We humans love unique-looking animals, from the hairless Sphynx cats to Scottish Folds to the extra-toed Maine Coon.
Do Maine Coons Have Extra Toes? Yes, some Maine Coons have extra toes. However, it is not a requirement for a cat to have multiple toes to be considered a Maine Coon. Also, extra digits is not a trait solely attributed to just Maine Coon cats, especially if you live in the western hemisphere.
It does occur at a higher percentage in Maine Coons than the general feline population. Read further to understand what it is, why in some countries they are banned from breeding, and how to find one.
Why do they have extra toes?
Polydactyly is a dominant trait that gives animals with this gene extra toes. It is not related to gender, and only one copy of the gene is necessary for one of the parents for the kitten to develop this genetic factor.
However, just because you have a cat with extra toes, it does not mean that its kittens will be the same. Even though the gene is dominant, it is irregular, meaning that any kittens of an extra-toed cat have a 40% to 50% chance of having the same condition.
Being polydactyly means that they will have extra toes, it doesn't state how many extra toes or if they will even be fully functional. A typical cat will have 18 toes in total, five each for the front paws and four each for the back feet.
Typically a cat will only get at the most two extra toes on one foot. In some cats, being polydactyly is unnoticeable due to the alignment of their toes. The standard type is the thumb polydactyly. The cat literally looks like it has a little thumb.
The third type of polydactyly is the twisty mutation, which creates a three-boned thumb. Typically a cat with the twisty mutation is nurtured or spayed since cats with this mutation can pass on genes that could cause descendants issues with bone underdevelopment or deformities such as the absence of forearms.
One idea on how this mutation came about is that the cats developed the trait while on ships. The six toes gave them extra stability and strength while they pranced about and hunted. Looking at the paw of the extra-toed Maine Coon, you can see why this would be the case.
The extra toes made them a mightier hunter and gave them surer footing on a tilting ship. It also helps the Maine Coon climb better.
Once the ships hit the shores of Maine in the United States, they bred with both the wild and domesticated cats in the area. If this kitty had traveled or originated from a place a little bit to the south, it might not be known for those extra digits. In Maine, the cats benefited from their extra wide feet in navigating snowy weather.
If the ships had landed in, say, Florida, the mutation might have phased out because there would not be a current need for it. However, in Maine, their paws that steadied their stride on a boat also worked as a snowshoe on massive drifts.
Funnily enough, if the Maine Coon had landed in western deserts, it might have kept the paws but got rid of the dense fur.
They fit the environment in which they landed, so they flourished.
Not all Maine Coons have extra toes.
It is a common myth that all Maine Coons have extra toes; a very high percentage of them do, but the majority do not. To be deemed a Maine Coon, the cat has to be large with a rectangular body, thick fur with lynx-like ears, and a friendly personality.
A few years ago, quite like the Maine Coon itself, breeders were trying to phase out the extra-toed trait. However now, some breeders are once again embracing this unusual quirk. Polydactyl means the cat has extra toes. Cats with this trait are said to be better at balancing and jumping due to having larger paws. They are also supposedly better at walking in the snow. Maine Coons' sheer size, coming in at 20 lbs. on average, naturally means the cats have large feet, but the extra toes take that to the next level.
Even though the Maine Coon has more instances of polydactyly than most cats, the majority of breeders still only breed regular numbered-toed cats. Regulations from organizations discourage breeding polydactyly cats, due to a fear that selecting for certain traits could lead to other genetic issues. They fear creating cats that are not able to function normally.
If a cat is born with extra toes in a cattery, then it would typically be neutered or spayed. Different catteries across the world are trying to lift the ban on breeding polydactyly cats. Regulations on breeding vary by country and organization.
The extra toes are not unique to the Maine Coon; it can affect many different breeds, but the Maine Coon is one of the most well-known of the six-toed kitties. The trait tends to run through felines that are from the US, Wales, and England rather than kitties from other areas of the world.
Around 40% of the Maine Coon population has extra toes. While some see these cats as their own distinctive breed, with the polydactyl Maine Coon as its own breed, they are not recognized as such by established breeding conventions and establishments.
The most accepted reason for this is due to the history of the domesticated cat itself.
The common ancestor for all domesticated cats hails from Egypt. The ancestors of any domesticated cat in the U.S., Wales, or England for example, most likely traveled there by sea.
Perhaps sailors came to Egypt and heard tales about how these creatures would help them save some food aboard their ships from pesky rats. After centuries of this practice, the cats would adapt to the environment in which they are living.
