Polydactyl cats are cats that have a congenital physical anomaly in the form of extra toes, usually on their front paws. They often appear to be wearing mittens because of the presence of the extra, opposable digit.In most cases, this anomaly doesn’t affect the cat at all, although some kittens take a bit longer to learn to walk. In fact, polydactyl cats were prized by sailors because of their added dexterity at clambering around ships in search of vermin to kill (which is believed to be how this mutation was spread so widely along the eastern coast of the US).
These cats were perhaps made most famous by author Ernest Hemingway, who received his first polydactyl cat from a ship’s captain he befriended while living in Florida. Hemingway loved his polydactyl cats so much that he provided for their care in his will. You can still meet the descendants of his first polydactyl cat at his former home in Key West, FL, which is now a museum.
Our first polydactyl cat came as a complete surprise: one of the barn cats gave birth to two kittens, one of which happened to be polydactyl. Naturally, we named her Hemingway (who just happens to be my father’s favorite author). Hemy, as she is affectionately known, has an extra digit on each front paw, between her true thumb and the rest of the digits. Her’s are rather slender and unobtrusive- you probably wouldn’t even notice them unless you knew what you were looking for.
Hemy has given birth to two litters of kittens. With each, there was one kitten born that also had polydactyly. Tommy (who’s full name is Tom Thumb or Tommy Toes, depending on who you ask) has an extra digit on his left front paw, but his right front paw displays a fused extra digit that only shows up as an extra toenail growing from the same nail-bed as the normal toe.
Then there is our newest polydactyl arrival. He and his siblings are the children of Hemy and my dear departed Fig, who he resembles almost exactly. He shows the same kind of polydactyly as Tommy, with one true digit on his left paw and a fused digit on his right.