Rizzie and Polly Paddlefoot — the Polydactyl Cats


Rizzie is a polydactyl cat, available for adoption at Wayside Waifs, a Kansas City no-kill animal shelter. She has an extra toe on each of her front paws, giving them a mitten appearance. Her extra toes are not very noticeable unless you look closely. Sailors favored cats with extra toes because they were thought to be more nimble, better able to climb and excellent hunters of rats on the ship.

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.

Rizzie's front paw shows the mitten shape of a polydactyl cat -- a cat with an extra toe.

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!

About Polydactyl Cats.

Hemingway House cats.

Wayside Waifs.

Click here to go to Live Cam of Hemingway cats.

Polly Paddlefoot has an extra toe on each of her front paws, which are not very noticeable unless she stands. A lucky family took Polly Paddlefoot to a new home. Polydactyl cats bring good luck!


Filed under Cats, History, Kansas City, Life, Nature, Pets, Photography, Science

7 responses to “Rizzie and Polly Paddlefoot — the Polydactyl Cats

  1. Only someone with a GRAND photographers eye could capture something so interesting. Loved the pics!

  2. Rizzie seems to be saying, “I’m willing to entertain offers.”

    Polly seems to be saying, “We’ll have a lot of fun together.”

    I wish I lived closer to Wayside Waifs and I wish I had room for more kitties!

  3. I might have to use your post to help my students remember “poly” as in polygon. I’m afraid “polygamist” just won’t do. With humans, that extra digit is considered a birth defect and is usually “poly gone.” I love esoteric information like this, even if it’s about cats. 🙂

  4. SandySays1

    An acquaintance of my human lives in Key West, has a six toed kitty that he swears is a descendent of the Hemingway housecats. The cat is black with white spots and has a Manx look about it.

  5. Wow! I had no idea that Hemingway was into cats, and polydactyl ones at that! You amaze me. I’m always learning something new at your blog. 🙂 Thanks for all of your work helping find homes for these beautiful, magical kitties.

  6. Amazing! I also have a polydactyl cat named Polly, and her resemblance to Ms. Paddlefoot is amazing. Not only the toes, but the brown tabby coloring with the orange patches. It is indeed a lucky family who adopted Polly. I love my Polly as if I had given birth to her myself. She is quite amazing and I was blessed from the moment I found her. She will be 13 in May.

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