The normal number of toes on domestic cats is 10 at the front and 8 at the rear making 18 in all. Three kittens should have a total of 54 toes. In this instance, a polydactyl mother, Martha, gave birth to 4 kittens, three of which were polydactyl with 66 toes in all. They were born at the Gosport Cats Protection branch and the coordinator of that branch, Kate Stableford, said that to have three polydactyl kittens is extremely unusual. She said: “I’ve been fortunate in fostering several single cats over the years who have been polydactyl but I’ve certainly not cared for three polydactyl kittens at once before.”
The polydactyl kittens are:
- Ernest, a black-and-white, has five toes on each of his paws including elongated dew claw thumbs;
- Ernest’s brother, Hemingway, a tabby-and-white has six toes on each paw and
- their sister, Havana, who is also a tabby-and white, has five toes on each back paw and six toes on each front paw.
SEE BASE OF PAGE FOR MORE ON POLYDACTYLY
The fourth kitten (we don’t have their name) has the standard number of toes. You can see that the kitten named Hemingway has been named after Ernest Hemingway who looked after many polydactyl cats at his home in Key West. It is now a museum and there are still polydactyl cats there in large numbers. It is maintained by volunteers. Some people refer to polydactyl cats as “Hemingway cats” for this reason. It is believed that these cats were ships’ cats and sailors thought that polydactyl cats were better on deck!
This anomaly which does not affect health may have been first noted in 1868 but perhaps earlier. It is quite common and there is considerable variation as to how it shows up on kittens as you can tell from the three siblings in this story. Sometimes, rarely, there are seven toes on one foot. Apparently, the hind feet are normally unaffected unless the front feet are abnormal.
The condition is called polydactyly. It is believed that it is caused by a dominant mutated gene. But perhaps polydactyly is caused by more than one mutated gene. It is possible that the same gene may have mutated in different locations at different times. My book on cat genetics states that at the time of publication, 2003, only one polydactyly gene was recognised and it is symbolised by Pd.
The siblings’ mother, Martha, was one-year-old when she was spotted in the grounds of Victory Court in Beidgemary, Hampshire, UK. She was fed by the residents. They tried to find her owner but nobody came forward and so she was taken into the care of Cat Protection at Gosport. She gave birth soon after.
SOME MORE ON POLYDACTYL CATS: