Fascinating Facts About Polydactyl Cats
Polydactyl cats are felines that have more than the usual number of toes on their paws. The medical term for the condition is polydactyly. Most regular kitties have 18 toes all together. They have five toes on each of their front paws but they have four toes on each of their back paws. The exciting thing about polydactyl cats is that have more than this. Some have as many as eight digits on one foot. Typically, it is the front paws that have additional toes and it is actually quite rare for a kitty to have extra toes on their hind paws only. It’s even more rare for all four paws to have additional toes.
The extra toes grow because of a genetic mutation which is inherited from the parents. Whilst it is associated more often with some breeds, it can occur in cats of all breeds. It affects both males and females. Here are some fascinating facts that you may not know about polydactyl cats!
Polydactyl Cats Personality
The genetic mutation that causes polydactyly is not connected to a cat’s personality and so polydactyl cats have the same personality as others of their breed. Therefore, if you have a polydactyl cat that is of the Maine Coon breed, for example, it will be sociable and friendly just like others in the breed. If you have a Siamese with extra toes, you can expect them to be both curious and vocal in the same way as other Siamese.
This means that there is no point in you choosing a polydactyl cat because you want a particular personality trait. Selecting a specific breed is more likely to get you what you want. Polydactyly is not connected with any particular coat color or pattern.
Polydactyl Cats Behavior
Polydactyl cats will behave just like other cats do! You can expect the usual playful, mischievous, skittish and friendly (or unfriendly) behavior that you see in all other felines.
However, having all those extra toes does bring some advantages to your cat in that it can make them more dexterous. They may be able to use their front paws in ways that cats with 18 toes can’t. Many owners have been amazed at how their cats can open doors and cupboards that other cats would not be able to do. This is especially likely to happen if they have extra toes that are at an angle to the other toes and act like ‘thumbs’. These will give a great grasping ability and you may find that your cat can get out of places that you thought they were securely locked in.
Polydactyl Cats Health Issues
Most of the time, being a polydactyl cat is no problem whatsoever. The outward clinical sign is obviously an extra digit (toe) or several extra digits. If your cat has a preaxial polydactyly, they will have an extra toe that is growing in front of their dew claw. If your cat has a postaxial polydactyly, it means that the extra toe will be growing after their fourth toe.
The medical name for this is extra phalangeal growth. There are several forms that the digit can take. It could consist of just soft tissue or there may be bone structure involved.
There can be some symptoms associated with the condition that you may not be expecting. Firstly, if there is an unusual bone structure associated with having an extra digit, your kitty can be more prone to foot injuries. This can cause pain and deformity and can affect mobility. In some cats, the nail beds of the additional digits are fused together and this can cause claw abnormalities which cause pain and may prevent your kitty from getting around. Overgrowth or irregular nail growth can also take place and that can cause pain itself and can cause nail bed infections which are also acutely painful.
If your polydactyl cat is experiencing any problems, it is important that you take them to your vet. They will probably ask about your cat’s parents and may want to know about the breeder where you obtained your cat. Tell them about any symptoms that your cat is suffering. Your vet palpate your cat’s paws to work out whether their extra digit is made up of only soft tissue or if it has bone in it. They may want to carry out a radiograph of the affected paws to confirm if there is any bone there. If they suspect that the paw has become infected, they may request blood and urine examinations. Your pet will probably recover but permanent lameness can result.
Sometimes, a vet will recommend surgical removal of the extra digits. This is done to avoid the potential injuries and health problems in the future. Most surgery will require a general anesthetic and your kitty will probably have to be in hospital overnight. When you get them home, they are very likely to need pain medication and antibiotics. They should make a full recovery within six weeks.
Finally, the gene mutation may cause problems in other parts of a cat’s body including the heart. Sadly, this can lead to euthanasia in the most severe cases.
Breeding Polydactyl Cats
Polydactyly is more common in some breeds than others. It is most common in the Maine coon cat breed. In the past, as many as 40 % of Maine Coon cats may have had polydactyly but it is not as common now.
It is a genetic trait that is inherited by the offspring from their parents. The polydactyl gene is called a single, autosomal dominant gene. This means that it overrides other normal genes. So, if one parent has the gene and the other parent does not, each of the offspring has a 50-50 chance of having the condition.
