The first time I ever saw six-toed cats was on a visit to the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida. More than fifty cats roam the Hemingway estate, about half of them with six toes on each front paw, all descendants from Hemingway’s first six-toed cat. Cats normally have five toes on each front paw and four on each back paw. There are many variations of polydactylism in cats, which you can read about in the link below. The record is 28 total toes! Normal is eighteen.
A ship’s captain gave a six-toed cat to Hemingway, who became one of the more famous lovers of polydactyl cats. After Hemingway died in 1961, his former home in Key West became a museum and a home for his cats. Because of his love for these animals, “Hemingway cat”, or simply “Hemingway”, is a slang term used to describe polydactyls. There are also official breeds of polydactyl cats, including the American Polydactyl Cat and the Maine Coon Polydactyl. Polydactyl cats are very common in the Cardigan area of Wales, where they are known as “Cardi-Cats.”
According to Wikipedia, polydactylism seems to be most commonly found in cats along the East Coast of the United States and in South West England. The most common variety of the trait spread widely as a result of cats carried on ships originating in Boston. (The polydactyl cats must have gotten a weekend pass and fraternized with the local cats…) Sailors valued polydactyl cats for their superior climbing skills and for their extraordinary abilities to hunt shipboard rats. Some sailors also considered them to be extremely good luck when at sea.
Anne Boleyn was reputed to have a sixth finger, but detractors may have created that rumor, because polydactylism was supposed to be a trait of witches. But the only thing witch-like about polydactyl cats is that they will bewitch you!