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Home > Cats > How Many Toes Does a Cat Have? Feline Anatomy Explained

How Many Toes Does a Cat Have? Feline Anatomy Explained

cat paws resting on human feet in bed

If you watch online cat videos, you may have noticed that some pet owners like to focus on their cats’ paws. Cats’ toes are adorable; the fluffy feet and soft “toe beans” make everyone feel good, but sometimes, you’ll see a cat’s foot that looks decidedly different from any other.

These cats have more toes than the standard 18 that most cats have, and some cats can have as many as 28 toes altogether! Cats typically have 18 toes: four on the back paws and five on the front. However, cats with a genetic condition called polydactyly can have as many as seven toes on each paw: an extra two on the front feet and an extra three on the back.

divider-catCan Cats Have Extra Toes? What Is It Called?

Cats can have extra toes, and some cats are bred to have more than the normal number of toes. For example, a cat can have up to seven toes on each paw, caused by a genetic mutation known as Polydactylism.

Polydactyly is a genetic variation caused by the Sonic Hedgehog gene (yes, really!), which causes the full or partial growth of extra digits on one or more of a cat’s paws. Cats can have just one extra toe on one paw and still be polydactyl, or they can have a full complement of extra toes, but this is much rarer.

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What Causes Extra Toes on Cats?

Polydactyly ( or hexadactyly/hyperdactyly) is inherited from one or both of the parent cats, from parent to kitten. It is an autosomal dominant genetic trait, meaning that it is more likely to be expressed.

The Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) gene (named after a popular SEGA game character) controls the amount of SHH protein which can dictate how limbs are grown amongst other body parts, including how many digits are present.

The Sonic Hedgehog gene has been identified as being responsible for the mutation, but other genes can cause polydactyly in cats. A study in 2020 revealed that three genetic variants could be responsible for polydactyly, which were found in specific locations worldwide ( in England, Wales, and the US). One such mutation is the ZHS, a gene that controls how the SHH gene is expressed in each paw.

Are Extra Toes Common in Cats?

Polydactyl cats are relatively common. For example, 40–50% of the litter is likely to have extra toes if a parent cat has extra toes. This is stil the case even if only one parent has one extra toe. Interestingly, however, the geographical location of the cat makes a difference in this, as cats born in some regions of the US are more likely to be polydactyl than the general cat population.

Cats born in Wales, along the West Coast of England, and the Coast of Maine in the United States are more likely to be polydactyly. The most common theory for the specific areas in which polydactyl cats are more common is because of how popular they were as ship cats, reaching different ports around the UK and US and breeding with local cat populations.

cat meowing
Image By: Stanimir G.Stoev, Shutterstock

Which Breeds Have Extra Toes?

Until recently, no specific breeds had extra toes as part of their breed standard or type. However, there are two breeds now bred specifically to include extra toes, with the usual amount of toes being undesirable.

The American Polydactyl is bred for its extra toes (along with other traits), as are some lines of Maine Coon cats. The Maine Coon historically had extra toes adorning its feet, and the polydactyl cats that lived on the ships that docked in Maine bred with the earliest members of the Maine Coon Breed.

Pixiebob cats are also sometimes bred to have extra toes. This could be due to the breed’s progenitors having extra toes and the gene being expressed in each litter when the breed was founded.

Where Are the Extra Toes on Cats?

Polydactyl cats can grow toes on either the left, right, or center of their feet. Cats with extra toes on the left (outside) of their feet are known as postaxial polydactyly, cats with more toes on the right (inside) are known as preaxial, and the rarest of all forms of polydactyly is medial, where toes are grown in the center of the paw.

rear feet of a polydactyl cat
Image By: Constance Mannes, Shutterstock

Do Extra Toes Hurt Cats? Are They Dangerous?

The extra toes a cat can grow can either fully function or have extra skin and muscle. Usually, the toes are functional and can help cats by providing more traction and grip when running or climbing trees. The extra toes don’t harm the cat in most cases, but there are some instances where the extra toes can present a problem.

If the toe is more akin to soft tissue growth, it can be partially or completely detached from the rest of the paw structure. These loose toes can increase the risk of accidental injury, as they often still have claws that can get caught. However, in most cases, the extra digits have the same bones, joints, and everything they need to function as normal toes.

If the toe or toes grow at an angle, watch for any signs of claw growth or overgrowth. They possibly won’t be filed down as quickly as the other toes and might begin to dig into the paw pads or other toes; keeping them clipped regularly can avoid any possible injury to the claw or other toes on the paw.

Why Are Cats With Extra Toes Called “Hemingway” Cats?

The famous author Ernest Hemingway was gifted one of his most prized possessions in the 1930s: a white polydactyl cat named Snow White. The kitten had six toes, and Hemingway received her as a gift from a ship’s captain.

Many of the cats roaming the Hemingway Museum and island are polydactyl and thought to be Snow White’s descendants. These cats have given the polydactyl cats the nickname “Hemingway” cats, along with sometimes being called “mitten cats” or “snowshoe cats” because of their larger, wider feet.

divider-catFinal Thoughts

Polydactyl cats have more than the standard 18 toes and can have up to 28, but even cats with one extra digit on one foot are polydactyl. These toes can be either fully functioning or more similar to fleshy growths, but they’re usually not a hindrance or dangerous to the cats that sport them.

Instead, they’re a cute genetic quirk passed down from parents to their offspring. If you have a cat with extra toes, keep an eye on them for any signs of claw trouble in case they grow at angles. But, for the most part, you’ll be able to enjoy watching your polydactyl cat’s extra-special paws at work!


Featured Image Credit: Valeriia Miller, Unsplash

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