Everything You Wanted To Know About Polydactyl Cats

polydactyl cat tabby

As you can see, this polydactyl tabby has a few extra fingers

Polydactyl cats, otherwise known affectionately as Hemingway cats, have been a source of wonder for many cat owners for years now. The term polydactyl comes from the greek words polys, meaning “many”, and daktylos, meaning “finger”. Polydactyl cats can show up in almost any litter and are just as beautiful and agile as their average-number of fingers siblings. Here, we’re going to delve into the truth about polydactyl cats and the wonder of their genetic mutation.

Polydactylism is an inherited dominant trait. An average cat has 18 toes: five on both front paws and four on both back paws. The Guinness World Record for most toes on a polydactyl cat is 28. Most polydactyl cats will have the mutation on their front paws; it is much less common to find polydactylism on the back feet or all four feet. Polydactyl cats are most common around the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada, and in South West England and Wales.

The mutation is harmless, and the cats should be treated just like any other cat. A polydactyl cat owner may have to pay special attention to nail-clipping, but besides the extra toe or two, these cats live just like any other. It is important that cats with the appearance of polydactylism are tested for feline radio hypoplasia, a painful genetic condition that can lead to underdeveloped or mutated legs.

Did you know: Other names for polydactyl cats include: Mitten cats, snowshoe cats, thumb cats, cardi-cats, conch cats, Hemingway cats

The history of the polydactyl cat goes back many years, and their origin is debated. However, it is known that they were popular as ship’s cats and were considered good luck at sea. They spread throughout the United States from these ship-cats being brought into the Boston Harbor. Since they were extra-toed, the polydactyl cats were known to have great control and power as hunters, and were also valued as ship’s cats for this reason.

polydactyl orange cat kitten kitties

You can see from this orange kitten’s mitten-like paw that they are polydactyl

Many breedlines of cats with genetic mutations can be traced to a specific origin. However, polydactylism can be caused by multiple different mutations, making it impossible to trace the trait back to a specific line. When tested, DNA samples of polydactyl cats from the U.S. and UK showed different mutations, proving that there was no specific lineage to trace for the many-toed felines.

One of the people that made polydactyl cats so popular was Ernest Hemingway. You may know him as a Nobel Prize-winning author; however to his cats, he is just another food dispenser. He was given his first polydactyl cat by a ship’s captain, and proceeded to breed them. His former home in Key West, FL became a museum after his death and is still roamed by over fifty descendants of his first cats. Roughly half of these cats are polydactyl, part of the reason why polydactyl cats are sometimes affectionately referred to as Hemingway Cats.

Did you know: Ernest Hemingway famously said, “One cat just leads to another.” We couldn’t agree more!

Because the lineage of the polydactyl is so hard to trace, they are not considered a specific breed. There is currently one line of polydactyl cats from Ithaca, NY, known as the “Ithacat.” They are also popular in Cardigan, Wales, known as the Cardi-cats. Polydactylism has also been prevalent through the Maine Coon cat’s breed line and there are many breeders out there that advertise their many-toed Maine Coons. About fifty years ago, 40% of Maine Coons were polydactyl.

If you are interested in adopting a polydactyl cat, keep an eye out at your local animal shelter. Polydactyl cats show up here and there, and there are also many polydactyl rescues throughout the country. If you adopt a polydactyl kitten, make sure to have it tested for feline radial hypoplasia. As long as your kitty doesn’t have this genetic condition and is a true polydactyl, you’ll be good to go. Enjoy your new many-toed kitty!