5 Fascinating Facts About Polydactyl Cats

Cats with extra toes — a.k.a. polydactyl cats — have a freaky awesomeness that we just love. Let's learn five fun facts about polydactyl kitties here.

Polydactyl cat paw close up.
Polydactyl cat paw close up. Photography ©Ed-Ni-Photo | Thinkstock.

Some friends of mine have a polydactyl cat named Dougus, whom I affectionately call “The Toes.” He certainly earns the name: With six toes on each foot, he is well above average — and he’s off the charts in good looks and charm as well.

Polydactyly is not unusual in cats, so Dougus is hardly alone in his freaky awesomeness. Here are five fascinating facts about six-(or-more)-toed cats.

1. Polydactyly is a genetic abnormality

Polydactyl cat Owen.
Owen, a polydactyl cat. Photography courtesy Annie Butler Shirreffs.

Count your kitty’s toes. Odds are she has a total of 18, with five toes on each front paw and four on each rear. If your kitty is polydactyl, however, she might have as many as eight toes on any given paw. The word is Greek in origin, with “poly” meaning “many” and “daktylos” meaning “digits.”

Most polydactyl cats have extra toes on their front paws, which sometimes resemble thumbs and make your kitty look as though she’s wearing adorable mittens. These extra digits are not opposable, which means your polydactyl cat will not be able to start feeding herself at 5 a.m.

2. Polydactyl cats are also known as Hemingway cats

When a ship captain gave a white polydactyl cat named Snowball to writer Ernest Hemingway, the captain kicked off a pretty fantastic obsession for one of history’s most prolific cat guys. At Hemingway’s island home off Key West, FL, he collected more than 50 cats, almost half of whom had extra toes. Thanks to his obsession, today polydactyls are frequently called “Hemingway cats.”

As Catster’s Dorian Wagner did, you can visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where the cat colony still thrives — and some of the kitties are descendants of Snowball, Hemingway’s original polydactyl.

Bonus fact: Polydactyl cats are such a big deal that they’ve made it all the way to the White House: President Theodore Roosevelt had a six-toed first kitty named Slippers.

3. The world record for the most toes on a cat is 28

The Internet cannot agree on which polydactyl kitty actually has the most toes. According to Guinness Records, the title belongs to Jake, a ginger tabby from Canada. He boasts seven toes on each paw, for a grand total of 28. Each toe has its own claw, pad, and bone structure.

The rumor mill also tells of a 32-toed cat named Mickey Mouse who lived in the ’70s. But instead of polydactyly, he might have had a condition known as “double paws,” in which each paw is actually comprised of two fused mirror-image paws. Having extra toes is complicated!

4. Polydactyly is common in Maine Coons

Historically, polydactyly was a useful trait for Maine Coon cats. For a breed originating in snowy Maine, doublewide paws with extra digits functioned as natural snowshoes. At one time, as many as 40 percent of all Maine Coons had extra toes. Though the trait is no longer as predominant in the breed, Maine Coon polydactyls are still recognized as an official breed by many cat fanciers.

5. Polydactyl cats were once considered good luck at sea

Back in the day, polydactyl cats got their sea legs by accompanying fishermen on many journeys. And they earned their keep — they were rumored to be excellent mouse hunters, and their extra toes gave them better balance on ships that encountered rough waters. The cats’ many travels might explain their widespread presence today, predominantly in the United States, Canada, England and Wales.

Thumbnail: Photo CC-BY Flickr user brownpau. Some modifications may have been made to fit the specifications of this site. 

This piece was originally published in 2013.

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39 thoughts on “5 Fascinating Facts About Polydactyl Cats”

  1. A stray cat that someone let go outdoors & probably moved away, the cat walked into my house one day. I was feeding a black polydactyl male feral cat on my porch & the stray cat found the food. The stray friendly female cat is an Egyptian Mau.
    I started letting her spend the nights & let her out next days. Then she got pregnant. She picked my bathtub to give birth to five kittens. I helped her & Three are polydactyl. At six weeks I adopted one out, at 8 weeks the rest were adopted out. I got the Mom spayed & I adopted her. She is so pretty & very gentle. I just love her. She probably was impregnated by the black polydactyl male feral cat. She is not polydactyl. She is so gorgeous & very young.

