6-toed Hemingway cat

If you are a literary buff, you may have heard about Ernest Hemingway’s adoration of cats, so much so that a specific breed has even been named after the author.

Hemingway cats, or more accurately, polydactyl cats, are known for their extra toes. How did this come to be, and what is the real story behind Hemingway cats? 

The team at Shiloh Veterinary Hospital sets out to solve this mystery and explain why these unusual 6-toed cats evolved.

What Is a Polydactyl Cat?

The term polydactyly means many toes. This is caused by a genetic trait that occurs in certain felines whose parents passed this trail down through their lineage. This dominant gene can produce up to seven toes on each paw. It is typically seen on the front paws, but all four feet can be affected.

What’s the Story Behind the Hemingway Cat Family?

Ernest Hemingway received a cat named Snow White in the 1930s. This kitten was unique because she had six toes on her front paws. This sweetie was a gift from a sailing captain named Stanley Dexter, a colleague of Hemingway’s who, along with cats, loved the sea.

Among sailors, 6-toed cats (sometimes called mitten cats) are viewed as good luck and are considered better hunters aboard the ship.

The Hemingway homestead in Key West, FL is still the home to roughly 45 descendents of Snow White and her brood. 

The Things That Make 6-Toed Cats Special

Along with their unique quality of having additional toes, there are some other notable things about these special cats that endear them to many.

  1. Their toes allow them to be better athletes. From gripping things to climbing and hunting, some of these  cats are benefited by their extra digits. In some cases, they are better able to balance on certain surfaces, as well as traipse through snow with their wide paws.
  2. They are considered lucky in many parts of the world. Because they are thought to be better mousers than non-polydactyl cats, they are considered a boon for many households and farms. This thought is still widely held in Great Britain, Wales, Canada, and the East Coast of the United States.
  3. They are loved by Maine Coon fans. For several generations, up to 40% of Maine Coon cats had these extra toes. Since then, the percentage has given way to a genetic trait of wider paws, without the extra digits. Still, afficianods of this breed have come to look for and cherish this special quality of multi-digits in their favored felines.
  4. They are a great conversation starter. Many pet lovers like to brag about their adorable pets, and it’s exciting to talk about what’s unusual about them. For cat fanciers, these mitten friends are a subject of conversation, and they even have Facebook fan pages devoted to them.

It’s interesting to note that, according to the Guinness Book of World Record, a ginger tabby named Jake has held the record for the most number of toes: 28, or 7 per each paw. 

No matter if your pet is a polydactyl or no, we’re sure they are unique in their own special way. If you would like more information on 6-toed cats, or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us.