Polydactyl cats are feline individuals with more than 18 toes.
Cats have five toes on each forepaw and four on each hind paw, adding up to 18 toes (digits). However, a polydactyl cat will have at least one paw with more than the expected number of digits.
Polydactilism is a genetically inherited trait, inherited through a dominant gene, meaning that if one parent has it, the offspring will likely also.
Cats with polydactylism occasionally have a single paw with up to nine toes. However, most with the condition have less than nine toes on a single paw.
A cat named Jake, from Bonfield, Ontario, Canada, is the current Guinness World Record holder for the number of toes on all four paws. A veterinarian counted 28 toes in 2002. He had seven toes on each paw.
Polydactyl cat nicknames
Polydactyl cats have nicknames that vary between regions. Some people call them mitten or mitten-foot cats.
But they have other nicknames, including conch, snowshoe, six-fingered, and boxing cats.
However, they are best known in North America as Hemingway cats because of the history of their association with the famous American novelist Ernest Hemingway.
How polydactyls became known as Hemingway cats
Tourists who have visited the historic Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, would have noticed that the building is home to dozens of polydactyl cats.
Hemingway lived in the house in the 1930s before moving to his house, Finca Vigía, in San Francisco de Paula Ward, Havana, Cuba, where he lived from c. 1940 to 1960.
Hemingway was a cat lover. He kept them at his homes in Florida and Cuba.
While living in Key West in the 1930s, Hemingway reportedly acquired Snow White, a white polydactyl kitten, from a sailor friend. The sailor was a sea captain named Stanley Dexter.
Sailors commonly owned polydactyls because they considered them superior mousers and thought they brought voyagers good luck.
The claim that polydactyls were superior mousers could be related to the belief that their extra digits give them a better grip on narrow surfaces and enhance their stability and balance.
Better balance makes them more efficient hunters. They are also able to adapt better to conditions on rough seas.
Cats at Hemingway House are Snow White’s descendants
The population of cats at the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, are said to be Snow White’s descendants.
However, not all the moggies at the house have the polydactyl trait. Only about half reportedly have it. However, the individuals with the polydactyly trait have six toes on each paw.
Hemingway reportedly established the tradition of naming them after celebrities, such as Frank Sinatra, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe.
Hemingway’s son Patrick once denied the story that Hemingway kept six-toed felines at Key West.