Polydactyl Cats: A Guide to Their Behavior and Temperament

Emma Fulton Emma Fulton 3 Min Read

Ever met a cat with more toes than usual? That’s a polydactyl cat for you. The name sounds fancy, right? It comes from the Greek words ‘poly’ (many) and ‘daktylos’ (toes). But there’s more to these cats than just extra toes. Back in the day, sailors had a soft spot for them. They believed these many-toed kitties brought luck on their sea voyages. Plus, with those extra toes, they were ace mousers. So, ready to learn more about these special felines? Let’s dive in.

Understanding Polydactylism: The Genetic Anomaly

So, what exactly is behind those extra toes on a polydactyl cat? It’s all due to polydactyly, a congenital physical anomaly. In simpler terms, it’s a condition some cats are born with. Now, from a veterinarian’s perspective, the root cause is a genetic mutation. Every cat lover knows that the usual number of toes on a cat’s paw is five in the front and four in the back. But a polydactyl cat? They can have up to seven or even more on one paw! It’s like Mother Nature decided to give them a quirky little bonus.

The American Polydactyl Cat: A Unique Breed

When you hear “American Polydactyl Cat,” you might first think of those notable extra toes. And while that’s certainly their claim to fame, there’s so much more to these cats. These felines aren’t just about the footwork; they have a heart of gold too.

Known for their affectionate and adaptable nature, these cats are genuine companions. They thrive in various environments, be it a bustling city apartment or a serene countryside home. Their loving disposition makes them a hit with families, especially those with older children. They have a knack for forming deep bonds, offering endless purrs and cuddles.

Historical Context and Popularity

Polydactyl cats have captivated people for centuries with their extraordinary toes. They became associated with acclaimed author Ernest Hemingway when he was gifted a six-toed cat in the 1930s that he named Snow White. The dozens of descendants of his cat that populate the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West are affectionately called “Hemingway cats.”

Centuries before, polydactyl cats were coveted by sailors who believed they brought good luck and were highly skilled at catching mice and rats aboard ships, thanks to their excellent balance and dexterity conferred by their extra toes. The sailors viewed them as their lucky charms during long voyages at sea.

Physical Features and Health

Polydactyl cats enjoy some physical benefits from their extra toes. The extra digits help enhance their agility for hunting prey and provide better balance, especially for activities like climbing trees.

However, there are some potential health considerations that come along with the abnormality. Some polydactyls are prone to more frequent claw infections and injuries if the claws on the extra toes are not trimmed regularly.

Additionally, the abnormal bone structure in their paws can lead to joint deformities and arthritis later in life if not properly cared for. Providing proper paw care and limiting stress on the joints is important.

In terms of size differences between the sexes, male American Polydactyls tend to be substantially larger than females. Males average 15-20 pounds, while females are typically under 15 pounds.

Despite some potential health vulnerabilities, most polydactyl cats live long and fulfilling lives alongside their loving families with proper care.

Dietary and Lifestyle Needs

Like any cat, polydactyls thrive best on a high-protein diet to support their muscular, active bodies. Wet or dry food formulated specifically for kittens and cats provides the right balance of protein, fat, and nutrients.

Be sure to portion control their food to prevent obesity, which can put excess stress on their joints.

Polydactyls need plenty of exercise and enrichment to stay happy and healthy. Provide ample playtime, scratching posts for stretching, and cat towers or perches to climb. Outdoor access like a catio can also allow safe outdoor exploration.

Meeting their activity needs will fulfill their natural instincts to hunt, climb and play.

Behavior and Temperament

Polydactyl cats are as diverse in temperament as they are in toe count. While many are friendly and outgoing, some might be a tad more reserved, cherishing their quiet moments. However, a common thread among them is their curiosity and keen observational skills.

Got other pets at home? Good news! Many polydactyls get along swimmingly with fellow felines and even canine buddies. They have this innate ability to adapt and form bonds. But a word of caution to those with smaller pets, like birds or hamsters: that hunting instinct is still very much alive in these cats. Their extra toes might just give them a slight edge in the playful chase! Always supervise interactions to ensure every pet’s safety.

Grooming and Maintenance

Luckily, polydactyl cats are quite low maintenance when it comes to grooming. Their short, thick coat requires only weekly brushing to remove loose hair and distribute skin oils.

Trim their nails, including any extra toes, every 2-3 weeks to prevent cracks or ingrown claws. Check their ears weekly for dirt buildup. Beyond these basic tasks, polydactyls keep their unique appearance looking sharp with minimal grooming time required. Their wash-and-wear coat stays looking fab with simple weekly brushings.

Finding a Polydactyl Cat

For those seeking to add one of these endearing cats to their family, there are a couple options. Reputable breeders can be located through cat breeder associations and clubs. Adoption is also a possibility, as polydactyl cats of unknown origin sometimes end up in local animal shelters. Visiting local shelters to meet their polydactyl residents can be a rewarding way to find your new furry companion.

Nicknames and Fun Facts

Polydactyl cats are known by several endearing nicknames like “Hemingway cats,” “pirate cats,” “thumb cats,” and “mitten-foot cats” in reference to their extra toe digits. While the American Polydactyl is the most established polydactyl breed, the trait can appear in other breeds like Maine Coon cats.

Some people call these Maine Coon polydactyls “Maine Coon mutant cats”! Polydactyl or not, these fascinating felines continue to capture the hearts of cat lovers with their amazing abilities and captivating personalities. There’s never a dull moment with a polydactyl cat by your side!


In conclusion, polydactyl cats are marvelously unique felines cherished for their extraordinary toes and affable personality. Their congenital genetic trait has captured admirers for centuries, from Hemingway to modern families. For those seeking a friendly, distinctive furry companion, these fabulously polydactyl felines make for delightful, fun-loving pets.

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