Polydactyl Cats

Polydactyl cats have more than the usual number of toes. The normal number is five on each of the paws of the front limbs and four on each of the paws of the hind limbs. Polydactyl cats have 6 or 7 on the front and 5 on the rear. They have strikingly over-sized paws and Catherine has described her cat, Big Foot, who certainly has one of the biggest paws that I have seen.

It seems that the extra toes can lead some cats to being more dextrous with their paws. Valley Girl lives with a polydactyl Maine Coon, Tootsie, and talks about this (new window). It is said that the extra dexterity comes from opposable inner toes in some polydactyl cats. Human thumbs are opposable because they can touch the fingers. They move in a different direction (towards the fingers) which allows us to grasp things. The same applies to cats that are polydactyl. Is it possible that this ability to be more dexterous has indirectly made these cats smarter through using their paws to grasp objects etc.? See too: Cat Intelligence.

polydactyl cats

I think that there are four natural topics to discuss on this subject: their origins, what causes polydactylism, whether there are any associated health problems and what about the breeding of this cat?

Incidentally, two other names (there are more) for cats with more than the usual number of toes are:

  • Cardi cats – named after Cardiganshire in South West Wales (UK) where there is a higher than average population of polydactyl cats. This is perhaps because this was and is a shipping area and sailors considered these cats better mousers and so they were ships cats.
  • Hemingway cats – the author Ernest Hemingway who kept cats one of which was polydactyl. These is now a colony of them. See American Polydactyl Cats (new window).

Origin of Polydactyl cats

Well, some Americans say that they are unique to the United States, which is not true – sorry – I hope the special relationship is not damaged. They are found in the UK and in Europe generally and why not? Genetic mutations of domestic cats have no reason to be confined to North America, surely.

There is the argument that they were imported with the Puritan settlers that landed near Boston. Although others argue that these cats were already there. However, it is now accepted that the domestic cat comes from the European and African-Asian, wildcats. This being the case it would mean that the importation theory must be correct.

The importation theory is supported by clusters of polydactyl cats in places where ships from Boston would have travelled to at the time (1600s and later), namely Yarmouth, Massachusetts and Halifax, Nova Scotia. See map below:

Charles Darwin referred to six-toed cats in his book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, Volume 1.

The book was published in the 1850s apparently. Although the cat fancy had yet to really start deliberate cat breeding at this time, breeding was probably taking place in England before then. It is said breeding of cats in Paraguay started 300 years earlier!

How – genes

Polydactyl cats carry a mutated dominant gene – Pd – that causes this congenital defect, charming though it is. Although this (according to Robinson’s Genetics) is the only known gene, implying there may be others. The authors of Robinson’s genetics say that this condition may not be caused by a single mutant gene

There are two forms (a) extra digits on the inside (thumb side) and (b) on the outside. This is a dominant gene with variable expression. One of the expressions of the gene causes harmful medical conditions such as radial hypoplasia. There is a cat type called the Twisty Cat that is controversial and which is an example of one of the various types of expression of this gene.

Polydactyl hind feet only exist when the condition is present in the forelimbs.

polydactyl cats 1


There are breeders who want to create a distinct breed from polydactyl cats. There is the American Polydactyl Cat for instance and another is the Ithacats.

One breeder I think worth mentioning is Polypaws (new window). They seem to be exclusively concerned with breeding polydactyl cats. I am not sure where they are but it seems to be about 35 miles west of Indianapolis, USA. I am not sure if they are still trading. The other few breeders on the web left me uninspired or looked like they were not functioning.

So, breeders are rare and frankly that seems to be correct. Breeding seems to be confined to the USA.


Polydactylism is caused by a gene that nearly always confines itself to creating extra toes so there are no outstanding health issues except for the one referred to above: Twisty Cats which have a deformity that is caused by one of the variations of the gene causing polydactylism. Twisty cats have deformed forelegs akin to the limbs of people who suffer from the drug thalidomide. The name “twisty cats” is a cruel misdescription. The long bone of the leg is a vestige of its normal self (or shortened) and the paw is almost attached to the shoulder in some cases. This makes it hard to walk. The hind legs do most of the work. It is not a mutation that would pass the test of Darwin’s natural selection and is only propagated through deliberate breeding albeit in a very small scale thankfully. I criticise the CFA for not taking a tougher stance on this sort of cat breeding. The video however, shows a cat that is pretty active to be fair.

From Polydactyl Cats to Cat Facts

Photos: Both published under Attribution 2.0 Generic, creative commons license

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Polydactyl Cats

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Jun 15, 2011
four kitties
by: NinjaKitty

I have one cat, a tabby who has six on one front paw and seven on the other, and recently i got three kittens, two are calicos and they both have extra toes.. Whats odd is one of them, her hind feet have size claws and pads and they go out, not in like normal feet do… like her left food is on her right leg and vise versa lol.
But she also has a claw on each front paw that is not attached to a pad.. its just hanging free, and is already starting to twist, so i was wondering what should be done to prevent major problems later.

Nov 14, 2010
by: Tjfleming75

It says polydactyl hind limbs only occur with front limbs but my tortie, Cozmo, has 5 HUGE toes on each front and 5 toes on each hind. Each toe on the front actually looks like two toes joined togeather with a single claw coming out of the middle and a thumb at the end. Is this considered polydactyl? She only has 5 claws but her paws are massive! When she was a kitten thats all you could see.

