I’m getting a polydactyl kitten this week. Aside from extra toes, are there any other things I need to worry about?

A Quora.com visitors asks, “I’m getting a polydactyl kitten this week aside from extra toes, are there any other things I need to worry about?

Polydactyl cat

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The answer is probably known to most cat owners which is that there is nothing to worry about other than the usual things when looking after a domestic cat. There are no inherited diseases associated with polydactylism as it’s a benign congenital condition.


Robinson’s Genetics states that it is caused by one polydactyl gene signified by: Pd. It seems that it has a dominant mode of heredity. It is described as an ‘anomaly’ possibly first noted in 1868. This was the time when the cat fancy in the UK and USA was just getting started.

There is quite a lot of variation between cats in terms of the number of toes and the appearance of the paw. Sometimes the inside digit is enlarged to look like a thumb while on other occasions there are three well-formed extra toes on one paw. There are record holders! The normal number is: five toes on each of the cat’s forepaws and four on the hind paws.

Origin of word

Apparently, polydactylism almost always affects the forepaws and ‘never, or rarely…[the hind feet]’. The word polydactyl comes from the Greek πολύς (polys), meaning ‘many’, and δάκτυλος (daktylos), meaning ‘finger’.


Dr Bradshaw in his book Cat Sense writes that during the establishment of the city of Boston, USA, one newly arrived kitten had extra toes. The kitten became the founder of many more polydactyl cats in the US. By 1848 polydactyl cats were common in Boston. Today they represent about 15% of the cat population of the city. They are also common in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (immigrants from Boston bring the cats with them).

As he lived by the East coast, several of Ernest Hemingways cats were poldactyl because they originated in ship’s cats and his first cat was said to be a polydactyl Maine Coon. This breed was predisposed to polydactylism. Sailors believed that cats with more toes were better as ship’s cats as it allowed them to walk across moving decks more easily!

Ingrown claws?

It is stated by some that ‘poly’ cats can develop ingrowing nails more readily, because the nails grow faster, than in other cats but I have not been able to confirm this scientifically.

Sources: Myself, Wikipedia for origin of the word, Robinson’s Genetics, Cat Sense.

17 thoughts on “I’m getting a polydactyl kitten this week. Aside from extra toes, are there any other things I need to worry about?”

  1. i have a polydactylo kitten too.. very extra ordinary with a double foot palm/ print.. He is the son of my other polydactylo cat Sixto(es) Hemmingway. He is adorable

  2. Nothing to worry about at all but I would suggest to the owner clipping the claws every couple weeks because for some odd reason IMO polydactyl cats claws grow faster,the black/white moggie is my polydactyl and I clip hers every couple weeks.

  3. I would never advise anyone to “worry”, but to “be aware” of potential problems, and to take intelligent action when necessary.

    My first experience with a polydactyl was with a neighborhood stray. She’d been left behind when her family moved. When I ate my lunch on the patio, she came close and watched. I didn’t want to feed her since I lived with someone who had two territorial cats. But she crept closer and jumped on the table. I had a few peas left on my plate, and she ate them as if she was starving. I decided that I would feed her on the patio, but not let her in.

    After about a week I noticed that she was limping. She allowed me to pick her up, and examine her paws. I could see that one of her nails had grown into her paw.

    I took her to the vet who did surgery to remove it from her paw. This wouldn’t have happened if she’d had her nails trimmed.

    Many times it can be hard to see all the nails of a polydactyl cat because a smaller toe can grow between the bigger ones. So, if you have a polydactyl cat, be sure to know how many toes are on each paw, and trim them to prevent painful ingrown nails and expensive surgery.

    I’m attaching a wonderful picture of a polydactyl’s paws.

    • That is beautiful! I really enjoyed your post. Thank you. They can, as you said– better than I ever could–get ingrown, if not trimmed in a monthly ritual. I have a foster right now, which is not only dealing with FIV, but also a missing middle claw in his left front, and a left canine. We have no history on him, except for the last eight months. His teeth are beautiful; healthy. How rare is this, do you think? They picked him up off the streets of a small as all town in a rural community. ??

        • Thank you, Michael. That now makes complete sense to me. It turns out that he was homeless, and lived at the shelter in McPherson, Kansas for eight months. That’s the only background I have on him, other than their records of eight months. Anyway, after spending the past few weeks with him, I’ve decided to name him King Arthur. <<>>

        • Well. Maybe, I don’t know if that is true, Michael. One thing I do know is that he acts perfectly like a gentleman, other than occasionally wanting to play-bite on my pinkie finger. That’s just him.

          • My cats are part ofme, just as your cats esp. The One who followed all the others, just as Shrimp was to you, just much as Missie was to You, Michael. Peace. You don’t know me, I actually was hoping to get to know you. I thought that I was the only one out there who understood how much it hurt.

    • That is so beautiful. I see the tech is holding him? Thanks. Do you mind if we copy this? Thanks, Sandra. I’ve never lived in your region.


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