Do cats have thumbs?

Normally, cats have 18 toes…five digits each on the front paws and 4 digits on each of the back paws. Cats do not really have thumbs. However, due to some quirk of nature, some cats were born with more digits. Some cats would not only have thumbs…these cats would have more toes too.

A cat is seen deftly picking up a ball… another one is making a needle and thread fly over the embroidery hoop…a gang of cats are clicking the fingers while patiently waiting for the leader to open the latch on the door…all these cats have one thing in common. Thumbs! The opposing thumbs make the cats perform various tasks dexterously. Of course this scenario is not a real life happening. These cats with thumbs were featured on the advertisement of a milk product. Cats don’t really have thumbs. But wouldn’t you wish your kitty has thumbs? The pet would be able to pick up your mail and help with the housework. Wonders of wonders… the very smart cat can even use your laptop to post its pictures on Facebook!

A normal cat though only has 18 toes. Cats usually have 10 digits on the front paws (five on the left and another five on the right) and 4 digits each on both hind paws. Some cats have dew claws. These additional digits usually situated on the inside of the cat’s front legs are used to get a good grip on toys, preys and on other things. Dewclaws also aid the cats in climbing. Some cats would have thumb like digits. These cats born with more than the usual number of digits are called polydactyl cats. The term was taken from polydactyly, a congenital physical anomaly where genetic mutation has resulted to the birth of cats with more than the normal number of toes. A cat that was recognized by the Guinness World Record has 27 toes. Polydactyl cats are also known as thumbs cats, mitten or mitten foot cats, boxing cats, six fingered cats, Hemingway cats, Cardi-cats and double pawed cats. These polydactyl cats are most commonly found on North America’s East coast, in Wales and in South West England. This trait has resulted from a dominant genetic mutation. Additional toes on the rear paws are rarely seen as the extra toes are typically found on the cat’s front paws.

Polydactyly or the thumb cat condition is never considered as an abnormality. Cats with this kind of trait were even considered as lucky cats by sailors. Cats with this anomaly are highly valued as ship cats because they have extraordinary abilities to climb and to hunt rodents. These cats efficiently control shipboard rodent population. The opposing thumbs become endearing characteristics as they allow cats to be more dexterous. Moreover, the additional digits gave the cats a unique status. Polydactyl cats are viewed as hardy cats that can efficiently navigate snowy terrain. Thanks to the “built-in” snowshoes.

Additional digits would not be debilitating to cats but cats with this anomaly would require more care from the owners. Cats normally maintain the length of the claws when they use the scratching post. The scratching would remove the claws’ outer layer. As the extra digits are commonly situated between or under the normal toes they would not be normally sharpened. These extra digits would then grow in an outward position or grow into the paw pad. To prevent infection, owners must insure that these awkwardly positioned toes must be regularly trimmed.