Cat Breeds: The Polydactyl Cat

Source:  Cat Breeds: The Polydactyl Cat    Tag:  polydactyl

Polydactyl cats are also called mitten cats, mitten foot, thumb cats, boxers, boxing cats, six-finger cats, Boston Thumb cats, Hemingway cats and Hemingways. The latter two names originated from the fact that author Ernest Hemingway loved these cats and had several. After his death, his former Key West, Florida home became a museum and home for his cats, which now number about 50, half of which are Polydactyl cats.

Actually, referring to the Polydactyl cats as a breed is really a misnomer, because a Polydactyl cat is one with a congenital abnormality. These cats have extra toes. This abnormality affects many animals, including humans, and is referred to as Polydactylism or Hyperdactylism.

A Canadian cat named “Tiger” is the current Guinness World Record holder with a total of 27 toes. However, “Mooch” owned by a couple in Maine, USA, has 28 toes. They have submitted documentation to this affect in the hope of having him declared the new official record holder.

Originally referred to as the American Polydactyl cat, because of the numerous ones on the American east coast, the word American has been dropped as it has been determined that cats with extra toes show up, from time to time, in many countries. They are very common in the Cardigan area of Wales and are called “Cardi-Cats.”

Normal cats have five toes on each front foot and four toes on each hind foot. A Polydactyl cat can have up to seven toes on each foot. One peculiar thing about this genetic mutation is that these cats usually have the same number of toes on each foot. (I said usually, but as you can see from Tiger's description above, it isn't always the same number on each foot.)

Some cats affected with this abnormality have difficulty learning to walk as kittens, however, others have no difficulty and some even show superior dexterity such as opening latches and catching thrown objects. These feats (no pun intended) are not usually found in “normal” cats.

Polydactylism most commonly occurs in the front feet of affected cats. The second most common occurrence involves all four feet and the least common occurrence involves the hind feet only.

At one time, in Europe, Polydactyl cats were considered to be “witches familiars” and were quickly killed. However, they were extremely popular with sailors, because their extraordinary climbing and hunting abilities kept the rat population in ships under control. In fact, many sailors felt that Polydactyl cats were good luck, so a large number of ships carried them. This probably is the reason that cities with ports ended up with more of these cats than land bound cities. It also explains why the United States east coast has so many cats with the Polydactyl abnormality. Many port cities exist there, particularly ones which catered to the sailing ship fleets.

If you get a Polydactyl cat, be sure to keep a watch on its toe nails. Since some of the toes stick out at odd angles, the nails do not get worn down by normal scratching. Therefore, these nails will need to be trimmed to prevent them from growing into the cat's flesh and causing an infection.

Until next time,


PS from Dad. I'd never heard of Polydactyl cats until recently. However, after reading about them, I have to say that the old adage, “Truth is often stranger than fiction,” holds true.