If you know a lot of cats, you probably know at least one who is polydactyl– meaning it has at least one paw with extra toes. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get much cuter than a cat with big ol’ mitten paws! I’m not the only one who thinks they’re fantastic; polydactyl cats have been well-loved throughout history. Sailors often brought them onto their boats as mousers, where they were preferred for their superb sense of balance. A ship’s captain gifted a white polydactyl named Snowball to author Ernest Hemingway and nearly 50 of her descendants still live at his home in Key West, Florida, which is now a museum. President Roosevelt even brought a polydactyl cat, Slippers, to the White House! Here are 5 facts about polydactyl cats that may make you swoon over them too.
Image: Ian Collins via Flickr
#1 – The extra toes are caused by polydactyly
Polydactyly is a congenital physical anomaly that causes some cats to be born with extra toes on one or more paws. In the past, Maine Coons were the breed of cat most likely to be polydactyl. These days, the condition is fairly evenly spread across breeds.
Image: brownpau via Flickr
#2 – Polydactyl cats are more common in a couple places around the world
These many-toed sweeties are most common on the east coast of North America and in south west England and Wales. It’s a common belief that the mutation originated in either New England or the UK and was transported from one place to the other via cargo ship, which frequently employed cats to help control rodent infestations. Recent genetic studies, however, have shown that the mutations in New England cats are different than the mutations in cats from the UK, hinting that they may have developed independently of each other.
Image: author’s cat
#3 – Polydactyl cats may have as many as 8 toes on one paw
Cats normally have 18 toes– five on each front paw and four on each back paw. Polydactyl cats can double (or nearly double) that amount of toes!
Image: brownpau via Flickr
#4 – At least one polydactyl cat has 28 toes
Guinness World Records recognizes a Canadian cat named Jake as having the most toes of any polydactyl cat on record. Jake has 7 toes on each paw, totaling a whopping 28 total! Each of his toes has its own claw, pad, and bone structure.
Image: Neal Krummell via Flickr
#5 – This rare condition can get even rarer
If a polydactyl cat has extra toes on only her front or back paws, they are far more likely to be on her front paws. It’s rare for a polydactyl cat to have extra toes only on her back paws. It’s even rarer, though, for a polydactyl cat to have extra toes on all four paws.