If you're interested in adding polydactyl cats to your family, you already know just how intriguing they can be.
But what exactly are polydactyl cats? Derived from the Greek for "many fingers or toes," the term "polydactyl cat" refers to a cat with six or more toes on each paw instead of five (in the back) or four (in the front). Cats with this trait can have extra toes on one or more or all of their feet. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the title of "most toes" on a polydactyl goes to Jake, a Canadian tabby whose digits, officially counted by his vet in 2002, number 28 altogether with "each toe having its own claw, pad and bone structure." While most polydactyls don't have this many extra toes, Jake's record illustrates just how distinctive these cats are.
Having a few extra digits does not mean that something is wrong with your cat. The condition may seem unusual to you, but it's actually quite common in domestic cats (the trait also appears in other mammals, such as dogs and humans). In some instances, the extra toe has the appearance of a large thumb, thus making your kitty look as if she's wearing an adorable pair of mittens.
For pet parents looking to adopt a polydactyl, keep in mind that they are not a specific breed. In fact, this genetic anomaly can appear in any feline breed, as it is passed down through DNA. The Maine Coon has around a forty percent chance of being born a polydactyl, but there is no strong evidence of a genetic predisposition, says Vetstreet.
The polydactyl cat's history on record begins in 1868, and they were particularly popular amongst those in the shipping trade in northeast United States and Canada (Nova Scotia especially), where the majority of polydactyl cats are still found. These special cats were—and still are—considered to bring good luck to their owners, especially sailors, who brought cats on board to work on their ships as mousers. With their extra digits, polydactyls have amazing balance and can withstand even the hardiest waves the sea offers.
Oftentimes, you'll hear polydactyls referred to as Hemingway cats, named after the American author Ernest Hemingway, who was gifted a six-toed cat by a sea captain. Living in Key West, Florida at the time, circa 1931 to 1939, Hemingway was completely enamored with his new pet, Snowball. Over the years, notes Vetstreet, this famous cat's ancestors took over the celebrated writer's estate, now the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, numbering close to fifty.
Although there are no particular health concerns associated with polydactyl cats, as a pet parent, you will be responsible for diligent maintenance of your fur baby's claws and paws. According to Petful, "There is often an extra claw between the 'thumb' and the foot, which can grow around and become embedded in the foot or pad, causing pain and infection." To avoid irritation or possible injury, ask your veterinarian for tips on how to comfortably and safely trim your kitty's claws.
Paying close attention to your cat's grooming habits is a great way to discover whether anything is amiss with your kitty—polydactyl or not—including excessive licking of her paws or favoring one foot over the others.
Don't let fear of the unknown deter you from welcoming happy and healthy polydactyl cats into your family! A polydactyl will fill your home with love, companionship, happiness and a few extra toes.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.