The breeder I got my lovely ginger Maine coon from had a gorgeous polydactyl tom :3 he was wonderful!
I had a polydactyl kitty when I was young- her extra thumbs let her grip things better. She was very good at kneading muffins :3
Thanks for sharing! :)
Hey there! Someone asked me before if Faolan was named after a book series but unfortunately didn’t mention the name. I am assuming this is the same one, so thanks for that. ;)
To answer your question: nope! I didn’t know about Wolves of the Beyond, when I chose Faolan’s name. His face as a kitten reminded me of a little wolf, which is why I chose the name. There is also a post from a while back, which explains a bit how the names for everyone were chosen.
Thank you very much! Everyone is doing fabulously well. :)
Some of you may remember our guest Maine Coon Gabriel, who was featured a little while ago here on the blog for about a week. He has more than the regular amount of toes on his paws(for cats that’s 5 on the front and 4 on the back), which makes him polydactyl. Just this week his owner and I were talking and we will be taking care of him again, when our friends will be away on another little trip. So I hope you are looking forward to seeing him once more on thesilverpaws. :)
Anyways! Gabriel gave me the idea to address the phenomenon of polydactyly especially amongst Maine Coons a little more in depth, for those of you who wondered about it, but never dared to ask or anyone really who (s)tumbles (see what I did there? :P) across this and wants to stay for the ride.
So what exactly does polydactyl or polydactyly mean? Literally translated polys is Greek for much/many/multiple and dactylos means digit. Hands and feet can be affected, on both sides or only on one side and also with different amounts of extra digits. It is a sort of genetic mutation with different possible variations that is not bound to a certain gender and can occur not only in cats, but also in different animals like dogs, mice, chickens and types of reptiles, even horses and also humans!
In general polydactylism is not physically harmful and a fairly common trait (I say in general, because it can be one of many features of different genetic mutations, which come together and then might indicate a serious health issue). This phenomenon has been mentioned in stories and illustrations for a long time (even the bible mentions a man with 6 fingers and toes!). The first official documentations started with Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis in 1751, Charles Darwin in 1868 and William Bateson in 1894. Especially humans, but also animals, often have their extra digits removed surgically, for cosmetic reasons and out of fear for being treated as weird or an outcast.
Cats are well known for being born with extra toes and the Maine Coon breed in particular has a reputation of having a high number of polydactyls. Some say in the early days of the breed around 40% of the Maine Coons were actually polydactyl! To be fair, we don’t really have a lot of concrete numbers to prove that. But it is pretty safe to say, that there must have been a remarkable amount of multitoed kitties amongst them.
When cat associations first discussed the showstandards for Maine Coons, it would have been the only breed showing frequent polydactyly. Afraid it might not get recognized at all, breeders decided to go with the “normal” and safe version first and get the polydactyl variation recognized and added to reflect this natural trait of the breed for show status at a later point in time.
To this day this hasn’t happened and on top of that polydactyl Maine Coons were being automatically disqualified from shows (since 2008 the TICA allowed that they can be at least shown, even if there is no possibility for a Champion status yet). To comply with the showstandards many breeders made a conscious effort to avoid the polydactyl lines, which explains why most of the more modern bloodlines rarely have any polydactyls. Polydactyly is inherited dominantly, so at least one of the parents has to be polydactyl to be able to pass it on. This made it fairly easy to avoid them altogether for breeding programs.
There are a couple of breeders who embrace the polydactyl variation and simply don’t care about show status. Recently it seems there has been actually an uptick in breeders trying to preserve the polydactyl Maine Coon and save the “Mittens-Maine Coon” from going extinct.
Important to know is, that polydactyls don’t suffer from their extra toes and don’t have a physical disadvantage or advantage. Although according to many owners they seem to be even more proficient and skillful in opening and grabbing things as well as in climbing, due to their extra “thumbs”.
In the past sailors considered polydactyl cats to be a good luck charm, since they were supposed to be better at hunting mice and having a better grip on ship planks than a “regular” cat. Sailors and their ships coming from England in the 1600s were probably the ones who introduced polydactyl cats to North America, first and primarily around the Boston area. Among the descendants of these ship cats might have been the first foundation cats for the Maine Coon breed, passing on the gene for multiple toes.
Compared to North America, in Europe there are only few “natural” polydactyl cats to be found. It is quite likely that during the times of witch hunt in the middle ages, cats with an abnormal number of toes (or in any way “out of the ordinary” really) were considered a witch familiar or a devil’s creature and consequently killed.
