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Male polydactyl cat with 6-7 digits/claws on the front paws, and 5 on the hind
Opposable 'thumb' on male polydactyl cat. There used to be a digitless claw
protruding from the crevice between the 'thumb' and 'index finger'.
Right front paw of male polydactyle cat. Circles indicate digits. The circle
with a question mark is for what may be a separate digit. The rightmost circle
is for a small clawless digit.
on male polydactyl cat
A close-up of a six-toed paw
A polydactyl cat
is one which has an
abnormal number of digits on its paws. In animals including humans, polydactyly
(or polydactylism, also known as hyperdactyly) is the anatomical abnormality of
having more than the usual number of digits on the hands or feet. Polydactyly is
a congenital abnormality, usually genetically inherited as an autosomal dominant
trait. It seems to be most commonly found in cats along the eastern coast of the
United States and in South West England.
Normal cats have five toes on each front paw and four toes on each hind paw.
Polydactyl cats may have as many as seven digits on front and/or hind paws, and
various combinations of anywhere from four to seven are common, although each of
the front and rear paws are typically the same. A common variation is six toes
on the front paws, with two opposing digits on each, (comparable in use to human
thumbs). This feature enables the cat to learn and perform feats of manual
dexterity generally not observed in non-polydactyl cats, such as opening
latches on some cabinets, doors and windows.
kittens initially have more difficulty in learning to walk and climb than
normal animals. However, their extra abilities, once developed, endear them to
Sailors were long-known to especially value polydactyl cats for their
extraordinary climbing and hunting abilities as an aid in controlling shipboard
rodents. Some sailors also considered them to be extremely good luck when at
sea. Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was one of the more famous
lovers of polydactyl cats, after being first given a six-toed cat by a ship's
captain. Upon Hemingway's death in 1961, his will provided that his former home
in Key West, Florida should become a museum and a home for his cats, and it
currently houses approximately sixty descendants of his cats (about half of
which are polydactyl).