If you’ve heard the terms mitten cats, snowshoe cats, thumb cats, Hemingway cats, boxing cats, ships cats, mitten-foot cats, polydactyl cats or six-fingered cats, they all mean cats with an abnormal number of toes. They are almost unheard of in some places, yet quite common in others.
Normal Cat Paws
A normal cat has a total of 18 toes. The front paws each have five toes with four full digits and a dewclaw. They have four toes on each rear paw. Cats who have one or more extra toes on one or more of their feet are called polydactyl cats. Occasionally cats are found with less than 18 toes, but this is much rarer than polydactyl cats. Extra toes are most common on the front paws.
As of 2002, Canadian ginger tabby cat Jake holds the Guinness World Record for the most toes with 28. The extra digits can appear in different forms – duplicate dew claws, extra toes which make the whole foot extra wide, toes which look like a human thumb, or they can be small undeveloped digits tucked between normal ones. Some of the extra toes can have extra joints, giving the cat more manual dexterity to move and hold objects.
Where Do You Find Polydactyl Cats?
There are large pockets of polydactyl cats along the east coast of the US and in port cities in southwest England and Wales. They are rare in Europe, as they were killed in the 19th century because the extra toes were regarded as a sign of witchcraft. Sailors often chose polydactyl cats as ship cats because they were regarded as lucky and better at catching mice. They were taken to Boston in the mid-1600s.
Famous Polydactyl Cats
Author Ernest Hemingway lived on the small island of Key West, Florida, where a ship’s captain gave him a polydactyl cat with six-toed feet. This kitty bred with local cats and passed his characteristics on to the local population. His descendants are probably the most photographed elements of Hemingway House, which is now a tourist attraction. One of the first cats to live at the White House was a polydactyl named Slippers who lived with President Theodore Roosevelt. There is a Maine coon Polydactyl breed recognized by some cat fancier clubs.