I am interested to hear if anyone of you also has a polydactyl cat or met one, and what your experiences with them are! Are they really better at hunting mice or climbing ;) ?
If people are asked about cat breeds there are usually only a few that everyone knows. Like Persians with their long fluffy fur and squashed faces and like the Siamese with their particular colouring and slender shape. And then? For most people (unless they are into this topic) it stops there. They might be able to name a lucky 3 to 4 breeds more, because they have some friends who own a “special" cat, they’ve seen a tv show or read about them somewhere.
Now, there is nothing wrong with that of course! Why would anyone know all those breeds anyways? What is astonishing to me though, is that even the people who DO care about cat breeds to a certain degree, more often than not have never heard about Oriental Longhairs. How is it possible that a breed that is directly linked to the Siamese — one of the most well-known cat breeds — is leading such a secret existence in the shadows? Ok, ok. That maybe came out a bit overdramatic. Still, even the Oriental Shorthairs which are a whole lot more known than their longhaired relatives, are relatively uncommon. And they literally just have a different fur and eye colour. Their shape, their character and temperament, even sometimes their parents are exactly the same!
Unfortunately I don’t have a real answer to my own question and I can only try to give some reasons here. But what I can definitely do is keep posting pictures of Sambucca and Faolan and Blake and contribute a little bit in making even the least known of the three cat breeds that run around my house a little more known.
So where did this mysterious breed come from?
When I titled this post “The Origins of the Oriental Longhair Cat" I lied. At least a bit. I am going to talk about their history, but it is impossible to talk about the Oriental Longhairs without talking about the origins of their three other relatives (the Siamese, the Balinese and the Oriental Shorthair) at the same time. It all started a long long time ago with the Siamese cats. There are records from as early as the 1600s, which talk about Siamese cats in Thailand (formerly known as Siam). It is said they were very precious, highly regarded by society and only royalty or noblemen were allowed to own them. Already at that time also full colour variations of those cats were mentioned here and there.
Around the 1880s Siamese cats found their way to the USA and to the UK for the first time (documented at least) and left a deep impression. They rapidly gained in popularity and were among one of the first cat breeds to be officially recognized as a distinct cat breed by cat associations. It was not too unusual to have occasionally also long haired kittens in a litter of Siamese. However they were considered as faulty Siamese and therefore only sold as pets and not being used for breeding programs. Only in the 1950s breeders started actually aiming for those longer haired Siamese cats, which we now know under the name Balinese. Unlike the Siamese the Balinese have not been named after a geographic location, but after Balinese dancers as a reference to their graceful appearance and movement.
So what about the Oriental Longhairs? I am getting there!
This is where the exciting stuff started to happen. Due to World War II there was a huge decrease in breeders and Siamese breeding cats around the 1950s in England. In order to get back to a healthy breeding population, cats were outcrossed with other shorthair breeds, like the Russian Blues, Abyssinians and British Shorthairs and others. The plan was to increase the gene pool and secure healthy bloodlines, by using those kittens — which were no longer pointed (that’s what you call the colour of a cat with a light body but darker head, paws and tail) but full coloured — to cross them again with Siamese.
And guess who was a by-product? All those little cats that now looked like a Siamese bodywise, sounded like a Siamese and behaved like a Siamese, but had all sorts of colours from their non-Siamese heritage!
The Oriental Shorthair was born.
By breeding Oriental Shorthairs with Balinese cats, we finally got our Oriental Longhairs in the 1970s! Since then, depending on the country and the cat associations, they have been around under confusingly different names like Javanese, Mandarin and in England even Angora, as well as of course the Oriental Longhair.
All 4 of those breeds are part of the same “Oriental Cat" family. There are the shorthaired versions with the Siamese (pointed) and the Oriental Shorthair (coloured) and the ones with the slightly longer fur, the Balinese (pointed) and the Oriental Longhair (coloured).
"Oh, what do we have here? This is where you control the boat? Sounds like the place where I belong!"
— Blake, Maine Coon and Captain of the boat
Blake Special! Last weekend we rented a boat for a day (it was my and a friend’s birthday present :) ) and we took Blake with us, to have his first boat ride ever. I’d say it looks like a great combination!
I managed to add profile pages for Sambucca, Blake and Faolan. Please check them out!
It has some basic information so far. Let me know what you think and if you want to see any other information on there! :)