Wednesday, March 10, 2010 12:33 PM

What Causes Extra Toes on Cats?

The condition of being polydactyl, or having extra toes, is not terribly uncommon in cats. As a child, I remember seeing double-pawed cats quite often; as I recall, it seemed to occur most often in gold or marmalade tomcats (we had one). I know that "double-pawed" is not a technically correct term, but I've always liked the sound of it, and will continue to use it. So, there, scientists.

Polydactylism is the result of a genetic mutation, obviously a dominant one. According to Wikipedia, it is most commonly found on the front paws, and occasionally on the back as well; it is rare to see extra toes on the back feet only. Generally, the extra toes present themselves as one or two extra toes that resemble thumbs--hence the terms "thumb cat" or "mitten feet". The condition does not harm the cat, or seem to cause problems. As a matter of fact, some cats find extra dexterity from the extra toes, according to the article. Perhaps that is why it has persisted in the general population for so long.

Just as Hemingway obtained his multi-toed cat from a sea captain, it is believed that areas such as Boston also received their fair share of these animals from ships, as well. Sailors considered them good luck, perhaps because the extra-large paws were more adept at catching mice and other vermin.

Some cat breeds are more susceptible to this condition. Wikipedia notes that there is a particular Maine Coon breed that is polydactyl, and a breed called "American Polydactyl" is currently being bred, with physical characteristics other than just extra digits contributing to its special status. An article about this breed on the Dog Breed Info Center site describes them as hardy cats, with sturdy legs, broad heads and muscular bodies. It is noted that they do very well in snowy terrain, perhaps because of their built-in "snowshoes"!

One thing I recall about our "double-pawed" cat is that his extra toes would always "click" on the linoleum floor. Like dewclaws, the claws in these extra toes are usually non-retractable, so be sure to give them extra attention when grooming, since they could inadvertently get hooked on things if they get too long.
Chat later!


Anonymous Says:
June 16, 2012 at 12:07 AM

I recently got a double pawed kitten. His name is Kato.
All of his littermates werw also bobtailed. is this related?

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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