The word “polydactyl” comes from the Greek words for “many toes.” Polydactyl cats have a gene that produces additional toes or dewclaws. This gives them a “snowshoe,” big-pawed look. Ernest Hemingway was intrigued by the look and personality of this type of cat and had a number of them on the grounds of his property in Key West. Today, you can still see the descendants of Hemingway’s polydactyl cats wandering freely there.
American Polydactyl Cats
Though polydactylism can occur in any type of cat, some polydactyl cats have been specifically bred for this genetic mutation as well as for overall appearance and personality characteristics. The American polydactyl cat is considered a genetic trait and cannot be registered as a separate breed with many cat registries. Maine coon cats often display the polydactyl trait and have a distinct breed called the Maine coon polydactyl. However, the American polydactyl cat continues to be developed as a specific breed with recognizable and reliable characteristics.
Polydactyl Cat History
Polydactyl cats appeared frequently in the eastern United States and were often used on ship’s to keep the rodent population down on voyage. The sailors considered these cats “good luck.” Even polydactyl cats found in other port cities around the world are believed to come from the original polydactyl cats from the eastern United States. Ernest Hemingway was given a polydactyl cat and become so fond of the breed that he wrote about the cats and kept several in his household. His writing helped to popularize the breed.
The American polydactyl cat is rectangular in body shape, of a medium size. Cats usually have 5 toes on the front paws and 4 toes on the back paws. The polydactyl gene can produce as much as 7 toes on either front, back or both front and back paws. The extra toes sometimes give the appearance of a “thumb” and a human-like quality to the feet of the cat. The face is wide with a squared chin. The ears are set wide apart and have pointed tips. Eyes are rounded. The coat of the American polydactyl cat can be any color and may be long or short, but it should lie close to the body.
The polydactyl trait that causes extra toes does not cause any additional health problem. However, there is a disease that causes the growth of additional toes and other bony protuberances that is much more debilitating. Your veterinarian will be able to distinguish the two conditions via x-ray of your cat.
Many owners report their American polydactyl cat as having a gentle and mellow personality that accepts children and other pets in the household without difficulty. However, not all polydactyl cats have this agreeable nature.
Polydactyl kittens may have difficulty learning to walk with their additional digits. However, they soon learn to adapt and even learn to use their extra toes to their advantage in hunting and grasping objects. American polydactyl cats adapt well to both indoor and outdoor living.
Care of American Polydactyl Cats
Because the extra toes may be in awkward positions on the feet, polydactyl cats may not be able to file down their nails as cats normally do with natural scratching motions. The owner may have to trim the additional nails so that they do not grow too long and pierce adjacent footpads. Otherwise, the American polydactyl cat requires the same care as any other type of cat; that is, a healthy diet, fresh water and regular check-ups at the veterinarian.