Take a look at these photos of Norwegian Forest Cats and Maine Coons. Aside from the fact that they appear to be genetically very similar in terms of their dense, multicolor coats and face structure, we know that Maine Coons have descended from Norwegian Forest Cats because of one very rare trait they share- polydactyl paws.

 A polydactyl cat has a genetic mutation that causes him to be born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more of his paws. Most cats have 18 toes- 5 toes on each front paw and 4 on each hind paw; polydactyl cats may have as many as 8 digits on their front and/or hind paws. The result is that they look as though they have an extra thumb. Some people refer to this as “double pawed.”  

Historically, Norwegian Forest Cats carried the double paw trait because the extra “thumb” helped them to climb trees and hunt more accurately in the dense forest.

Modern day cats with double paws are most commonly found along the East Coast of North America and in the South of England or Wales.  Maine Coons, named after their East Coast roots, often display double paws.  

Maine Coons became double pawed over time, when their breed was mixed with that of Norwegian Forest Cats.  An unlikely union, until Norwegian and Scandanavian sailors headed for the US East Coast with their cats in tow over 300 years ago. When their cargo ships sailed to Maine, Norwegian Forest Cats were on board to control rodents. Sailors valued the polydactyl Forest Cats especially for their extraordinary climbing and hunting abilities which helped control rodents at sea. But these cats were more than mousetraps and they fast developed friendships with the humans onboard. Many sailors considered these cats to bring them good luck at sea. When the sailors disembarked in Maine, they brought along their beloved cats, and the rest is history.

Author Ernest Hemingway absolutely loved polydactyl cats, after he was first given a 6-toed cat by a East Coast ship captain. Upon Hemingway’s death in 1961, his former home in Key West, FL., became a museum and a home for his cats, and it currently houses approximately 50 descendants of his cats, about half of which are polydactyl. “Hemingway Cat” is commonly used to describe polydactyls.

Norwegian Forest Cat:

norwegian forest cat

Main Coon:

maine coon

Polydactyl Maine Coon:

polydactyl coon

 

One of the polydactyl cats at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida; this particular cat has 26 toes:

 

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