When someone tells you they have a polydactyl kitten, it might conjure images of a prehistoric winged, saber-toothed kitty. "Polydactyl," though, simply means that the kitten has more than the usual 18 toes. It's a genetic oddity that can bring some joint problems with it.
Basic Polydactyl Joint Issues
Since polydactyly is a genetic mutation, it can occur in any breed of cat and isn't considered a breed type itself. If a kitten is born with even one extra toe it is considered a polydactyl, but it isn't uncommon for polydactyl kitties to have 22 toes or more. The condition typically affects a kitten's toes and therefore her toe joints. Although the most common form of polydactyly is simply extra toes, there are times when those extra toes can be fused together, making those extra digits extra large. Occasionally the extra toes have more joints than normal, making them appear and function like your thumb or fingers. Just what you need: a curious kitten with the human-like ability to open doors and cupboards.
Less Common Problems
More difficult issues can occur with a multi-toed cat if her extra toes grow in differently than her normal toes. Toes that are at awkward angles to the rest of her foot aren't all that common, although they can cause difficulty in walking. Another issue are toes that are shorter than the rest or ones that are visible and jointed, but don't have any muscles or tendons connected to them. These types of extra toes don't really pose a problem to your kitten, but if you see that any of the extra toes are becoming a nuisance, you can discuss with your vet the possibility of having them removed and whether she feels it would benefit your kitten.
More Difficult Issues
There is one more serious form of polydactyly that can cause a serious deformity in kittens. In addition to extra toes with extra joints, this type of polydactyly hinders a kitten's fore legs from forming correctly, twisting the limb and making it difficult for the kitten to walk as she matures. It isn't easy to tell if a polydactyl kitten will grow up to have this more severe condition. The only way to be sure is for the little one to be X-rayed so that the vet can see possible bone and joint abnormalities from the inside.
Depending on how the toe joints of the extra toes are angled, problems with the claws can develop, causing them to grow into the toe pad or other toes. Additionally, claws on polydactyl kittens can grow extra thick, especially if two toes and their nail beds are fused together. These types of concerns make it necessary to make a standing appointment with your kitten for a pedicure at least every two weeks.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.