Nov 06, 2010
breed better feet.
by: Anonymous

I first encountered poly dactyls when i was 14, a freshman in highschool, i rescued a manx whom was pregnanat and she gave birth to 3 kittens on my fromt porch. all were poly’s but only one was a manx we didnt fall for him but for the only opther male in the litter, mister mittens. he had 7 toes on each paw he was a beast large orange and bonded with my father after almost dying. we had gotten the mother towards the end of her pregnancy ( my poor parents had to deal with me bringing rescues home all the time) but mittens was the runt and almost went tot eh rainbow bridge but he was smart and used his thumbs..sadly a coyote took our beloved mittens only 2 years after we were gifted with him, but that brought us to pumpkin our second poly, and he was orange as well, and he is smart and fat and lazy and spoiled with the best temperment but *sigh* he was sadly neutered. well now i’m out on my own and have come upon my own polydactyl, his name is mayhem and he has 7 toes in the front and 6 in the back. every polydactyl i meet is cooler than the last. i look forward to hunting down a couple of orange female poly’s or maybe even look to getting a white poly but i want to exclusively breed solid white and solid orange polydactyls. whoever says its JUST a genetic mutation is wrong sofar what i’ve learned is every poly is laid back smart as hell and incredibly affectionate. My Maymers(Mayhems fond nickname) comes whenever i call him. he sits on his hind feet. does tricks and he can even hold his own fork (yes folks its not prodigal its opposable) i live in michigan and i hope to start a niche for orange michigan mitten paws, instead of showing where i live on my hand i’ll do it on my cats paw. mayhem is the base for this and hes only 6 months old but i think i have plenty of time to find suitable breeding stock since the poly gene is dominant. but i have a passion for these sweet, epicly gifted animals and i will share my passion with the world one day.

Nov 04, 2010
Polydactylism can be a helpful feature to dogs and cats alike.
by: Anonymous

It bothers me that many people don’t see polydactylism as a positive enhancing feature of dogs and cats alike.
In northern Norway, puffins used to be a major source of winter food, and catching them in enough quantity to make it through the long winters was absolutely necessary.
In order to fill this unique niche, the Norwegians bred a unique dog. The resulting Lundehund was an extraordinary animal with some unparalleled gifts.
The Lundehund is a polydactyl (multi-toed) dog. Instead of the normal four toes a foot, the Lundehund has six toes, all fully formed, jointed and muscled. Polydactyl dogs are not terribly uncommon, but in most breeds the extra toes are dew-claws, not the fully formed variety of the Lundehund. The dog uses these extra toes to gain purchase and haul itself along in positions where only the sides of its legs are touching the rock, a fairly common occurrence while wiggling through tight spots. They also help the dog gain additional traction while scrambling around on steep, often slippery cliffs.

Mar 06, 2010
by: Polly and Dolly

About 3 years ago I answered and ad in a small community paper. “Kittens needing home, extra paws.” I agreed to meet this women in a Walmart parking lot between our two towns. In a box was two approximately 3 month old grey and white kittens. Both with seven toes on their front feet. I agreed to take both and was only sad that I had missed out on the third poly sister that another person had just adopted.

I can tell many stories of their amazing skills with those extra toes. Their “thumbs” are jointed and allow them to do many things.

Today we were blessed with a third litter from from Dolly. A litter of five , I beleive there are two polys, maybe even on with extra back toes. I have not disturbed the new family much at this time.

I failed to tell you that the sisters are so identical in appearance we have to keep different colored collars one them and still get them mixed up sometimes at a distance. The are a delight but have very different personalities.

I also would like to say that Polly is expecting as well and after their litters are old enough they will be spayed. I am just reluctant to stop their amazing cycle but as a good pet owner, I will spay both sisters.

Jan 30, 2010
by: Julie

My cat Topaz had dubble toes and each one had a claw with a line in the middle where you could actually see the dubble claws meet. His front and back paws matched. He looked like a regular yellow striped cat except for his large massive paws and claws. I’m not even sure they retracted.He was shot when he was found and it cost $75 dollers to have a pin and metal plate put in his shoulder. My sister said they got the bullet out but I remember that they couldn’t. I set up with him for more than one night.He was a scapper! we never had a problem giving his kittens away. Our neighbor had one of his off spring “Butch ”
for seventeen years. I submitted a picture on feral cats. I just thought he was deformed. Someone told me years later he was a hemmingway cat. He was an excellant hunter. He could run down a rabbit and he even killed a squirel one day. I had to lock him in the shed when I practiced archery. He hid in the grass and jumped up and snached my arrow out of the air. He loved to sit on my shoulder. he was full grown when we got him and we had him about nine years.my family still holds him in high reguard.

3 thoughts on “Polydactyl Cats”

  1. We live in the country and my polydactal cat came out of the woods to live with us. She was about 2 years old and going to have babys in a couple weeks the vet. said. So we had never heard of these kind of cats, but she had the kittens 6 in all, 4 with extra toes front and back so we put a add in the paper and they gone in no time. Momma we named Toe Toe, she is our seetheart . Nov.25 2013

  2. I live in the uk and I recently bought a polydactal kitten, I had never heard about one of these cats until I read up on the web. The kitten I have is very
    dexrious and can run and play with a ball better than my four toed cats which
    I already have. I noticed how my kitten is very loud when he purrs too. He is adorable and so affectionate. Now that I know more about these type of cats
    the history of them and how they have been transported by ships all over the world its very interesting reading.


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