Polydactyl cats are born with more toes (or digits) than usual.
Normal cats have 18 toes, with five on each front paw and four on each hind. However, individuals born with more than 18 toes have a congenital (present from birth) condition called polydactylism.
Polydactylism is usually genetically inherited. Researchers found it is common in some regions of the world, such as the North American East Coast and counties of South West England and Wales.
Researchers believe that the polydactyl cat population in the North American East Coast likely originated from South West England.
They might have arrived with Puritan immigrants in Boston in the 17th century. They spread along the East Coast as far as Halifax, Nova Scotia.
How do polydactyl paws compare?
Any cat born with more than 18 toes has polydactylism. However, the number of extra toes vary. Each toe on a polydactyl paw usually has a distinct bone structure, a claw, and pads.
Polydactyl cats may have up to nine toes (or digits) on a single paw. There have not been any reports of more than nine digits on a front or hind paw.
Some cats have polydactyl front paws only. Cats with hind paw polydactylism are relatively rare. Most polydactyl individuals do not have it for all paws.
The video below shows what polydactyl or “mitten” paws look like.
How do they differ from normal cats?
Polydactyl cats do not differ in personality from normal cats. However, it reportedly confers some advantages.
Owners reported that they have a better grip on surfaces. Having extra digits enhanced their balance and stability.
It could explain why sailors favored them. Individuals with better grip walk better on narrow surfaces during voyages on rough seas.
Sailors believed they were superior mousers.
English sailors also reportedly believed they brought good luck. However, some mainland European cultures branded them “devil cats” and associated them with witches.
Guinness World records for number of toes
Jake is the current holder of the Guinness World Record for most toes. He lives with owners Michelle and Paul Contant in Bonfield, Ontario, Canada.
A veterinarian confirmed on September 24, 2002, that Jake had 28 toes — seven on each paw.
Another cat called Paws also reportedly tied with Jake. Paws, who lived with her owner Jeanne Martin in Northfield, Minnesota, also had 28 toes.
She had three extra digits on each front paw (making nine digits on each forepaw) and an extra on each hind (making five digits each).
Mickey Mouse reportedly had 32 toes
Some sources claim that the highest number of toes ever reported for a single cat was 32 counted in October 1974.
The cat, named Mickey Mouse, belonged to Mrs. Renee Delgade of Westlake Village, California, and allegedly had eight toes on each paw.
However, experts speculated that Mickey Mouse may have had a condition known as double-paws. As the name suggests, it occurs when two distinct paws fuse into one at the end of a limb.
The condition is not the same as polydactylism.
Polydactyl cats are also known as ‘Hemingway cats’
Polydactyl cats have different nicknames that vary from one region to the next. Some people call them “mitten cats.” But they are best known as Hemingway cats after Snowball, a cat that belonged to the famous novelist Ernest Hemingway.
Tourists can still meet the polydactyl descendants of Snowball at the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida.