The Polydactyl Cat
Everyone loves a polydactyl cat! They are so unique and endearing!
Did you know that early in the breed's development, Maine Coons were often polydactyls?
Because of this, there is a common belief that there is still a connection between polydactyl cats and this breed.
What Is A Polydactyl Cat?
Poly means "many" and the "dactyl" part refers to the toes. So, they are "many-toed" cats! It is a genetically inherited condition. You may hear it called a gene mutation or physical anomaly, but that doesn't sound very attractive!
Polydactylism is found more often on the East Coast of the United States and Canada, as well as South West England and Wales. Of course, they can be found elsewhere, too!
Usually, a cat has eighteen toes. Five on each front foot and four on each rear one. A polydactyl cat can have up to seven toes per foot. A cat named Tiger from Canada holds the Guinness World Record for the most toes – twenty-seven!
A cat or kitten can be poly on one, two, three, or four feet. They can have one or more extra toe on a foot, in various combinations. Although usually both front feet match in number, as would both rear. Most often, it is seen on just the front feet. It's considered very uncommon to see a cat with just the rear feet affected, or all four feet.
When I was a teenager I met my future husband, and his family had a beloved cat named Alex. Alex had extra toes on his front feet – they were huge! They told me he was double-pawed, and this was the only term I knew for a while. Well, he wasn't actually double-pawed. I think he had two extra toes on each front foot.
It's a common and endearing term, but an incorrect one, because there actually is a condition called feline radial hypoplasia. This condition creates overly large feet that look more like a patty because the toes are not separated as usual. These cats should not be bred together, because the genetic mutation can become more severe and debilitating in future generations.
Other common terms include snowshoe cat, conch cats, thumb cats, and Hemingway cats. Ernest Hemingway is well-known for his affinity for these endearing animals, and when he died his huse became a home for his cats. It is said that about fifty cats still reside there (well cared-for, of course) and many of these have the familiar extra toes.
Is Polydactylism A Sign Or Symptom Of Being A Maine Coon?
No, the only way for a cat to surely be a Maine Coon is for it to have been born to two pedigreed Maine Coon parents in the care of a breeder. There are many Domestic Short Haired cats (and this is a style, not a breed) who have multiple toes.
However, there is a breed called the American Polydactyl. It is bred as a specific breed, with it's own breed traits and characteristics – including extra toes.
So, what is the connection between the Maine Coon breed and polydactylism?
Well, early on in the discovery/development/recognition of this breed, many of these cats were polydactyl. Why? One favorite theory is that they were the descendants of long-haired cats brought over from Europe on sailing vessels. Sailors considered having cats on board good luck. Also, polydactyl cats are considered good luck and were known to be favored on ships. Those big paws made them excellent mousers and hunters, and may have helped them hunt and survive once they disembarked and settled in the Northeast.
Why Aren't Most Maine Coons Polydactyls?
Good question! This trait is not allowed in “show cats” so it is not common. Many breeders participate in showing their cats. That's a big part of what it's all about!
It is unfortunate that a magnificent feline would be denied the chance to become a champion just because this trait is deemed a "fault." Because of this, there are groups and organizations with an eye to bringing Polydactyl cats back into the show ring.
There are breeders who specialize in polydactyl Maine Coon cat and kittens. They are fully registered, pedigreed, purebred cats. Every bit a Maine Coon – plus some (extra toes, that is)!
So there you have it, the polydactyl cat is a healthy, hearty, and endearing cat! You want one, now, right?
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