Hemingway Cats: What Is A Polydactyl Kitty? Facts, Health Problems, And More

You might have come across the term “polydactyl cat”. And chances are, you want to know what it means. We actually reference to it a few times in our ultimate guide to cat breeds.

You can find polydactyl cats all across the world. Even though some cat owners will tell you that they’re a rarity, they actually aren’t. In fact, there are a number of feline breeds known to be polydactyl (of course, there are always exceptions for each breed). For example, many cats from the Maine Coon, Manx and Highlander breeds are polydactyl.

This is due to a congenital physical occurrence, which is simply genetic. The condition is called polydactyly, hyperdactyly or polydactylism. Apart from occurring in feline furballs, it also occurs in dogs, chickens, mice and even in human beings. And when it comes to cats, polydactyl felines also have the nickname Hemingway Cats.

What Is A Polydactyl Cat?

Unlike us human beings, cats don’t have a total of 10 toes – they actually have only 18 toes in total. The paws on their front legs have 5 toes each, whereas each of their hind legs has 4 toes.

Polydactyl cats are felines which are born with one or more additional toes or one or more paws.

Basically, they’ve got an extra toe.

In most cases polydactylism affects mainly the kitty’s front paws. Polydactyl cats can have up to 8 toes on each leg. The Guinness World Record for the cat with the most toes on the planet is currently held by a feline named Jake. And said kitty is notable for having a total of 28 toes!

It’s quite rare for a cat to have additional toes only on its hind legs. However, it’s even rarer for a polydactyl cat to have additional toes on all four legs.

Nobody really knows how this genetic mutation occurred in felines. Today some breeders focus particularly on the polydactyl genes, especially when it comes to the so-called American Polydactyl Cat (not an actual breed) and the Polydactyl Maine Coon (a pedigreed variation of the standard Coons). The polydactyl genes can also be observed in several designer and exotic feline breeds.

Nowadays polydactyl cats are most common in the eastern part of Canada and the US, as well as in Wales, South West England, and Hull. Despite this, polydactyl furballs are residing all over the globe. In fact, you own fluffy pet might have an extra toe, which you might not have seen just yet.

Fun Facts About Polydactyl Cats And Kittens

Once upon a time polydactyl cats were quite popular on ships and were also known as working cats. Sailors thought that their extra toes would actually make them better at hunting mice and other rodents.

Not only were polydactyl furballs respected and well-cared for by sailors, but they were also perceived as gems at sea. In fact, they were so praised by seamen that they were given as gifts and were thought to bring good luck to the ships’ crew members.

Some of the most common nicknames for polydactyl kitties include Mitten Cats, Snowshoe Cats (Snowshoe is actually a breed), Thumb Cats, and of course – Hemingway Cats.

Why Are They Called Hemingway Cats?

Due to sailors having such respect for polydactyl cats, a captain once gave the Nobel Prize-winning author Earnest Hemingway a polydactyl kitty as a gift. The cat in question, named Snow White, fascinated Hemingway so much with its extra toes that the late novelist later became quite well-known for his affinity towards all polydactyl cats.

The author’s strong fascination with kitties like his own Snow White is the reason for the nickname Hemingway Cats. 

Nowadays his former home, located in Key West, Florida, serves as a public museum. Approximately 40-50 feline furballs are residing on its premises, all of which carry the polydactyl genes. Nearly half of them have extra toes, but the genes are recessive in most of them. Legend has it that many of these cats are descendants of his pet kitty Snow White.

The people caring for the museum show great love and devotion to all cats residing in the area. It’s normal for a domestic cat to have annual vet check-ups. However, these cats also have expensive health care and treatments against diseases and parasites all year round.

And while the nickname Hemingway Cats is quite popular for polydactyl cats, the Hemingway Home & Museum is in return quite famous for being the residency of the plethora of polydactyl cats inhabiting the area.

Here’s yet another fun fact about the Hemingway Cats of our world. During his lifetime Earnest Hemingway owned more than one polydactyl kitty. And he named all of his cats after famous people. Even nowadays the people who are caring for the museum are still naming the new kittens after famous public figures!

Health Issues And Problems In Polydactyl Cats

No kitty out there is disease-proof and polydactyl cats aren’t an exception. In fact, they not only have extra toes, but they also come with some extra physical health risks.

Even though polydactylism is a genetic condition, this mutation doesn’t mean that polydactyl cats have bad genes or will inherit genetic diseases different from the ones found in typical-toed cats. The claws, the toes and the dangers of infections are the additional health risks that come with polydactylism.


The extra claws of polydactyl kitties are different from the standard ones. Even one of these extra dew-claws can pose danger to your furry pal if it’s carrying the polydactyl gene. The dew-claws won’t wear out when the cat scratches the furniture or uses the designated scratching post. And they can keep growing longer if you don’t clip them.

One of the most dangerous risks dew-claws pose is the risk of getting embedded into the toes. Needless to say, this causes serious problems. Another issue that might occur is for the dew-claws to grow around the toes, limiting the cat’s proper movements when walking or engaging in other activities.


Sometimes the extra toes don’t grow as big as the regular ones. They can be tiny, deformed or even appear as if they’re hanging off the paw.

In some cases it’s possible for the cat to accidentally catch the extra toe with an object and to rip it. This may occur while performing average everyday activities and it will eventually lead to the need of surgical removal of the extra part.


Ripped, ingrown and embedded claws and toes can lead to a number of infections, including abscess and other severe problems. Removing the dew-claws doesn’t automatically guarantee that the polydactyl toes won’t cause any issues in the future.

Polydactyl cats require explicit attention and pet parents must handle them with great care. If you own a cat, you should carefully examine its four paws to make sure if it’s polydactyl or not. Sometimes the polydactyl genes occur visibly only as a tiny sprout-like particle instead of an actual toe. And as such, you can easily miss it if you’re not paying attention.

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Emily Parker

Emily Parker is the Content Manager at Catological. She's passionate about helping cat parents love their cats better by providing the best information and recommendations about everything you'll need to know about your cat, from kitten to senior years. She believes natural, biologically-appropriate products are best...why wouldn't you provide the best for a member of your family?!

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