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All About Hemingway Cats: The Cats With Extra Toes

hemingway cats

Perhaps you’ve heard of polydactyl cats, commonly called Hemingway cats. Nicknames for these kitties also include mitten cats, boxing cats, conch cats, mitten-foot cats, snowshoe cats, six-fingered cats, thumb cats and Cardi-cats. What makes these kitties so unique? They have extra toes! Here’s everything there is to know about these felines.

What Is Polydactyly?

Hemingway cats have polydactyly, which is also known as polydactylism or hyperdactyly. It’s a congenital physical anomaly which causes cats to have more than the usual number of toes on one or more of their paws. Normally cats have a total of 18 toes, with 5 toes on each of their front paws and 4 toes on each of their back paws. However, Hemingway cats can have up to nine toes on each paw. Usually the extra toes are on the front paws, not the hind paws.

How Does a Cat Get Polydactyly?

Polydactyly is an inherited trait, meaning cats are likely to get it if one of their parents has extra toes. Hemingway cats are found all over the country, but they are especially common along the east coast in North America and Canada. They are also found in South West England and Wales.

How to Care for Hemingway Cats

Hemingway cats are easy to care for! In fact, caring for them is very similar to how one would care for a cat with the usual number of digits. Polydactyly typically doesn’t result in any health issues. Simply examine your cat’s paws regularly to make sure they’re in good shape. You also want to make sure to keep their nails clipped to avoid infection and ingrowns.

The History of Polydactyl Cats

You might be wondering why these cats are so prevalent along the east coast. This is actually because Hemingway cats used to be particularly popular as ships’ cats. Sailors went bananas for them and started keeping them on board. Polydactyl cats were thought to be superior climbers and mousers than ordinary cats thanks to their extra toes. Some sailors even thought the kitties were good luck!

It’s unclear whether the mutation originated in New England or Britain, but the spread of these kitties can be tied directly to ships sailing out of Boston, Massachusetts. Whenever Hemingway cats started popping up in a particular port, it usually was shortly after that area started trading with Boston. These kitties are also less common in Europe and it’s speculated that it’s because they were once hunted when folks associated them with witchcraft.

So why the name Hemingway cats? One ship captain actually gave a polydactyl kitty to the famous American author, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway kept the all-white cat, named Snow White. Today, the Hemingway House in Key West is the Hemingway Home and Museum. Almost 50 cats happily roam the property — all descendants of Snow White. Roughly half of them have extra toes which is why these felines are now commonly referred to as Hemingway cats.