The idea for this picture post came from reader Lee Beringsmith, who wrote me an email with a picture of his “Super Scratcher”. To wit:
I have a suggestion for a future Caturday. As a fellow cat lover, how about asking for photos of readers cats with multiple digits?
I have a favorite barn cat, a polydactyl with paws that look like it is well on its way to developing an opposable thumb. I can imagine cat scientist a million years from now finding this fossil as evidence of early Felis catus hand evolution.
I thought that was a good idea, so I asked readers to send me pictures of the polydactylous cats for whom they are staff. The responses are below.
First, though, Wikipedia has an entry for “polydactyl cats” that talks about where they’re found (mostly the East Cost of North America—England and Canada—Southwest England, and Wales), their genetics, and their lore. Here’s some information about the genetics of extra toes:
Polydactyly is a congenital abnormality that can be inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. Some cases of polydactyly are caused by mutations in the ZRS, a genetic enhancer that regulates expression of the Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) gene in the limb. The SHH protein is an important signalling molecule involved in patterning of many body elements, including limbs and digits.
Normal cats have a total of 18 toes, with five toes on each fore paw, and four toes on each hind paw; polydactyl cats may have as many as nine digits on their front or hind paws. Both Jake, a Canadian polydactyl cat, and Paws, an American polydactyl cat, were recognised by Guinness World Records as having the highest number of toes on a cat, 28. Various combinations of anywhere from four to seven toes per paw are common. Polydactyly is most commonly found on the front paws only; it is rare for a cat to have polydactyl hind paws only, and polydactyly of all four paws is even less common.
Our first readers’ cat, from Ken Babcock:
Leon is a Snowshoe that runs our household in Santa Barbara, CA. Snowshoes belong to a Siamese/shorthair breed developed in the 60’s, and Leon has both the polydactylism and crossed eyes that are fairly common in them. He was a feral rescue socialized through the “Tiny Lions” program at our local Animal Shelter Assistance Program – very successfully, as he’s quite social now, always hanging around whomever’s home. And he recently developed the habit of being in certain spots at certain times, expecting a good fussing. I think there’s some OCD as well, as the “spot” is a particular square foot on the couch or bed – and don’t try to move him even six inches from there! He runs “like a fat kid,” my wife says, maybe due to his oversized feet, but also no doubt from being well fed. He doesn’t seem to respond to his name, but my wife has trained him to come to “Mr. Pussyman,” which must be said in a loud falsetto. (Pretty sure she did this for her amusement, so she could hear “Mr. Pussyman!” ringing through the neighborhood when I call him in at night.) Leon has a loud, squeaky purr, and the softest pelt ever. We’re talking mink quality!
From Roger Lambert:
Here is a pic of our new kitty named “Q” after the Star Trek character. He has double thumbs all around and is an all around friendly guy.
From Brian Brandt, introduced to the contest by John Stairs. This cat has 26 toes—two shy of the world record!
The story of ToeTruck and Nala: I had cancer, and not the “good” kind, 11 years ago. While on chemotherapy, my neighbor started looking for a kitten for me, after I told her not to. She spotted a couple of little heads popping up in a field in downtown Minneapolis. Upon further inspection, she found three dead kittens, their dead mother and two barely alive kittens. It was cold and raining, so exposure probably killed them. She brought the survivors home, nursed them back to health, and gave them to me. ToeTruck has two extra toes on each foot, I was going to name him “26”, but everyone liked ToeTruck. He survived by being the biggest and strongest kitten, getting the last of the milk. Nala was the runt, and didn’t need as much. If you ever get a chance to adopt a Pixie-Bob, do it. They are more like dogs than cats, very loyal, they come when called, and can’t wait for you to get home, and follow you around the house. Super smart, easily trained. Best of both worlds. ToeTruck (I prefer to spell his name as one word) has fully functional claws, he sharpens them all easily, even though 2 are partially opposable so he can “pick stuff up”. I should have trained him to pick up a pen and write. He loves to ride on your shoulder. He’s almost 11 years old now, and can’t clear a 6 foot fence anymore, but he still jumps up to my shoulder from the floor, everytime I come home.
JAC: From the Pixie-Bob website linked above: “The Pixie-bob is one of the few breeds that allows polydactyl toes in the breed standard, with a maximum of seven toes per paw.”
From Jerry Piven, who sent a picture of his neighbor’s cat, sporting a total of 27 toes. This is the prizewinner for the post!
From Keith Gudger:
Here’s a photo of our polydactyl cat “Fenton”. She has 1 more toe on each foot (all 4) than usual (6 on the front, 5 on the rear). She is an outdoor cat that adopted us and spends her days on our roof and her nights under our deck. A neighbor named her “Fenton” because she’s “black and white” like the sundae at Fenton’s in Berkeley.
From Ned Adams:
Here are two pictures of Smokey, a 13-year old Manx that came with the house we bought from a friend 1 1/2 years ago, right before the pandemic. So from Smokey’s point of view, the transaction was just about changing his staffing. Most Manx cats have short stubby tails or no tails at all; Smokey’s is longer than most. He has 6 toes on his front feet and 5 toes on the back feet. [Total: 22]. Smokey is very vocal and not shy about expressing his feelings or needs. He is very friendly with the staff and known acquaintances, but initially distrustful of strangers. The first picture shows him at his favorite pastime, watching the activity at our bird feeders.
From Margaret Shofner:
Twinkle Toes showed up in our yard early last year. He is extremely mellow and would love to be an indoor cat, so he was someone’s pet. He has clear green eyes and often has his tongue protruding. We would let him live inside but Cupcakes strongly disapproves.
Kristin Wells sent in pictures of polydactylous cats at Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West: there are dozens of these Super Scratchers there, most descendants of an extra-toed cat given to Hemingway.
Attached are two pictures taken at what was Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida and is now open for tours. The property has close to sixty cats, not all polydactyl. [Since it’s a dominant gene, two heterozygous polydactylous cats can produce normal-toed offspring. I’m not sure whether homozygosity for the mutant gene is lethal.]
And, from Cattitude, here’s a photo of Jake, the world record holder with 28 toes. You can read more about him—and see more photos—at the Cattitude link: