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Do All Cats Have Thumbs? Vet-Reviewed Explanation of Polydactyl Cats

tabby cat paws on backrest of couch
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams

Vet approved

	Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are agile animals that can run, jump, and scratch with ease. All cats have the same general physical features — four legs, two ears, a tail, and a stout body — that help them maintain their agility and sprightliness. However, not all cats are created equal when it comes to thumbs. Do cats even have thumbs? It’s up for debate as far as most cat enthusiasts are concerned. It’s important to discuss the makeup of a cat’s “fingers” and to learn about polydactyl cats, which have extra “fingers” on their paws, to understand why the topic is debatable. Here’s what you should know.

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Cats Are Thought to Have Thumbs, But …

Cats have five “fingers” on each of their paws, so one must be a thumb, right? The answer is not a simple one. Some people consider the fifth “finger” to be a thumb, but cats don’t have thumbs the same way that we do. All five of their “fingers” work in the same way, so no one finger is opposable like a thumb on a human’s hand would be. Cats don’t need opposable thumbs to function and thrive, which is why they don’t have them. Therefore, none of the “fingers” are thumbs like ours. Some people refer to the fifth “finger” on a cat’s paw as a thumb, but it is just the same as the rest of the “fingers,” so other people are against referring to any of them as thumbs.

cat paws and sharps claws
Image Credit: Naturell, Pixabay

Do Polydactyl Cats Have Thumbs?

Polydactyl cats have extra “fingers” on their paws that often look just like the thumbs that we see on our own hands. However, those extra “fingers” are not opposable, even though they are typically referred to as thumbs by pet owners and veterinarians alike. Calling these extra limbs thumbs simply makes it easy to distinguish them from the basic five “fingers” that almost all cats are born with.

Polydactyl cats usually have extra “fingers” or toes on their front paws, but some do grow extra ones on their back paws. There is no one specific kind of cat that might end up with extra “fingers” on their paws, but there are some unofficial breeds, such as the “American Polydactyl” and “Maine Coon Polydactyl”, that are known for their extra appendages. The extra “fingers” are thought to be hereditary and do not pose any serious dangers to worry about unless they grow in awkwardly and inhibit proper walking and movement.

rear feet of a polydactyl cat
Image Credit: Constance Mannes, Shutterstock

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Are There Any Benefits of Extra Cat Toes or “Fingers”

Although the extra limbs on a cat’s paws may look like thumbs, they don’t function in the same way that we would expect a thumb to. The extra digits polydactyl cats possess don’t offer them any benefits that have been scientifically proven. Anecdotally, sailors in past centuries thought such cats were a good luck charm while on board and claimed they had a better grip on slippery surfaces. However, there’s no definitive study to prove this claimed benefit.

Extra Considerations

While there are no serious health conditions connected to having extra fingers or toes, many polydactyl cats have a condition called radial hypoplasia. Cats with this condition are sometimes referred to as squitten cats. Radial hypoplasia is a condition in which the cat’s radius bone is only partially formed and is shorter than it should be. This makes it difficult for a cat to walk properly and can lead to their inability to balance. Many cats with this condition tend to hop around in order to avoid having to walk. Specialty veterinarian care can help correct the condition for a better quality of life.

It is also important to know that some extra “fingers” or toes do not fully develop. This can lead to problems like ingrown nails and injuries. An undeveloped toe can get snagged on items, clothing, and blankets, which causes pain. It is crucial to inspect all of a cat’s “fingers” or toes regularly to ensure that no damage has been done.

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Cats do not technically have thumbs, but any extra “fingers” on their paws are usually referred to as thumbs because that’s what they look like. Any cat that has extra “fingers” or toes on their paws is called a polydactyl cat. You shouldn’t expect your polydactyl cat to pick up a cup or anything, but in most cases they can climb, scratch, and play with toys just as well as other cats.

Featured Image: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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