You’re probably familiar with your kitty’s paws, but have you ever noticed that they have more toes than usual for a feline? Cats with extra toes are called “polydactyl” cats, a name that comes from the Greek origin words “poly” meaning “many” and “daktylos” meaning “digits.”
Polydactyl cats aren’t all that uncommon. In fact, a polydactyl cat even made it to the White House. President Theodore Roosevelt had a cat with extra toes named Slippers.
While most cats have 18 toes, with five on both front paws and four on the back paws, it’s not unusual for a cat to have extras. Some have as many as eight toes on a given paw! Here’s what you should know about polydactyl cats.
Why So Many Cats With Extra Toes?
Polydactyly is a genetic abnormality that causes extra toes to form on one or more paw. Most polydactyl cats have extra toes on their front paws, though some have extras on the back paws, as well.
It’s passed down from parent cats through a dominant gene. So even if one cat has a normal amount of toes while the other is polydactyl, 40 to 50 percent of their kittens will have extra toes.
There’s nothing medically wrong with a cat having extra toes, and it doesn’t hurt in any way. In fact, they can be quite beneficial.
Some breeds are more likely to have polydactyly — the term for this abnormality.
In the past, up to 40 percent of Maine Coons had extra toes — a useful trait in the state of Maine, which gets more than 100 inches of snow annually. The extra toes helped Maine Coons’ paws act like snowshoes so they could walk around outside without falling through the snow as easily.
The reason polydactyl cats are so widespread in certain parts of the world like England, Whales, the eastern United States, and Canada may be because they were prized by sailors as bringers of good luck.
They were often called “gypsy cats.” Their extra toes made them great mousers and allowed them to stay balanced on rough waters.
What Are Mitten Paws?
Some polydactyl cats are called “mitten cats” because they have extra toes on the medial side or “thumb side” of their paws.
These toes usually aren’t fully formed and are not opposable like human thumbs. Although, some cats have learned to use them in a similar manner to the way humans use their thumbs.
Pet parents have been amazed by mitten cats’ ability to open latches or windows with these extra digits.
The Most Toes On A Cat
There are rumors of a cat named Mickey Mouse who lived in the 1970s and had 32 toes, but it’s likely that this cat had a condition known as “double paws” where there are actually two paws that fuse together.
There are also rumors of a cat named Triple who had 30 toes among his five legs and six paws. However, it’s probably the result of having a conjoined twin who never fully developed.
The Hemingway Cats
Polydactyl cats are often called “Hemingway Cats.”
In the 1930s, a sea captain named Stanley Dexter gifted an extra-toed kitten to writer Ernest Hemingway. The cat was the descendant of Dexter’s own polydactyl kitty named Snowball, and Hemingway named his new kitten Snow White.
This started a major fascination in Hemingway for polydactyl cats. At his home in Key West, Florida, he collected more than 50 felines, half of whom had extra toes. He cared deeply for his cats and named each one of them after a famous person.
Today you can visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum where there’s still a colony of 40 to 50 cats, some of which are directly descended from Snow White. About half of them still have extra toes.
They receive regular veterinary care, including vaccinations and treatments for fleas and other pests. And in the spirit of Hemingway’s love for his felines, they all still get named after famous people.
How many toes does your kitty have? Do you think your cat is a descendant of the ones that sailors carried on their ships? Let us know in the comments below!