Reader Question: Are Polydactyl Cats a Separate Breed?

Are Polydactyl Cats a Separate Breed?

Dr. Arnold Plotnick is one of CatChannel's feline health experts. Check out more of his CatChannel answers.

Q: Can you tell me if six-toed cats are a rarity, or is there a breed?

A: Polydactyly (extra toes) is somewhat common in cats. My cat, Mittens, is a polydactyl cat. Her rear feet have one extra toe. Her front feet have the usual five, but her thumbs are gigantic. I confess that it was her freaky feet that attracted me to her in the first place.

Polydactyl cats are not a separate breed. Historically, however, the original unregistered Maine Coon cats had a high incidence of polydactylism — around 40 percent! It has been written that the extra toes evolved as a “snowshoe foot” to help Maine Coons walk in the snow, and local folk tales claimed that these cats used their big mitts to catch live fish right out of the streams, taking them home to feed their owners. These stories are charming, however, there is no evidence that polydactylism confers any natural selective advantage to affected cats. Breed standards required a normal foot configuration, and did not allow polydactyly in Maine Coons, and so the trait was deliberately bred out of this breed. In the Netherlands and Belgium, there is currently a move to restore the polydactyl form of the breed.

Although polydactylism is alluring, breeding cats deliberately for polydactylism is controversial. Some cat enthusiasts fear that unscrupulous breeders would try to produce cats with excessive and disabling numbers of toes on each paw. Fortunately, polydactyl genetics doesn’t work this way; you can only fit so many toes on a cat’s foot. Even so, a good compromise would be to write breed standards to define the maximum number of toes allowed, to discourage such attempts.

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The 30 Most Important Cats of 2009 (from the internet)

Hundreds of worthy contenders didn't make the cut, but these 30 stand proud as representatives of what may have been one of the most important years for cats on the Internet since 2008. Let's take a moment to honor their noble endeavors of 2009. 

[Check out the full post HERE

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Down in the Mouth

My associate Tina Waltke examined an 8 year old cat with decreased appetite and weight loss. It turns out that the cat has some kind of growth in its mouth, on the right lower side, on the tongue side of the lower back teeth. She admitted the cat to our hospital so that I could biopsy it. I got the biopsy back. I should have results soon. I’m worried, though. Oral things in cats tend to be bad. My first inclination is to think that this is a squamous cell carcinoma, a really devastating oral tumor in cats. But this doesn’t have the classic appearance. Squamous cell carcinomas tend to be pretty invasive, and this one seems more proliferative than invasive. This is a relatively young cat. I really hope it’s something benign, something treatable. If it’s a squamous cell carcinoma, there really is no treatment. It would be the demise of the cat, and in an 8-year old cat, that would be really tragic.

It’s that time of year for the allergics and the asthmatics. Half my cases are allergic skin disease, or allergic lung disease these days. The allergic skin disease is easy enough. The allergic lung disease is a challenge. Any time a coughing cat comes in, it can be a challenge. Here’s why:

The most common reason for a cat to cough is asthma, which is allergic bronchitis. But…it is also possible for a coughing cat to have infectious bronchitis as well. If you take an x-ray, you may see a pattern that fits with bronchitis, but you really cannot tell whether it is allergic or infectious. The way you can truly distinguish is to do a procedure called a tracheal wash, where you sedate the cat, squirt sterile fluid down into the lungs, retrieve the fluid, and send it out for culture and for microscopic examination. If there are a lot of neutrophils in the fluid, it’s probably infectious, because neutrophils are the cells that fight off infection. If you find a lot of eosinophils, then it’s probably allergic, because eosinophils are often seen in allergic reactions. Even better is to do bronchoscopy, where the cat is anesthetized, and a bronchoscope (a long tube with a camera at the end) is inserted down the trachea and into the lungs, allowing you to visualize the air passages and obtains samples. These procedures, however, require anesthesia and can be pretty costly. Instead, it’s reasonable to run a simple blood test called a complete blood count, and if you find a lot of eosinophils circulating in the bloodstream, it supports the idea that this is allergic. Often, though, the complete blood count is normal, and provides no helpful information. So what do we do? How do we treat?

If you treat as if it is infectious (i.e. give antibiotics), and it’s really allergic, the cat won’t get better, but it won’t get worse. If you treat as if it is allergic (i.e. give steroids) and it’s infectious, it could get worse, because steroids suppress the immune system, and infectious things can get worse when you suppress the immune system. What I do is: treat with antibiotics for two or three weeks. If the cat is not significantly improved after three weeks, you probably are dealing with asthma. At that point, I prescribe steroids and watch the cat closely. More often than not, the cat gets dramatically better. I’ve been doing this all throughout August and now again, in September. There must be something in this geographic region that is in bloom that is driving cats crazy.
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25 of the Most Famous Most Loved Cats We Grew Up With

Many cats graced our TVs on a Saturday morning as we grew up.  Here are the most famous cats from film and TV. Which cat is your favorite?  And is anyone missing?

Oliver from Oliver and Company

Figaro from Pinocchio

Puss in Boots

Stimpy from Ren and Stimpy

Mr. Jinx from The Huckleberry Hound Show

Catwoman from Batman

Snowball of The Simpsons

The Cat in the Hat

Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes

Scratchy from Itchy and Scratchy of The Simpsons

Sylvester of Loony Tunes

Felix the Cat

Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland


Heathcliff and Cleo

The cat from Stephen King's Cat's Eye


Azrael from The Smurfs

Madcat from Inspector Gadget

Top Cat

Courageous Cat

Snagglepuss from The Yogi Bear Show

Tom from Tom and Jerry

Pink Panther


Which cat is your favorite cat from your childhood? 

Let us know in comments if we missed any childhood cats so we can create a part 2 post.
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