TERRE HAUTE —
Digger, Ritz and M(2) are similar to most 5-week-old kittens as they scamper through the house, playfully attack each other and swat at small toys.
But a close examination of their toes — particularly those of M(2) and Digger — reveals these aren’t your everyday felines.
All three kittens are polydactyls, which means they have more than the normal number of toes, which is 18 digits — five toes on each front paw and four toes on each rear paw.
Polydactylism is a common trait among cats, particularly on front paws, experts say. It’s described as a naturally occurring genetic variation.
But M(2) and Digger have more digits on both front and rear paws — M(2) has 26 toes (seven on each front paw and six on each rear paw) and Digger has 24 toes.
And that, experts say, is unusual.
The kittens, and their mother, belong to Jan and Herschel Chait of Terre Haute. Grandchildren Cali Graham, 18, and David, 19, also have grown attached to the kitties with the funny-looking, oversized feet.
According to Jan Chait, when she first held one of the kittens, she asked her grandson, “Does this paw look weird?” Upon examining them, his response was, “Oh my God.”
While his grandmother, sister and mom thought the kittens had a birth defect, David recognized they were polydactyls.
He did a lot of reading, which indicated that a cat with extra toes on both front and back paws is unusual, but 26 toes “is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “I won the genetic freak lottery.”
He plans to keep M(2), while the other two will be up for adoption. He named the male kitten M(2) because “m” is the 13th letter of the alphabet, times 2 (equals 26).
Chait named one Digger “because I was thinking about moles’ front feet, which are extra wide for digging.” Ritz was so-named because she has markings reminiscent of another cat in the house, Cheddar. “So we have cheese and crackers,” Chait explained.
The kittens’ mother, Anastasia, has the normal 18 toes. “She mated with one of the neighborhood roaming Romeos, which is a mitten-paw and looks like it is wearing mittens,” Chait said. Romeo is a polydactyl.
The cute cats pose a few extra challenges. “It’s a little more difficult to peel them off of you,” Chait said.
In a toe recount later Wednesday, David said he found an extra toe on one of Ritz’ rear paws. Initially, they believed Ritz was polydactyl only on its front paws.
Experts agree a cat with 26 toes is not a common occurrence. Michael Staub, a veterinarian at Honey Creek Animal Hospital, said it does happen, but it is pretty rare.
Arnold Plotnick, a veterinarian and cat specialist in New York City, has written about polydactyls for Cat Fancy magazine. In the article, he stated that polydactylism is a common trait among cats.
“Most cases of polydactylism affect the front feet only. The hind feet are less often affected. When they are, it is usually in addition to having polydactyl front feet,” he wrote.
He also described it as an anomaly — a deviation from the norm — rather than a deformity.
Polydactylism doesn’t affect cats adversely, Plotnick stated. It offers them no advantages, nor does it create any disadvantages.
Urs Giger, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said that a cat with 26 toes “would definitely be very unusual.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.