When the American writer Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West, Florida, a ship captain gave him polydactyl kittens. It came to the point that Hemingway had as many as 50 of these cats. And until today, the descendants of these cats can still be found roaming the grounds of the Hemingway museum.
What made Hemingway enamored with these kitties, apart from their unique physical characteristic? Was it their personality?
Polydactyl cat personality
Polydactyly is a physical abnormality that can occur in any cat breed. As such, there is no distinct temperament or personality trait that is unique to these cats.
Think of polydactyl cats like any other cat. Except they have more toes. A cat’s personality is shaped by a few key factors.
Selective breeding has allowed cat fanciers to produce cats a set of standards, including physical appearance, health, and even personality. Although there are some differences from one cat to another, overall, felines from the same breed have the same personality traits.
If a cat is purebred, he shares the personality traits of other felines from the same breed. On the other hand, if a cat is a moggy, he will share the personality traits of his parents’ breed.
Socialization is vital if a cat will live with humans and other animals like felines and canines. Without socialization, a cat can become feral. This means that he becomes wary of the presence of humans and their pets.
3. Individual experience
If a cat’s breed determines his basic personality type, his experience will shape his individual personality. For example, if a cat has lived his life outdoors as a feral cat, he is more likely to become more territorial and apprehensive of human contact compared to a cat that has been kept as an indoor pet.
Although a cat’s father is long gone before he is born, he inherits a sizable amount of personality traits from his dad.
But aside from that, a cat’s mom also helps develop his personality from the time he is born until he is taken away to be adopted. A cat’s mom is his first teacher, showing him how to interact with the world and people.
Polydactyl cats can come from almost any breed. And as such, an individual can have, for the most part, the personality traits of his breed and his parents.
What makes a cat polydactyl?
An ordinary cat has 18 toes, with five on each front paw, and four on each hind paw.
In a polydactyl cat, the number of toes can exceed that number. A cat that entered the Guinness Book of World Records for his polydactyly had as many as 28 toes.
Typically, polydactyl cats have two extra toes that are typically found in the front paws. Extra toes in the hind paws are quite rare.
If you look at a polydactyl cat’s paws, you will see that these are considerably larger. The extra toes can sometimes look like thumbs but do not imbue felines with the ability to grasp things like human thumbs do.
Are polydactyl cats rare?
No. Polydactyl cats are not rare.
The gene that is responsible for polydactyly can be found in different cat breeds. And unlike other traits in a cat, polydactyly is not dependent on gender. To be born a polydactyl cat, he should have at least one parent carrying the gene for this trait. If both parents carry the gene, the chances of producing polydactyl kittens become substantially higher.
Although polydactyl cats can be found in various parts of the world, the highest concentration of these cats can be found in the coastal towns of England, Canada, Wales, and the United States.
Sailors took polydactyl cats to their voyages believing that these cats were lucky charms and capable mousers. They also believed that the extra toes of these cats made them more nimble on ships as these sailed choppy waters.
When the sailors from Wales and England docked in the United States and Canada, they left a significant number of these cats. Soon after, these cats mated with the local feline population and spread their genes.
Are polydactyl cats smarter than other cats?
No, polydactyl cats are not smarter than other cats.
There are some anecdotes that say that polydactyl cats are smarter than ordinary cats. This belief stems from the idea that polydactyl cats are capable of doing a few things that normal cats cannot because they have extra toes. These include opening doors and switching lights.
While a polydactyl cat’s extra toes may give him a slight advantage in performing some tasks, that does not make him smarter than his peers.
Cats are great observers and can learn a few things by watching their humans. The main difference between those with extra toes and those without is that polydactyl cats can sometimes use their extra toes to their advantage.
Common polydactyl cat health issues
Despite their physical difference from ordinary cats, polydactyl cats are healthy for the most part. However, the presence of extra toes can lead to a few issues that are unique to them.
For one, having extra toes makes polydactyl cats prone to injuries. Because polydactyl cats have larger paws, you are more likely to step on those. Furthermore, the larger the paws, the more likely that these can get snagged or caught into something.
Polydactyl cats can also succumb to issues related to the claws. These include ingrown and embedded nails.
In some polydactyl cats, the extra toes do not develop fully. Instead, these remain trapped between the other toes. This can sometimes cause problems and need to be removed through surgery.
You might also need to trim your polydactyl cat’s nails more often compared to a normal cat. Although a polydactyl cat may scratch various surfaces, this is not enough to wear down his claws.
Worse, his nails can bend outward, making him more susceptible to snagging his claws. In turn, this can cause a great deal of pain in the cat.
Polydactyl cat breeds
Although polydactyly can appear in almost any cat breed, a significant number of polydactyl cats come from the Maine Coon breed. It is estimated that years ago, as much as 40 percent of Coons had polydactyly.
Although there is still a significant amount of polydactyl Maine Coons, that number is comparatively lower. This is due, in large part, to the fact the many breeders did not use polydactyl cats in their breeding programs.
However, some breeders have actively sought to create a breed where polydactyly is an integral part of the physical attribute of the cat. The end result of this pursuit is the American Polydactyl.
Personality-wise, the American Polydactyl is similar to the Maine Coon. However, its most significant feature is its polydactyly.
There are also some Maine Coon breeders that selectively breed for polydactyly, creating variants of the breed. These variants include the Vermont snowshoe cat and the Boston thumb cat.
Take note that these emerging breeds and variants are not officially recognized by cat fancier associations.
Polydactyly or having extra toes does not influence a cat’s personality. If you want to have a clue about your pet’s personality traits, there are other factors that you should look into, instead of your cat’s physical characteristics. These include his breed and upbringing.
The Polydactyl cat’s personality will vary from one cat to another, reflecting his breed and his parentage.
Image: istockphoto.com / Ed-Ni-Photo