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  9. Hi I have a polidoctal kitten that needs a home,he was here when I moved into my apartment. Feral kitten that needs a home, I have managed to get him to let me pet him, pick him up. He will take one of his paws and reach out to your hand so that I will let him. He’s a beautiful ginger cat. I already have 3 inside cats in a efficiency apartment. I’m not able to bring inside another car. Does anyone know of someone or a rescue group who could help him? Thank you

    1. Hi Edie,

      Please research and contact local rescue groups near you. Thanks for caring for this cat in the meantime!

    2. We’re if you are still looking to adopt him are you located we live in new Mexico and have two hemmingways And would love to give him a loving home thank you Cheryl

  10. I found a very small kitten wandering on the street near my home. No one claimed him, so I kept him. I had never heard of a polydactyl cat…my new little guy has 26 toes. We just love him so much!

    1. We also adopted a small, nearly ferrel kitten that showed up at our house. We named her Earnestina (Tina) Hemmingway. The vet counted 26 toes.

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  12. I have a 2 year old Turkish Van with 25 toes. her name is Nina…named for my friend who has nine toes. guess it’s a toe related issue. she hasn’t had any problems with her abundance of toes and her big paws really come in handy when she backhands the other cat as he innocently walks by.

  13. We have a beautiful Bengal polydactyl cat and he is the most amazing animal I’ve ever seen. We feel blessed to have the opportunity to be his parents for his lifetime. I have always wondered why he is so rare and he is so different from the other animals I’ve seen. It all makes sense after reading this article. These cats are most definitely the most unique little ones. I’m so blessed!

  14. they must be quite common , 40 years ago we had a few wander up to our house , and over the years no matter where we live in southern central Michigan area many of the cats we have had (usually strays) at least have extra thumbs. There for awhile we also had the short rabbit tailed and double thumbed cats. genetics is interesting. but our cats have trouble getting them hung up on furniture , bark etc.

  15. I have two polydactyl kitties. Both have an extra toe on their front foot. Although on does have a more developed toe than the other. That’s why we realized after 3 years that my older cat was one and we had two.

  16. Shannon Beardsley

    look on craigslist sf/bay area right now, there is a litter of 10 poly babies ready for adoption. grabbing mine today!

    1. Hi Chloe, we suggest finding a rescue group on PetFinder.com that could help you put your kittens up for adoption. Best of luck finding them furrever homes!

  17. I lost my Boon almost a year ago a neighbor poisoned him. Boon had 27 toes loved that cat. we miss him very much.

  18. We just rescued a tiny Polydactle from the city shelter. Please let me know if you would like to adopt her. I live in California. my name is Stephanie.

  19. about two months ago my wife and I just had to say goodbye to our little girl Chia. I got her when she was about three months old and was there when the vet put her to sleep. we had her for almost 17 years, the last two she was on steroids. once the shot no longer helped her we were heartbroken and miss her so much. she was the best girl ever.

  20. One of my mom’s cats had 25 toes total, with seven toes each on both front paws, six toes on her back left paw and five on her back right paw. She was called Sashie, which was short for Sasquatch, (aka Big Foot), and she was probably the clumsiest kitten I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

  21. I lost my polydactyl orange tabby last month. She was a beloved part of us from the first time she stole our hearts at 6 weeks of age. And yes, she was an orange tabby SHE who was polydactyl to boot!

    She would use the split between her main toes and her extra toes to “hold” toys and treats. She also learned how doorknobs worked, and if those extra toes had been opposable, she’d have been unstoppable! (LOL!)

    In her later years, she ruled as a sweet, patient, quiet Grande Dame, as she taught kittens how to “cat.”

    She was 23 years old when she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. And she took huge chunks of our heart with her. May all her “mousies” now be those who’ll let her chase them!

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