In some countries, Maine Coons with extra toes have to be neutered so that they can´t reproduce
The embracement of the polydactyly Maine Coon is not all over the world. Regulations on breeding and the ability of the “poly cat” to participate in cat shows vary by country.
It ranges from regions that outright ban the breeding and showing of cats with extra toes, to others who allow them to display right next to their pedigreed siblings.
Overall sentiment towards this trait is shifting. A few years ago, most countries and breeders would advise you to neuter their Maine Coon with polydactyl to prevent the mutation from spreading. It is considered generally unethical and cruel to breed for a deformity. While this variation usually doesn't affect the cat's life in a negative way, breeders and regulators are just looking from the viewpoint of caution. Cat genetics are complex, and when there is something that is structured out of the ordinary, there are extra risks associated with it.
This is something that could be discussed with your vet to make sure you are accommodating your cat to the best of your abilities. If your vet has come to the conclusion that the extra toes will, in fact, affect the cat’s life in a negative way. To prevent future injury or chronic pain for the cat, it may be recommended to surgically remove the extra toes. This is extremely rare.
Out of consideration for the animals, some nations have come together as The Counsel of Europe to sign the Pet Protection Treaty that provides restrictions (which every country picks and chooses what to follow) on each country's conduct towards pets, including how those pets will be bred.
Germany, in particular, is incredibly strict with their restrictions, deeming even Rex breeds un-showable due to their abnormal coat.
They have applied a total breed ban for cats showing these attributes:
- Folded Ear
- Curled Hair
Along with restrictions on:
- Short tail
- Dominant White
- Facial Defects
Cats in the restriction list will be monitored to ensure no debilitating conditions are passed down the line.
While this might sound like extremism, its purpose is to protect the dignity of the animal. As seen with purebred dogs in the United States, overbreeding animals leads to genetic defects and a deflated quality of life for the animal itself.
This is a controversy among different breeders and regulators because some of these traits are not due to selective breeding but are naturally and regularly occurring traits.
Some countries are trying to lax the rules on breeding for a mutation, but in an ethical way that will not harm the animal.
The Netherlands and Belgium are working to restore the poly breed, and New Zealand is currently the only country that will allow polydactyl pedigree cats to be shown along with the standard kind.
Why do some breeders specialize in breeding Maine Coons with extra toes?
While the extra toes might freak some people out, others find it delightful. One such fan became an eponym for them, Hemingway.
While the polydactyly in Maine Coons is a naturally occurring mutation, it is questioned whether it is morally acceptable to breed animals for their variation.
Those against such type of breeding question when the modifications will stop on the animal and how such breeding affects the animal’s day-to-day life.
One can see the impacts of overly selective breeding in the dog world, where the effort to breed animals for certain desirable traits has degenerated purebred dogs' genetic pool with numerous disorders and inability to function.
People simply want to make sure the cats themselves can live their lives with dignity, rather than something that can't walk a few steps without help.
For a polydactyl cat, it depends on the type of mutation to determine if any harm will happen due to breeding — also, the breeding practices of whom you are buying from. If you are looking to obtain an extra-toed kitty, then investigate the breeder that you are purchasing from.
It would also be a good idea to get pictures of the cat and/or a visit.
Finding breeders in the United States is relatively easy, though there might be a bit of a drive for some. The only one that has signed the TICA (The International Cat Association) Code of Ethics, as of this writing, is COMaineCoons.
Breeders who specialize in Maine Coons will have polydactyl kittens but do not actually concentrate on breeding cats with extra toes. It is rare to find a breeder who specifies breeding Maine Coons with polydactyl.
It is not against the law in the United States to produce cats with extra digits. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t restrictions on the polydactyl Maine Coon with other organizations.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association deems any cat with extra toes Is disqualified from showing. As a result breeders rarely breed felines with extra digits.
One such place that does breed Maine Coons for their extra little toes is CoonPlay located in Colorado.
Outside of the United States, it might be a bit harder due to each country's statute on mutations or deformities in pets.
What causes a cat to have extra toes? It is an irregular dominant gene in felines called polydactyl. If one of the parents has extra toes, then the kittens will have a 40% to 50% chance of being polydactyl. Exact origins are not known, but it is believed that they developed this trait while making a living as a ship-mouser.
Do Maine Coons like to cuddle? In typical cat form, they do, but only when they want to. The Maine Coon is an amiable cat, but expect them to be near you on the couch or by your feet rather than on your lap. Let them come to you rather than force anything.
How expensive are Maine Coon cats? They are pretty costly, the average rate for a Maine Coon is $1000. Look around at catteries to determine the price in your area. If that price is too steep for you, then hit up your local animal shelters or people who want to re-home an animal.