The practice of breeding cats with additional toes is not encouraged. If you actively select for a genetic deformity, you will eventually produce severely disabled offspring. Nevertheless, some breeders insist on selecting female and male cats that both have the genetic mutation to ensure that all the offspring have polydactyly. This is because some owners actively seek out this type of cat because they like the novelty value and find it quirky and amusing.
There is a breed called the American Polydactyl cat breed but it is not recognized by the official cat breeder organizations in the US. These cats have personalities that are very similar to Maine Coons.
The practice of breeding animals with potentially damaging deformities for human gratification is not something that vets and responsible breeders condone. Therefore, many polydactyl cats are routinely sterilized to make sure they will not pass on the trait to future generations.
Polydactyl Cat Facts – The Top Ten
Here are ten further polydactyl cat facts that you may not know!
- The world record for the greatest number of toes on a cat is held by two cats. They are Jake from Canada and Paws from the US. They are in the Guinness World Book of Records and both had 28 toes!
- Polydactyl cats are found all over the world! They have been reported in the US, UK, Asia and Nova Scotia. Here in the US, the States of Boston and Massachusetts report the highest prevalence of polydactyly. These cats are thought to have descended from cats introduced by English Puritans.
- In the past, sailors thought that the extra toes possessed by polydactyl cats made them better at catching mice and climbing the rigging. They were prized on-board ships and traveled all over the world ridding cargo ships of vermin. Sailors also believed that they brought good luck at sea. This is why you tend to find a lot of polydactyl cats in sea ports, especially in the US and the UK.
- There are several different names that have been given to polydactyl cats over the years. These include “mitten kittens”, “big-foot cats and “cats with thumbs”. They also have some regional names including “Boston thumb cat” and the “Vermont snow shoe cat”.
- Polydactyl cats are also called “Hemmingway” cats. This is because the famous author Ernest Hemingway was given a polydactyl by a ship captain. This kitty was called Snow White and had six toes. Hemingway died in 1961 and his home in Florida (Key West) was converted into a museum. It was also preserved as a home for his cats. There are at least fifty cats living there and around half of the cat population have polydactyly. This is the place to go if you want to see a polydactyl cat!
- As an owner of a polydactyl cat, you will need to get used to checking their paws regularly. It’s a good idea to get them used to this when they are a kitten. When you look at their paws, check for signs of injury and infection. Also, watch out for any other abnormalities or signs of tenderness.
- The nails of a polydactyl cat may not wear don in the same way as the nails of a regular cat would. Usually, a cat’s nails are worn down by scratching but because a polydactyl cat’s nails are growing at an irregular angle, this may not happen. You will have to do the nail trimming for them. If their nails are too long, they are more likely to get caught on things and tear. This can be very painful for your cat. Trimming the nails of a polydactyl cat is not that easy! If you are not happy about doing it yourself, you can ask a professional cat groomer or a vet to do it for you.
- Stuck for inspiration on what to call your polydactyl cat? There are plenty of appropriate options out there. You could make reference to their distinctive feet by calling them something like Boots or Mittens. You could play on the scientific names associated with polydactyly and call them Poly or Digit. The other option is to draw on their nautical past with a name such as Captain or Skipper.
- You can find polydactyl cats advertised online. Breeders should not really charge more for them and you should expect to pay the same as for others in the breed. Try not to choose a breeder that selects specifically for polydactyl cats as this can cause health issues. Remember that if you breed from your polydactyl cat, the kittens will not necessarily be polydactyl.
- There are other conditions that look a little like polydactyly but which are more serious. One of these is feline radial hypoplasia and is a condition that is extremely detrimental to your cat’s health. In this condition, your cat will have extra toes but they will develop immediately next to the normal toes. As a result, your cat will have very large, flat feet. If these cats are bred, the offspring can have severe paw deformities.
Now that you know all about polydactyl cats, you can decide if you want one as a pet! You need to consider all the things that you would for any cat – breed, personality, size and age. You also need to consider if you have the time and skills to devote to caring for your pet. However, because polydactyl cats do have a higher rate of health issues associated with the additional toes, you also have to take this into account. The extra vet’s appointments could add up to quite a lot of money. You may also have to spend more time and effort on nail grooming than you would for a regular cat. Finally, with so many toes, they may cause a bit of damage around your home so a scratching pad would be a good idea. If all of this is not a problem for you, go ahead and get your kitty with extra toes!