The Reason Why Cats Have So Many Extra Toes

Even though you might not have seen a cat with extra toes, there is still a high likelihood that you have already met one. Cats normally have 18 toes, five in each of the front paws, and four in each of the hind legs. However, it is not uncommon to find cats whose number of toes exceeds what is expected. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Throughout history, there have been accounts of cats whose toes exceed eighteen. Some viewed this as an advantage for both the human race and the feline species since cats with that sort of nature were viewed to have between balancing and navigation abilities. There is a plethora of names cats with many toes have been given. From mitten cats to thumb cats, all these monikers just increase the cuteness of the feline creatures. Though people know about their existence, not many understand how the multiple-toe condition comes about. Here, we will look at everything you need to know about mitten cats.


They go by a lot of names. From mitten cats, because their toes look like mittens to thumb cats because they seem to have a disposable thumb. The most common of names, however, is the Hemingway cat, named after the popular novelist Ernest Hemingway. Legend has it that in the 1930s, Stanley Dexter, a sea captain, gave Hemingway a mitten cat as a gift. The cat was a progeny of another mitten cat that Stanley owned, named Snowball. Hemingway named his new cat Snow White, and from then on, his infatuation with mitten cats began. Afterward, he would come to keep a cat colony of upwards of 50. The correct biological name for Hemingway cats is polydactyl cats. The name is a combination of two Greek words, ‘poly’ meaning many, and ‘daktylos’, meaning digits.


The history of polydactyly cats spans for centuries. It is widely accepted that polydactyl cats existed as early as when humans began domesticating cats. Present-day, these cats are prevalent in North America, particularly on the East coast of the United States and Canada. The southwestern part of England is also notorious for the number of Hemingway cats it has. A myriad of theories has been developed to try and figure out this distribution. It is believed that English sailors traveling to the new world, North America, would carry with them on ship polydactyl cats. The main reason for this is because they believed that these cats were more agile and had more balance because of the extra toes. Consequently, the sailors believed that the cats would be better suited for the vacillating life at sea, and also keep the rats at bay. Once they had arrived at their destinations, the sailors kept the pets. This is the reason why Boston has such a large amount of extra-toed cats. And, to some extent, the sailors were correct. Hemingway cat owners have reported that their cats are more dexterous with their thumb, that they are more agile, and that they are more balanced.


It is the genetic make-up of the cats that contribute to them having more toes than usual. The gene that contributes to this condition is a dominant one. This simply means that if two cats breed, and one of them is a polydactyl cat, then 40 to 50 percent of the offspring will have the extra toes. Though the gene determines whether the cat has extra toes, it doesn’t determine how many extra toes the cat will have. As a result, the number of extra toes varies from one Hemingway cat to another. Some breeds are also prone to developing this abnormality more than others. For example, over the past couple of years, 40 percent of Maine Coons have been reported to have extra toes.

This can be attributed to the fact that Maine itself is a pretty snowy place. Therefore, the cats require more toes to increase the surface area for their paws and, through a method akin to that of snowshoes, reduces the likelihood that they will sink into the snow. The Guinness world record for the cat with the most toes belongs to a ginger tabby named Jake, who has a total of 28 toes. Notwithstanding, there have been claims that cats with more toes have existed before. Mickey Mouse, a cat that lived back in the 1970s is rumored to have 32 toes. A cat named Triple is also said to have a total of 30 toes, with five legs and six toes.


Due to the variation in the number of extra toes each Polydactyl cat has, there are different types of Hemingway cats. The cats are categorized depending on where on the paw the extra toes exist. The most common type is where the extra toes grow on the inside of the paw, or the thumb side. This type is referred to as the pre-axial form of polydactyly. It is these ones whose paws resemble mittens. If the extra toes grow on the outside of the paw, it is referred to as the post-axial from. As compared to the earlier form, the post-axial type is less common. It is also important to note the distribution of the extra toes amongst the paws. The most common type of polydactyly is when the extra toes only exist in the front paws. Notwithstanding, some cats have the extra toes on all their paws, both front and hind. However, it is surprising to note that the extra toes cannot develop in the hind legs only.

Radial Hypoplasia

Though polydactyly in its most quintessential form is harmless, there is a somewhat magnified form of the condition that is severe. Radial hypoplasia occurs when the radical bones in the cat’s forearms fail to develop. As a result, the cat cannot walk normally. The failure of forearm bone development is in synchrony with the existence of extra toes. Genetically, polydactylism is a simple dominant trait that is not related to gender. Cats with additional toes have the dominant gene called PD. Cats only need a copy of the gene from each parent to have this trait. Polydactylism does not negatively affect cats. It is just an enchanting quirk.

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