Toeing the Line-Little Known Facts about the Polydactyl Cats

November 30, 2017

Polydactyl cats have multiple toes. Polydact is a non sex-related single dominant genetic trait. These cats are referred to Hemingway cats (since Ernest Hemingway wrote about them), Thumb Cats, Mitten Feet Cats, and/or Mitten Cats. Theodore Roosevelt also had a Polydactyl cat named Slippers. These cats can have up to seven toes on one foot. Usually there are six or more toes on the front feet and an extra toe on the rear. One of the extra toes appears to be a thumb. Some say the toes can be malformed, fuse, and are more prone to ingrown toenails. There are more polydactyl cats (cats with extra toes on their front paws) on the East Coast than in any other region of the United States. That's because sailors believed polydactyls were better mousers, because they could better grip their prey. They looked for polydactyl cats to take on board the ships that crossed from Europe to the Americas, and these cats then reproduced in seaports and other coastal areas.

Polydactyl cats are quite hardy and able to withstand almost any environment. They are outgoing, affectionate, patient, and good with kids. Polydactyls have medium-to-large bodies and are strong and muscular. Their ears are wide set and have pointy tips. Polydactyls have medium sized broad heads, noses, and muzzles. Their chins are squared and their rounded eyes are set at an angle. Polydactyl kittens may have trouble learning to walk and climb but eventually overcome and are able to open latches on cabinets, doors, and windows.

Polydactyl cats are bred for their extra toes as well as their mild temperament, good health, color and size. The Maine Coon Cat is America’s only natural longhaired cat.  By definition these cats were the blue collar-working cats from the farms, harbors and aboard the ships of colonial America. It is estimated that 40% of the original Maine Coon Cats had extra toes or were polydactyl.  These extra toes made the cat’s foot act like a hand with an opposable thumb.  The farmers, dock workers and pirates treasured these polydactyl cats for their hunting ability. Sailors valued polydactyl cats for their awesome climbing and hunting skills and for their ability to control the rat population. These cats were considered good luck charms for sailors at sea.
Because of their larger feet, American Polydactyl Cats have an easier time walking on snow than do other cats. In the show ring American Polydactyl Cats will be penalized for deafness associated with blue-colored eyes in white-colored cats. Muzzles short enough to resemble a Persian cat are penalized, as is a long body type resembling a Siamese Cat. American Polydactyl Cats will also lose points if their feet are such that they appear deformed or hinder the cats walking, and especially if they cause the cat discomfort in walking.
Polydactyl Cats are actually quite common and can be found at most animal shelters. Because of the overpopulation problem in cats, many people disapprove of breeding American Polydactyl Cats. Many people do breed them and are quite enthusiastic about them because of their great temperaments and unusual appearance! American Polydactyl Cats have extra toes because of a dominant gene. This means that kittens of a Polydactyl mother will have extra toes even if the father does not. Breeding two Polydactyl Cats increases the incidence of Polydactyl kittens. Because the gene has incomplete expression, however, it is not certain how many toes the kittens will have or what conformation their feet will show. American Polydactyl Cats can be registered with the breed society even if only one parent is Polydactyl. If both parents are Polydactyls and the kitten is not, it will be registered as an American Polydactyl without extra toes as long as it has a shortened tail.
Polydactyl cats are rare in Europe as they were almost wiped out during medieval times due to superstitions about witchcraft. One theory of the Maine Coon cat holds that they came to the New World on Viking ships.

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