Six-Fingered Kitty. The Curious Case of My Polydactyl Cat


Polydactyl cats, also known as “polydacts” or “Hemingway cats”, are born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more paws. They are sometimes called “mitten cats” because the extra toes make their paws look like mittens. Polydactylism is caused by a dominant gene that results in extra toes. Cats normally have 5 toes on their front paws and 4 toes on their back paws, but polydactyl cats can have as many as 9 toes per paw. The extra toes give polydactyl cats better balance and agility for climbing and hunting. While polydactyly is more common in certain cat breeds, it can occur randomly in any breed. Polydactyl cats have fascinated humans throughout history due to their unique paws.


Polydactyly (extra toes) in cats is caused by a dominant genetic mutation that affects the formation of limbs during embryonic development. This mutation causes the shader zone of polarizing activity (ZRS) to be overly active, leading to extra digit formation. The mutation is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, meaning a cat only needs one copy of the mutated gene to exhibit polydactyly. However, the trait displays variable expressivity, so the number of extra toes can differ even among related cats carrying the mutation. Research has traced the genetic origin of polydactyly in Western cats to a single ancestor that lived near Boston, Massachusetts in the 1900s. This cat likely harbored a spontaneous ZRS mutation that was then passed down through generations of descendants. Today, polydactyly is especially prevalent in certain cat breeds like the Maine Coon, in which up to 40% of individuals have extra toes. However, polydactyly can occur in any breed due to random mutations or cross-breeding with polydactyl lines [1] [2] [3].


Some cat breeds are more likely to have extra toes due to genetic mutations. The most common polydactyl cat breeds include:

Maine Coon – One of the largest domesticated cat breeds, Maine Coons often have extra toes. In fact, up to 40% of Maine Coons had extra toes at one point.

Hemingway cats – The famous polydactyl cats that lived with Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida were thought to be a mixed breed with some Maine Coon ancestry.

Pixiebob – This wild looking breed of domestic cat was bred in the 1980s and often has extra toes due to the infusion of bobcat bloodlines.

Norwegian Forest Cat – Hailing from Scandinavia, these large cats are well adapted to cold winters and sometimes have extra toes that act like snowshoes.

Manx – Originating on the Isle of Man, Manx cats frequently have extra toes due to inbreeding in the island population early in the breed’s development.

Advantages of Polydactyl Cats

Polydactyl cats, also known as “cats with extra toes,” can have some advantages over normal cats with 5 toes on the front paws and 4 on the back. The additional toes give them better dexterity and grip strength for climbing, hunting, and capturing prey according to Their wider paws also help them balance on various surfaces more easily.

In addition, the extra toes result in more surface area on their paws, which means polydactyl cats can distribute their weight better and have less pressure on their paw pads per square inch. This makes it more comfortable for them to walk and stand.

The larger paws may also pick up less dirt and debris from the litter box. As a result, polydactyl cats tend to track less mess around the house.


While polydactyl cats are unique and interesting, there can be some disadvantages associated with having extra toes. One potential issue is that the extra toes may not have bones or joints inside and can simply dangle off the paw. This can lead to injury if the non-functional toes get caught on something (source).

In some cases, the extra toes are not flexible or movable. They may be rigid and can get in the way of normal paw functions like scratching, grasping, and climbing (source). The static toes can also cause pain or arthritis over time.

There may be a higher incidence of ingrown claws with polydactyl cats. With more toes and nails, there are more opportunities for nails to curve back into the paw causing infection and discomfort. Regular nail trimming is important.

In rare cases, severely malformed paws with many extra toes can require partial amputation. However, this is uncommon and most polydactyl cats live normal, healthy lives.

Care for Polydactyl Cats

Caring for polydactyl cats is mostly the same as caring for any other cat, with just a few extra considerations for their extra toes. Here are some tips:

Regular nail trimming is important, as polydactyl cats have more nails that can get overgrown. Aim to trim nails every 2-3 weeks. Using nail clippers designed for cats can make it easier. Go slowly and don’t trim too short, as you want to avoid the quick.

Check between the toes when grooming or petting your polydactyl cat. Make sure there is no debris, matting, or signs of infection. Gently wipe between the toes if needed.

Provide a scratching post or scratcher to help wear down nails. Tall, sturdy scratching posts work best.

Monitor mobility closely, especially in older polydactyl cats. See a veterinarian if you notice limping, trouble jumping, or reluctance to move. Special orthopedic beds, ramps, or physical therapy may help.

Polydactyl kittens may need help strengthening their extra toes and learning to walk properly at first. Work with your veterinarian if mobility issues arise.

While polydactyl cats can do well in any home, their extra toes make them less suitable for households with toddlers or small children who might step on their paws.

Overall, polydactyl cats make wonderful pets! With proper care and nail trimming, they can live full, active lives.


Polydactyl cats, also known as “Hemingway cats”, often end up in shelters or rescue organizations because people assume they need special care. However, polydactyl cats function normally and have the same basic needs as any other cat. According to Polydactyl/Hemingway Kittens for Sale and Adoption, specialized rescues provide a great opportunity to adopt a polydactyl cat. With their extra toes and unique look, polydactyl cats can make wonderful pets. They don’t require anything extra and will provide the same love, companionship, and affection as any other cat. Rescuing a polydactyl cat gives them a loving home and frees up space in shelters for other homeless pets.


Polydactyl cats, also known as “Hemingway cats”, have a long history dating back to the 1800s. They are known for having extra toes on their paws. According to Purina, the first polydactyl cats were recorded aboard ships involved in trade between the United States and Canada. Sailors prized these cats for their superior climbing and mousing abilities conferred by their extra toes.

Some of the earliest concentrated populations of polydactyl cats occurred in New England, especially Massachusetts and Maine. However, there is some debate over whether the mutation originated in New England or was brought over from Britain. What is clear is that New England sailing ships helped disperse polydactyl cats around the world.

The most famous colony of polydactyl cats was at author Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida. Hemingway was gifted a six-toed cat named Snow White in the 1930s and soon acquired more polydactyl cats. Today, dozens of descendants of Hemingway’s original cats roam the grounds, delighting literary pilgrims who visit for the Hemingway Home & Museum tour.

Famous Examples

Some of the most well-known polydactyl cats come from the home of famous American author Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was gifted a six-toed cat named Snowball in the 1930s while living in Key West, Florida. Hemingway loved Snowball and began to adopt more polydactyl cats into his home. Today, around 50 descendants of Hemingway’s original polydactyl cats live at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West.

Another famous polydactyl cat was Paws, a Guinness World Record holder for having the most toes on a cat – 28! Paws was adopted by Jake Perry of Salem, Oregon in the 1980s. While most polydactyl cats have six toes on each paw, Paws had seven toes on each front paw and eight on each back paw. Sadly, Paws passed away in 2005.

Polydactyl cats have also found fame as beloved pets of celebrities. Actress Halle Berry and TV host Oprah Winfrey have owned polydactyl cats. The extra toes on these special cats are considered good luck in some cultures, which may explain their popularity among famous figures.


In summary, polydactyl cats, also known as “cats with extra toes,” have a genetic mutation that causes them to be born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more paws. While not a distinct breed, certain cat breeds like the Maine Coon are more likely to have this trait. Polydactyl cats have some advantages thanks to their extra toes, like being better climbers and hunters. But they also require some special care like more frequent nail trims. Though relatively uncommon, polydactyl cats have a long history, with famous figures like Ernest Hemingway having a beloved polydactyl cat. While their extra toes make them unique, polydactyl cats can make excellent pets with the proper care.

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