Polydactyly or polydactylism is a physical irregularity in cats that causes them to be born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more of their paws.
Despite this being a genetic anomaly, it doesn’t make the cat any less cute! All it does is give you more of a reason to name your cat Mr. Mittens. Here are seven interesting & amazing facts about polydactyl cats.
It’s a Genetic Mutation
Polydactyly is caused by a genetic mutation usually inherited by the kitten from its parent. It manifests from a dominant gene passed onto the offspring and generally results in the development of anywhere between four to seven toes on the paws of a cat. It is usually the front paws that are often affected by this mutation, but there is also the possibility it can happen on the hind paws.
The mutation itself is very random, sometimes causing a different number of toes on each paw. Like polydactyly, feline radial hypoplasia is another physical problem in cats that causes the development of extra toes. The difference is that these extra toes develop right beside the cat’s normal toes. This causes the cats to have extremely large, flat feet. If these cats are bred, it can result in severe paw deformities in future generations.
It’s an Asset (For the Most Part)
Polydactyl cats have an advantage when compared to normal cats. Polydactyl cats benefit from having wider paws. For instance, a polydactyl cat named Cravendale, from Warrington, England, would often use his four extra toes to pick up toys and climb like a human.
Their extra toes allow them to have a better grip on treats and help them traverse puzzling surfaces, like sand, snow, or the city landscape. Polydactyl cats are also thought to have an easier time catching and holding their prey as they hunt. This can be evident when you leave a polydactyl cat near your furniture and return to have it completely decimated.
However, having the extra toes may at times be a hindrance, mainly because it increases the risk of snagging a claw. They may also require more grooming and paw care than normal cats.
They Are Considered Good Luck Charms
Unlike the superstition of black cats being bad luck, polydactyl cats were and still are believed to bring good luck to sailors. Back in old times, polydactyl cats were a common sight on long journeys by ships. They were once highly cherished and desired by sailors, who believed them to be superior mousers and great felines for balancing the high seas.
This was entirely true because their large, wide paws made the polydactyl cats excellent mousers. They kept the supplies of the ship free from vermin and rodents alike. This prevented the sailors from getting nasty diseases which they attributed to the luck of the cat. In many cultures, such as those in Japan, cats are already considered good luck, but polydactyl cats are considered luckier, especially during ocean travel.
Entire Breeds of Polydactyl Cats
Polydactyly has become such a common condition in cats that it has given way to entire breeds of cats known for this desired abnormality. One such breed is the American Polydactyl which is bred not just for its extra toes but for other physical and behavioral physiognomies.
Another well-known type is the Maine Coon variety which used its extra paws to navigate around the abundant snow in Maine.
Unfortunately, neither of these are universally recognized as cat breeds. In the past, cats used to have about a 40 percent chance of suffering from polydactyl and having extra toes, depending on who you ask. It can be considered a good thing or a bad thing that this is no longer the case. Now no cat breed has more or less chance of being polydactyl.
Mittens, Shoes & Thumbs
Though they get an extra toe or two, polydactyl cats can often appear wearing gloves, shoes, and even mittens! Most polydactyl cats have toes that appear similar to their other toes; however, in some cats which suffer from polydactyly, the dewclaw is so big that it looks like a thumb.
There are three kinds of polydactyly: Postaxial, Preaxial, and Mesoaxial, which means that the extra toes are on the pinky side, the medial side, and in the center of the hand, respectively. Postaxial and mesoaxial polydactyl cats often have “pancake feet” because of their large & wide paws.
On the other hand, cats with preaxial polydactyly are called “thumb cats” because the spare toes have the appearance of a thumb. Many of these cats are named based on the appearance of their paws and with such adorable paws, rightfully so.
You cannot mention polydactyl cat facts without mentioning Ernest Hemingway’s love for them. Among the many names of polydactyl cats, they are sometimes called Hemingway cats, named after Ernest Hemingway, who was extremely affectionate towards the extra toe carrying cats. He discovered this love when he was gifted a polydactyl cat by a ship captain whom he took into his care.
After he died in 1961, his house was transformed into a museum and home for all cats. Today, the descendants of that very cat still live on, and many of them share the trait of being polydactyl, just like his ancestors! There are around 40-50 cats in the museum, half of them being polydactyl and all historical treasures.
They Are Famous
One of the more obscure polydactyl cat’s facts is that many of them are famous. The 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, owned a polydactyl cat he called Slippers. This cat is one of the first feline residents who lived at the white house. Another famous polydactyl cat is Jake the cat, a Guinness World Record holder of the most toes on a cat.
Jake was born with a staggering 28 toes to achieve this world record. As mentioned earlier, Ernest Hemingway’s cat is also famous though its name is under some conflict. Some people call him Snow Ball; others call him Snow White. This is probably because the cat had a pure white coat.
And these were 7 of the most fascinating and incredible facts about polydactyl cats and how they have risen to this level of popularity and stature.