The Maine Coon polydactyl is an interesting and loving cat, although they are not well known to all cat lovers. This is a pedigree Maine Coon cat, however they have extra toes on their paws. A regular cat has five digits on their front paws and four digits on their back paws but a polydactyl cat can have up to seven digits on each paw (with the maximum of eight being a rare exception). In Maine Coons, this trait was inherited from the foundation cats that formed the basis of the Maine Coon breed. Polydactyly is a natural mutation that also occurs in other species. There have been many scientific studies, current and past, which all prove it to be a harmless trait, causing no detrimental effect to the cat. Polydactyl cats have pre-axial toes, which means that the extra digits are on the inner or “thumb” side of the paw. These extra digits can be on only one foot or up to all four feet (“4 wheel drive”) and the number of toes can vary from paw to paw. Polydactylism has random expression.
When looking at the paw to count the digits, it is important to look at the bottoms of each of the feet and take note of the paw pads, the toes and the nails as well. Knowing all of these factors it is easy to decide if a poly has extra toes, thumbs, or dew claws to create a certain paw formation. There are two types of paw formations; the mitten paw and the patty or snowshoe paw. The reason for these two types of expressions are likely due to two different specific mutations that causes the polydactyl phenotype expression. The mitten paw is self-describing, it looks like a mitten with a thumb (and usually at least one or more dew claws). This look is created by the extra digit(s). An example: four toes, a smaller dew claw and a thumb. This configuration is normally caused by the point mutation called “Hw”. It was named “Hw” because it is found in the Hemmingway cats of Florida, United States. It also appears in the Pixie Bob cat Breed and the pedigree Maine Coons.
The patty paw is a well-rounded row of toes next to each other forming a large paw usually having no distinct thumb. This variant was first examined in 2011 in France. The variant was never isolated or even localized, but appears to operate in the same manner as the Hw variant, except that the expression is the patty paw with most of the time six digits. In a few documented cases this variant has produced six-digit mitten kittens. This variant, although unidentified, has been dubbed the Canadian variant since it first appeared from a Maine Coon foundation cat in Manitoba, Canada in 1992. Note, both types are happy healthy cats!!! The extra toes are fully functional. It is a personal preference to what one finds more attractive. These formations are in general passed on from generation to generation. For example mitten paws usually create mitten pawed kittens (with and exceptional patty pawed kitten) and a patty paw MC poly will give patty pawed offspring. For more information on paw formations you can visit: http://mcpolydactyl.com/digit-definitions.
History of the Maine Coon standard
Up until the acceptance of the Maine Coon breed into the Cat Fancy, the history of the Maine Coon Polydactyl paralleled that of all Maine Coons – sturdy, working cats that were designed by nature to survive in the harsh winters of Northeastern America. The Breed Standard for polydactyl Maine Coons that was written and accepted by the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association (MCBFA) differed only in the allowance of extra toes and polydactyls have always been included in pedigrees as “purebred” Maine Coons. They were not, however, included in the initial application to permit the Maine Coon into Championship competition. As a result, many breeders culled polys from their programs and over time their numbers diminished. Luckily, a few breeders saw reason to preserve this historical trait and have worked to not just prevent its extinction, but in recent years, to allow for acceptance of the MC Polydactyl in the show hall for the attainment of titles.
Maine Coon polydactyls in Championship
Between 2005 and April of 2015, polydactyl Maine Coons were shown in TICA’s New Traits Class with the hope of advancement into Championship.
In 2008, the New Zealand Cat Fancy became the first cat registry in the world to permit polydactyl Maine Coons to compete in Championship along with non-poly Maine Coons. In TICA, the Maine Coon Polydactyl, as part of the Maine Coon breed group (MC/MCP), was accepted into Championship beginning May 1, 2015.
In CFA poly Maine Coons may still only be shown as neuters in the household pet category. Several other registries continue to work toward acceptance of polydactyl Maine Coons into Championship.
In Europe a different cat organization, FIFé has unfortunately recently decided to no longer allow the polys from breeding and showing, even though for years they gave out pedigrees to MC polys and it was tolerated to show them as well, but not for competition.
Breeding with MC polys
Polydactyly in the Main Coon is a dominant trait, so the decision to breed with or avoid polys is easily accomplished, since at least one parent must be poly to make poly kittens. The kittens from a mating between a regular footed Maine Coon and a Maine Coon Polydactyl will give variable ratios of poly to non-poly kittens, but statistically, this will average out to 50% poly and 50% non-poly. Poly x poly breedings differ only in the higher percentage of polydactyl offspring. With two heterozygous parents, 75% of kittens will express the trait, but with one homozygous parent 100% of the kittens will be polydactyl. Kittens of two polydactyl parents do not show statistically higher numbers of digits than poly to non-poly breedings. This has been shown in Danforth’s observations (1947) and has been confirmed by the collected data of PolyTrak (www.polytrak.net).
Traditionally, a P or PP is placed in the pedigree name to show that the cat is polydactyl. Since not every breeder follows this format, however, there has been no reliable way to track poly ancestors. In TICA, following the formation of a Maine Coon breed group (MC/MCP), kittens produced from a poly to non-poly mating will have SBV instead of SBT preceding their registration number for three generations, thus allowing easy identification.
Maine Coon Polydactyl cats play an important role in the heritage of the Maine Coon breed and add diverse pedigrees to the gene pool. They are used in all types of mating, whether foundation, outcross, or show lines, and few pedigrees are without a polydactyl ancestor.