When we visited a shelter last year to find our new feline family member, we fell in love with a scrawny, bedraggled little black kitten with a funny eye, who, as my daughter exclaimed, “Has thumbs!” Freddie was perfect for us, and his uniqueness just made him more amazing.
When we got home, we found that we needed to know more about this extra toe situation. Here are a few things we learned about polydactyl cats:
First, they’re not thumbs
Cats normally have five toes on each of their front paws, and four toes on the back ones. Polydactyl cats have extra toes, but even though the placement of these extra digits can sometimes make it appear as though these cats are wearing mittens, they are not opposable. So, not thumbs. We still call Freddie “thumbs” as one of his nicknames, though.
Polydactyly may give cats an advantage
Polydactyl cats have wider paws, which may give them better balance and dexterity, and the extra claws make them excellent mousers!
They are considered good luck
Cats have long been welcomed on board ships, but polydactyl cats were considered to be especially lucky – perhaps due to their prowess at catching rodents.
Ernest Hemingway loved polydactyl cats
After the famed novelist was gifted with a polydactyl cat named Snow White by a ship captain, he became a lifelong fan of the many-toed cats. Upon his death in 1961, Hemingway’s home was turned into a museum, where around fifty descendants of his original cats live on the grounds to this day.
It’s in the genes
Polydactyly is a genetic mutation that can be passed to any breed and color of cat. Some breeds, such as the Maine Coon, have a greater incidence of the mutation in their blood lines – up to 40% of Maine Coons are polydactyl.
Having extra toes isn’t usually cause for concern, but it does mean extra nail maintenance if you have a polydactyl cat. Sometimes, the extra toenails are not quite in the normal position, so special attention needs to be paid to avoiding ingrown nails by keeping all claws regularly trimmed.