Polydactyl Cats: 7 things to know about these cats with extra fingers

Polydactyl Cats: 7 things to know about these cats with extra fingers


Like humans, our feline companions are not immune to genetic mutations and physical malformations. As proof, they can be prone to polydactyly, a genetic anomaly without real danger, characterized by the presence of fingers in addition on the hind legs and / or front of the cat.

Let's find out together 7 things to know about polydactyl cats, those cats with extra fingers on their dough!

A genetic mutation is the source

Polydactyly in cats is in the majority of cases the product of a genetic mutation. It results in the formation of an abnormal number of fingers on the paws of the feline. Remember thatusually catshave 4 fingers and a dewclaw on their front legs and 4 fingers on their back legs.

As for a polydactyl cat, it can have 5 to 7 fingers on the frontlegs, rearor on both limbs at the same time.

Polydactyl Cat's paw

Whatever the number, this congenital malformation is more frequently the consequence of a genetic mutation attributed to an autosomal gene with variable expression. It can therefore occur in kittens without the parents necessarily carrying it.

The breeds most affected by polydactyly

All cats can experience this anomaly, regardless of their sex, pedigree or origin. That said, there is still a strong propensity for polydactyly in two breeds in particular: the Main Coon and the Pixie Bob.

With around 2% of polydactyl cats, the Main Coon is one of the breeds with the most probity to have individuals prone to polydactyly, at one time we found 40% of polydactyl cats in the Main Coon. However, it is on the side of the Pixie Bob that we note a record number of polydactyl cats.


The Pixie Bob is founded from polydactyl cats at the base, this recent breed would have around 50% of individuals affected by polydactyly. This trait is officially recognized by most of the international feline federations and it is common for the Pixie Bob to have a higher number of fingers than normal.

An anomaly without real danger

It is important to point out that polydactyly is not a disease in itself. It is actually a congenital physical anomaly that does not affect the life expectancy of the cat or hamper its comfort. Not less that it threatens without health or would be the sign of a fragile health of the feline which is affected by it.

What you should remember in short is that polydactyly is not a health hazard for cats. This mutation may be present, but does not induce disease. On the other hand, a drawback that can be linked to this physical anomaly is the risk of suffering from ingrown claws.

Indeed, depending on the position in which the additional fingers develop, it is possible that ingrown claws appear in some polydactyl cats.

Ernest Hemingway was a big fan of them

Polydactyl cats have no shortage of admirers and passionate fans who adore them. The most famous of all is none other than the writer and Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway. Moreover, cats exhibiting this atypical characteristic are very often referred to as "Hemingway cats".

In the garden of his house in Key West, Florida, the American writer housed more than fifty polydactyl cats. History reports that his passion for these cats with peculiar paws was born after he welcomed Snow Ball. A white polydactyl cat offered to him by a ship's captain and which he literally fell in love with.

After Hemingway's death in 1961, his house became a museum. As for the garden, it continues to house polydactyl cats which are mostly descendants of cats from the time when the writer still lived.

Greater dexterity? Not so sure…

There is a widespread idea that polydactyl cats have greater dexterity compared to common cats. If having 6 to 7 fingers can confer some advantages, it is not sure that this is the case for polydactyl individuals, nor in all circumstances of life.

The configuration of the fingers is not the same for all cats and the "benefits" of this anomaly are variably appreciated. Indeed, if the affected cats learn to live with it and seem not to suffer too much from it, the kittens, for their part, have a delay in learning to walk and certain actions.

In general, this mutation for a domestic cat is not really disabling, because it is lucky to have a master who takes care of it permanently. On the other hand in nature, for a wild cat, it is not the same: polydactyly appearing more like a handicap and not an asset.

Polydactyly exists in cats but also in humans

Polydactyly is not an anomaly specific to cats. It also exists in many other animals including humans, with some differences in the mode of transmission of the gene responsible for the mutation or the distribution of fingers in particular.

Both in humans and in cats, the physical anomaly generally comes in 2 distinct forms:

  • Postaxial polydactyly, the particularity of which is that additional fingers form very close to the little finger (little finger) or more little ear.
  • The Praxial polydactyly for which, the additional fingers rather develop on the side of the thumb.

Feline polydactyly in the history of luck and misfortune

Feline polydactyly is a mutation that has always been present in cats for centuries. The history of cats affected by this particular characteristic is mixed with tragedy and luck.

Already in the Middle Ages, polydactyl cats were seen as out of the ordinary, their mutations being attributed to mystical practices and witchcraft. They are thus badly perceived in Europe and exterminated for the most part, which would explain today their weak presence on the continent.

On the other hand, polydactyl cats were well appreciated by sailors who considered them to be lucky charms. Currently there is a high concentration of the polydactyl cat population in the East Coast of the USA, as well as in the United Kingdom, more specifically in Wales.

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