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Cat with 26 toes

June 2007

Des is like any other cat, except for his toes. He has got 26 of them, seven on his front and six on his back paws. The normal number of toes in a cat is 18 (five on each front paw and four at the beck), but Des is a cat with a mutation known as polydactylism, where cats have extra toes. Incidentally polydactylism is not specific to cats, humans can also be polydactyl and have extra digits on their hands or feet. The extra toes on Des' paws make them look much bigger than those of normal cat, and in his case this is very noticeable. Does he appreciate the extra toes? According to his family, the extra toes mean extra claws and yes, Des is can be quite quick in using them. And they can be a formidable weapon as some family friends, who did not know Des very well, found out when playing with the cat. The family knows to stay well away from Des' paws.

So is 26 toes a record? Des comes from an area near Swansea, around the old county of Cardiganshire in Wales, which is well known for polydactyl cats. Indeed, cats with extra toes from this area are often referred to as "Cardi-cats". Many "Cardi-cats" have 24 toes but 26 toes is quite remarkable. Polydactyl cats are also common along the eastern coast of the United States and there is a theory that the first polydactyl cats were been brought to Wales on a ship from Boston. There is an unconfirmed record from the western coast of the United States of a polydactyl cat with 27 toes. Bobbi a cat in British Columbia is described as having 28 toes. So 26 toes is unlikely to be a world record, but Des may well held the record in the UK.

As to the other polydactyl cats, probably the most famous of these are the descendants of Ernest Hemingway's six-toed cats. Ernest Hemingway received a six-toed cat named Snowball from one Stanley Dexter, a ship captain in the 1930s. Hemingway fell in love with that unusual cat. Upon Hemingway's death, his former home in Key West in Florida (which is now a museum) also became a home for his cats. It currently houses approximately 60 cats and some of the cats who now live on the museum grounds are Snowball's descendants. Approximately half of these cats are polydactyl. This is what travel writer Michael Palin has to say about these cats in his "Hemingway Adventure" program:

"Today his house [referring to Hemingway's Key West house] has moved up to the top of the charts and visitors are met at the gate with a charge of $7.50 for adults and $4.50 for children and a sign reading 'Do Not Pick Up Cats'. The cats are, to be honest, a bigger attraction than Hemingway. There are over sixty of them strolling, sleeping, washing and occasionally leaping about the house and grounds in proprietorial fashion. They are reputedly descended from Hemingway's six-toed cats and the sure sign of this is that half of them are still polydactyl - that is, they have a bit to spare in the toe department. Some have six, others seven or even eight. They lighten up what is otherwise a pretty lifeless series of rooms, and they give the guides something to talk about. This red one here is a marmalade tom we call Bill Clinton. He has seven toes, and yes, he has been neutered...."


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