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?
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!
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.