Hemingway Cats: Why Some Kitties Come with Extra Toes
By Bri Luginbill More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the The Scratchpad Blog Series
A question was posed this week to the Calgary Herald newspaper that intrigued me. I decided to explore the question to find out more.
Q. Why does my new kitten have extra toes on its front feet - is this a sign that there is something medically wrong with it? Larson
A. Extra toes on a cat or kitten is a congenital physical anomaly called polydactylism (which is just the fancy way of saying many toes or fingers).
In a nutshell, its not a severe medical condition. Its a genetic mutation that is carried down through that particular cat generation and is called polydactylism. If the cats mother had it, they are more likely to have it too.
Having extra toes is actually a common trait for cats. Cats can have up to 6, 7, or even 8 toes. These extra toes can occur in two places. Pre-axial is defined as extra digits on the thumb-side of the paw. Post-axial refers to extra digits on the little finger side of the paw. The latter is more uncommon. Says Dr. Arnold Plotnick, "Some cats have extra toes because they inherit a gene that codes for polydactilism. If one parent is polydactal and one parent has normal feet, then 40 to 50 percent of the kittens will also be polydactal...Right now, there's no certain breed of cat this is more or less prone to being polydactal. However, in the past, the original Maine Coon cats had a high incidence of polydactylism - about 40 percent."
Are extra toes harmful to cats?
The majority of cases do not cause harm. Some owners can be worried about their extra toes being caught on things, but cats are fairly agile. However, some do get their toes removed for cosmetic or safety reasons.
There is one type of polydactyl that is dangerous, but it is very rare. This form is when the thumb has an extra joint, which makes it look more like a human finger than a cat toe. It can be called a three-joint-thumb. Cats with this trait can produce kittens with an absence or underdevelopment of one of the two bones that make up the forearm.
So, the cat itself will not be hurt due to its extra joint, but its offspring could be more disabled.
Sometimes cats with extra toes are called Hemingway cats. This is because Hemingway loved polydactyl cats and owned many in his Florida home. Today, the Hemingway museum, located in his former home continues this tradition caring for between 40 and 50 polydactyl cats at any given time. This could explain the volume of polydactyl cats in Florida!