When it comes to polydactyl Maine Coon Cats, there is a great deal of debate. Many breeders try to breed them out, while others actually want polydactyls. Some shows will allow polydactyls, while others will either disqualify them, or give them lower scores. A polydactyl cat is a cat that has an extra toe on one or both front paws, and the back paws as well.
It is believed that the polydactyl trait in Maine Coons comes from breeding between American cats, and cats that came over from England in the 1600s. The polydactyl state exists through a dominant gene, and occurs 40 to 50 percent of the time. Note that polydactyl does not cause any pain or health problems for the cat.
Luckily, because some breeders do want polydactyls, and some don’t, determining whether a kitten will be polydactyl or not is easily decided. If you want a polydactyl, simply mate two polydactyls. If you don’t, mate two non-polys. You should know, however, that while a polydactyl is not a problem, you will need to clip the toenails more often to avoid injury and pain that could occur because there is an extra toe.
Any animal can be a polydactyl, but this is a trait that is very dominant among Maine Coons. Maine Coons originally were predominately polydactyl, right up until the breed standards were set by the various cat organizations, which deemed polydactyl to be a bad thing. Because there are no ill effects from polydactyl, it is clear that breeders breed it out simply to make the cats more suitable for showing.
Polydactyl Maine Coons have gone from being highly desired to being highly feared. At one time, sailors considered Polydactyls to be lucky. It is even said that nature intended these cats to have extra toes because it helps them to keep their balance on rocking ships. There was a time when Maine Coons were ‘working cats.’ Their job was to catch rodents on ships and at harbors.
The fear settled in during the time when people were being burned for suspected witchcraft. Everything was suspect then, and a cat with six toes was also destroyed – typically burned – because it was thought to either possess evil qualities, or to be used by humans for the purpose of witchcraft.
The debate, of course, still rages on. What many poly-dactyl supporters argue is that poly-dactyls in other breeds are accepted in shows, but it is only poly-dactyl Maine Coons that are discriminated against. Polydactyls are allowed to participate in certain divisions of a show, but never in championship divisions or purebred divisions.
There are those polydactyl supporters who are fighting to have the standard – and the rules – changed, so that polydactyls can fully participate. They are also working to make people realize that poly-dactyl is an integral part of the Maine Coon Cats heritage. Hopefully, with time, this will be recognized, and steps will be taken to preserve this heritage, and to make things a bit more fair on the show circuit.