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10 Fascinating Facts About Polydactyl Cats (With Pictures)

If you’ve ever spent any serious amount of time around cats, you’ve noticed that some cats have more than the normal number of toes on each foot.

Cats that fall into the latter category are known as “polydactyl.” Most cats have five toes on their front paws and four on their back paws, but some cats have six or more on each paw.

This genetic abnormality (known as “polydactyly”) is incredibly cute, but it also gives polydactyl cats certain traits that other cats don’t. We’ve put together a list of the 10 most fascinating facts about these weird, wonderful cats.

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The 10 Facts About Polydactyl Cat Paws

1. Being polydactyl is caused by a genetic abnormality.

rear feet of a polydactyl cat
Image Credit: Constance Mannes, Shutterstock

Polydactyl cats have a genetic mutation that causes them to form extra toes on at least one of their feet. However, that’s not the only effect that this abnormality can have.

Instead of growing extra digits, some cats with this mutation form extra dewclaws, while others have missing or abnormal bones. You’ll also see some with enlarged dewclaws to the point they look like thumbs; these are called “thumb cat” polydactyls.

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2. It’s not a guarantee that a polydactyl cat will pass the gene on to their offspring.

The mutation is considered a “simple autosomal dominant trait.” This means that if one parent has it, only 40-50% of their kittens will have it as well.

If you were hoping to breed a super race of extra-toed mutant cats, you’ll have your work cut out for you, as half or more of the kittens that you create will be perfectly normal.

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3. Being polydactyl is just a charming quirk, nothing more.

a polydactyl red maine coon kitten
Image Credit: Kutikova Ekaterina, Shutterstock

The extra digits that polydactyl cats have offered no advantage to the animal nor do they pose any disadvantages. They’re completely adorable but that’s about it.

This all makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. After all, if the extra toe was some form of superpower, then these cats would likely be much more commonplace. On the other hand, if it posed a huge disadvantage, then any ancestors who carried the gene likely would have died out long ago.

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4. Polydactyly isn’t the only condition that causes extra toes.

There’s another issue that affects some cats called “feline radial hypoplasia,” and like polydactyly, it can cause extra toes. However, these toes are crammed in right next to the normal toes, giving the cat extremely big, flat feet.

Unlike polydactyly, feline radial dysplasia can have negative effects on the cat’s health. It can lead to mobility issues, and if the cat passes on its genes, future generations could possibly suffer from severely deformed paws.

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5. These cats go by many names.

Closeup of head and paw of polydactyl orange tabby cat
Image Credit: Lux Blue, Shutterstock

The most common nickname for polydactyl cats is “Hemingway cats.” The famous writer Ernest Hemingway was once given a polydactyl cat as a gift, and he soon became obsessed with both the animals and the mutation. At one point, he owned over 50 cats, with more than half of them being polydactyl.

They’re also called “mitten cats,” as the extra digits often make their paws look like little gloves. In some parts of the world, they’ve also been given the moniker “ship’s cats,” as certain cultures believe that the additional toes make it easier for those cats to grip a ship’s deck in wet and stormy weather.

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6. Certain breeds are more predisposed to polydactyly than others.

While individuals of any breed can be polydactyl, it’s more common in some breeds than others. Maine coons are especially prone to the trait, and at one point, it was believed that as many as 40% of those cats were polydactyl.

It’s thought that the extra digit made it easier for those cats to walk in the snow, but there’s little evidence to support that theory. Regardless, the trait is now being bred out of Maine Coons, but you can still find some with extra digits.

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7. Most polydactyl cats don’t have extra toes on all four paws.

cat reaching its paw out
Image Credit: Pixabay

Extra toes are most common on the front feet, although some cats have them on the back feet instead. It’s rare that a cat will have extra digits on all four paws, although it does sometimes happen. Some cats are only polydactyl on one foot.

Regardless of where the extra toes are located, they’re usually well-formed and normal-looking.

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8. The record for most toes on a cat is 28.

One tabby named Jake had 7 toes on each foot, giving him a whopping 28 in all! Luckily for Jake, every single one of his toes was well-formed and had its own pad, so his abnormality didn’t cause him many issues in life.

That’s obviously an extremely rare mutation, as it gave him three additional toes on each hind paw. While Jake was likely an odd-looking feline, we imagine that his differences made him all the more adorable.

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9. Many people consider polydactyl cats to be good luck.

a polydactyl cat ready to pounce
Image Credit: LaurenMJohnson, Shutterstock

In some cultures, having a polydactyl cat around was said to be good luck. As a result, many fishermen and other sea-going professionals kept these cats on their ships to bring them good fortune. Given that the cats would have made excellent rat-catchers, those fishermen almost certainly had good luck when it came to disease prevention, at least.

This superstition around the cats may have led to their introduction to North America. Some people believe that they were brought over from Europe on ships, where they had originally been kept to give the travelers good fortune.

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10. Polydactyl cats require a little more work.

That extra toe needs every bit as much attention as the other toes, so don’t forget to trim the nail regularly. If you neglect it, it could cause serious problems for your cat down the line, so you shouldn’t get a polydactyl kitty unless you’re prepared to do a little more grooming on their behalf.

Likewise, having plenty of scratching posts around is essential with a polydactyl cat. You wouldn’t think that just one or two more toes would make much of a difference, but these felines can absolutely decimate your furniture if left to their own devices.

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Conclusion: Cat With Thumbs

While being polydactyl may not confer many advantages on to your cat, it’s still an adorable quirk that gives you something else to obsess over about your cat. It will set your pet apart from all the other cats on the block while giving you even more toe beans to fawn over.

After all, you already think that your cat is the most special animal in the world — and now you have one more way to prove it.

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Featured Image Credit: Melissa Sue, Shutterstock