten lies on a bed with cute patterns

What is a polydactyl cat?

A polydactyl cat is a cat born with extra toes. It’s an inherited trait, meaning kittens with a polydactyl mum or dad get it from their folks. Plenty of people call them “cats with thumbs”.

This inherited trait goes by several names:

  • polydactyly 
  • polydactylism
  • hyperdactyly

This cute characteristic makes it look like cats have a thumb or like they’re outfitted in a pair of gorgeous mittens, like Beatrix Potter’s Tom Kitten or Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit.

How many toes do cats normally have?

Generally speaking, cats have a grand total of 18 toes. They have five toes on each of their front paws but then only four on each hind paw. In some ways that shows how important a cat’s front paws are and how similar they are to our human hands. That regular extra digit goes some way to helping grip, claw, scratch and climb.

However, polydactyl cats could give pianists a run for their money (if that was their thing) because they come blessed with as many as nine toes on each paw! That’s not to say all polydactyl cats have as many as that, nor do they have that many on each paw.

Most of the time, it’s just the front paw that gets an added serving of toes and this can vary in number. One polydactyl cat might have seven front digits on each paw, for example, while another has nine.

a cat with no extra toes splays his paws to show us what cat toes often look like

Are polydactyl cats rare?

No, not exactly. Kittens need just one parent to be a polydactyl cat for them to have as much as a 50% chance of inheriting the many-toed trait. However, there are some special circumstances that seem to influence which cats carry this characteristic.

  • Geography. According to Wikipedia, “Cats with this genetically inherited trait are most commonly found along the East Coast of North America (in the United States and Canada) and in South West England and Wales.” Is it something in the water? The food? Whatever the case, it’s certainly cute.
  • Breed. Although all cat breeds and mixed breeds can be polydactyl, it’s more prevalent in certain breeds. The Maine Coon cat breed is the most well known for having those added digits.

Additionally, it’s rare to find a polydactyl cat with added toes on all four paws or on the hind paws only. As we mentioned earlier, mostly it’s just the front paws. Every so often, though, a rare polydactyl cat with many toes on all four feet or only their back paws does emerge.

What are some other names for cats with extra toes?

While cats with an extra helping of toes are generally called polydactyl cats, they go by many other affectionate titles. Here’s a quick look at what these are:

  • Boston-toed cats
  • Boxing cats
  • Cardi-cats
  • Conch cats
  • Hemingway cats (more on this up next)
  • Mitten cats
  • Mitten-foot cats
  • Six-fingered cats
  • Snowshoe cats
  • Thumb cats

Check out this video of a cat with extra toes visiting a vet (and having a set of x-rays taken):

Why are polydactyl cats called “Hemingway cats”?

Of all the polydactyl cats that have roamed the earth, perhaps the most famous one is Snow White. She belonged to author Ernest Hemingway and was gifted to him by a friend.

Today, Hemingway’s former home is more than just a museum where you can have a guided tour of his living space, writing studio and surrounding gardens. It’s also home to 60 polydactyl cats! These meowsers are the offspring of that first fateful cat, Snow White.

Because of Hemingway’s legacy, both as a writer and the cats he leaves behind, polydactyl cats are sometimes affectionately nicknamed ‘Hemingway cats‘. The Hemingway House and Museum even has its own app you can download to see all the resident polydactyl cats.

Is it bad for a cat to be polydactyl?

Since the idea of a cat having more than the average number of feline fingers and toes is so intriguing, you might wonder if it poses any health risks.

Generally speaking, no. Cats with extra toes basically have bonus grip. The many toes also make for a broader paw that can add to the cat’s balance and overall physical skill. Speaking of balance, find out why cats always land on their feet.

However, there is one consideration for cats with added toes. If a cat’s polydactyl toes aren’t as well developed as their other toes they can sometimes be a bit floppy. While this might not be uncomfortable for the cat, it could lead to these claws accidentally snagging on things.

In the worst case scenario this could lead to a torn claw. If you think this could be a risk to your cat, speak to your vet to see what they suggest. Speaking of torn claws, also read about a broken dog dew claw and what steps to take.

a polydactyl cat with extra toes splays his paws to showcase this incredible genetic trait

Why are cats with extra toes seen as good luck?

In days gone by, cats with extra toes were seen as good luck by sailors and their captains. In fact, another nickname for the polydactyl cat is the ‘ship cat’.

Cats with extra toes have the benefit of added grip to climb and hunt well (something cats are already good at!). This made keeping ships free of rodents that much easier. No rat or mouse could stow away safely on a ship with such a dexterous cat on board.

It just so happens that the man who gave Snow White to Hemingway was also a ship’s captain. Like the captain, Hemingway felt that the cat with extra toes brought good luck.

Award winning pet insurance

Now that we’ve answered seven of the big questions about the amazing polydactyl cat, let’s look at protecting those paws. Whether you have a dog or cat and whether they have added toes or not, why not give them a soft landing with pet insurance?

Pet insurance helps pay for vet costs associated with all sorts of unexpected accidents, injuries and illness. That could save you a pretty penny, especially when you rack up the costs of x-rays, surgery, vet hospital stay-overs and more. Depending on the level of cover you opt for, you could also include dental in your pet’s cover.

Click below to sign up today and PD Insurance will give you one or more months of FREE award winning pet insurance.

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