Polydactyl cats facts: Why they are unique

How are polydactyl cats different? The paws of cats were born with more toes than usual. Polydactyl cats may have up to six toes on each paw, although the majority of cats possess five toes on their front paws or four on their hind paws. The genetic anomaly polydactyly, which causes additional digits, is more prevalent in some areas of the world than others. Here are seven interesting facts about polydactyl cats:

1 - Polydactyly is a genetic anomaly.

Polydactyl Cat

The condition that results in a cat having additional toes is brought about by a mutation in the genome, though typically not one that is toxic or destructive. Polydactyly, often referred to as hyperdactyly and hexadactyly, is an autosomal dominant feature that results in 40 to 50% of a litter being born with additional toes if just one parent has the condition. While the congenital physical defect is typically not harmful, it may potentially be a complication of other genetic disorders, such as cat radial hypoplasia, that can result in the cat's forelegs being underdeveloped and twisted and rendering it helpless.

2 - A number of polydactyl cats have "mitten paws."


Preaxial polydactyly cats have "mitten paws. The cat's extra toes will then develop in the center of its paw, giving it a thumb- or mitten-like appearance. Although they seem like thumbs, these additional digits are not opposable.

3 - Polydactyly extra toes could be useful.


There are advantages to having wider paws, yet having extra toes can occasionally be a hindrance because it raises the likelihood of snagging a claw. For instance, Cravendale, an English polydactyl cat from Warrington, was known to pick up toys or climb like a human using his four additional toes. They can grasp rewards more firmly because of their extra fingers, which also aid them in navigating difficult terrain like sand and snow. Additionally, it's believed that polydactyl cats can grasp and hold their prey more easily when they're hunting.

4 - Polydactyls cats are seen as lucky.

Polydactyl Cat

Polydactyl cats aren't different from other cat breeds that were thought to be lucky for sailors, like black and calico cats. Cats with several limbs were historically common sights on protracted ship trips.

Due to their large, stout paws, polydactyl cats were excellent mousers and could keep the ship's provisions free of pests. 
Their paws also provide support in difficult seas.

The most prevalent locations for polydactyl cats are West England, Wales, Canada, and the Eastern United States. The time they spent on their transcontinental ship is commonly cited as the reason for their dominance in these regions. It is thought that the genetic trait was spread among polydactyl cats in England by being transferred over the Atlantic Ocean when they mated with non-polydactyl cats.

5 - Over a century ago, the first mention of cat polydactyly was made.


The Burt Green Wilder papers from the 19th century contain the first scientific description of feline polydactyly, which he simply dubbed "Extra Digits. After receiving his degree in comparative anatomy from Harvard University, Wilder went on to work as an instructor at Cornell. His articles, which were published between 1841 and 1925, covered a wide range of subjects, from spiders to family ancestry, but according to the Cornell archives, Wilder was particularly fond of studying cats. Each year, he used upwards of 400 cats for his research. He published a study on feline polydactyly in 1868.

6 - Polydactyl cats were beloved by Ernest Hemingway.


Ever question the rationale behind the frequent use of polydactyl cats like Hemingway cats as examples? Because Ernest Hemingway adored them, that is. Ernest Hemingway fell deeply in love with polydactyl cats after receiving SnowBall, a white one, as a gift from a ship's captain.

After he passed away in 1961, his Key West, Florida, home was converted into a museum and a refuge for his beloved cats. About 50 descendants from his original pack of cats still reside in the cat colony, with about half of them being polydactyls.

7 - Coons from Maine are more susceptible to it.

Maine coon

Around forty percent of all Maine coon cats are known to have possessed additional toes at one time. This might have happened because Maine's snowy terrain was easier to navigate with extra-wide paws and digits. To pass on polydactyly to kittens, just one parent cat needs to have it, and 40% of their offspring will be produced with extra digits. Due to natural selection and this combination, polydactyl cat breeds from Maine may have had the highest breeding success rate.

Despite being partially bred by Maine Coons, it still has a higher likelihood of being in the breed than in others.

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