When it comes to poly-dactyl Maine Coon Cats, there is a great deal of debate. Many breeders try to breed them out, while others actually want poly-dactyls. Some shows will allow poly-dactyls, while others will either disqualify them, or give them lower scores. A poly-dactyl 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 poly-dactyl trait in Maine Coons comes from breeding between American cats, and cats that came over from England in the 1600s. The poly-dactyl state exists through a dominant gene, and occurs 40 to 50 percent of the time. Note that poly-dactyl does not cause any pain or health problems for the cat.
Luckily, because some breeders do want poly-dactyls, and some don’t, determining whether a kitten will be poly-dactyl or not is easily decided. If you want a poly-dactyl, simply mate two poly-dactyls. If you don’t, mate two non-polys. You should know, however, that while a poly-dactyl 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 poly-dactyl, but this is a trait that is very dominant among Maine Coons. Maine Coons originally were predominately poly-dactyl, right up until the breed standards were set by the various cat organizations, which deemed poly-dactyl to be a bad thing. Because there are no ill effects from poly-dactyl, it is clear that breeders breed it out simply to make the cats more suitable for showing.
Poly-dactyl Maine Coons have gone from being highly desired to being highly feared. At one time, sailors considered Poly-dactyls 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. Poly-dactyls are allowed to participate in certain divisions of a show, but never in championship divisions or purebred divisions.
There are those poly-dactyl supporters who are fighting to have the standard – and the rules – changed, so that poly-dactyls 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.