13
Jun
07

Little Black Kitten

Shadow at eight weeks

My neighborhood is home to several families of feral cats, and I recently discovered a grey tiger-stripe and her little black kitten living in a woodpile in my back yard. I started feeding them, and though the mom remained wary, the kitten was still too young to know better, and let me pet him while he ate. After licking the plate clean, he playfully pounced on a twig I teased him with. Perched on a stack of old 2×4′s a short distance away, his mother watched our nightly antics with a mixture of suspicion and mild interest.

The first thing I noticed about this spunky kitten was his huge feet. Real waffle irons. Extra toes maybe? I’d had a “mouser” years ago and really loved his quirky personality and manual dexterity. Cats with extra toes are called “polydactyl” (latin for ‘many toed’) or “Hemingway cats,” because Ernest Hemingway had a bunch of them – in fact their descendents still live in his home-turned-museum in Key West. There’s much lore surrounding these mutant felines: back in the day, they were thought to bring good luck to ships, so residents of English ports would give their extra-toed cats to captains and crews headed for Boston. That may explain why the largest numbers of America’s six- and seven-toed cats are found in the Northeast; they’re rare in other parts of the country. And almost non-existent in continental Europe where, legend has it, they were burned as “witch’s familiars.”

Well I’m no witch but I’ve been without a familiar for two years now and, yeah, I grabbed the little fella. My partner and I have been “socializing” him for five days now, and, considering he was completely feral, he’s made great progress. At first we couldn’t even approach him – but step by step he’s becoming a housecat. The first (and crucial) sign that we had a winner: he took to the litter box right away. Not surprising really: I’ve observed wild cats defecating, and they prefer loose soil. But it’s still a relief.

Another big milestone was achieved when he let me brush him with a baby brush. He still loves to play, and as he gets more confident he’s demonstrating amazing (sometimes alarming) acrobatic abilities. And he grabs things! I mean really grips things! With the SEVEN toes he has on each paw!!! Two of them seem to form a thumb, an opposable thumb. Wild Thing.

Shadow’s seven toes

Shadow in a flowerpot; reminds him of home.

For the first two days this frightened but curious creature peered out at us from the darkest places in the kitten-friendly detention cell we’d created for him. My partner suggested we call him “Shadow.” I like it.

TOE-COUNT UPDATE: After several careful inspections we’ve determined that Shadow has six toes on his front feet and seven on his rear feet, for a total of 26 toes. Because most cats only have five in front and four in the back, Shadow is eight toes over the limit. What’s going on here? Is this a trend? Are cats evolving hands?


19 Responses to “Little Black Kitten”


  1. 1 John Hopkin Jun 20th, 2007 at 10:29 am

    When you’ve finished with him, could you put him in an envelope and send him here? I’ve got a piano and some fingering exercise books – he could be a new Oscar Peterson. Plus he’s cute as hell!

  2. 2 AMBER gRAHAM Sep 1st, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    I HAVE A CAT WITH SEVEN TOES TO

  3. 3 kat Nov 6th, 2007 at 10:29 am

    hey i luv him hes sooooooooooo cute and ur so lucky 2 av him .i have 2 cats one with a quite interesting background. anyway its a long story but hey luv da cat .i tink dat black cats r special and funny .ope u neva loose him and trasure him 4 eva :D

  4. 4 kat Nov 6th, 2007 at 10:33 am

    :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D

  5. 5 Shannon D. Dec 4th, 2007 at 7:48 am

    I just ran across this looking for pictures for my IM, because we just got a kitten with 7 toes on the front and 6 on the back!

    I seen the picture with the pot on a google search and when I seen the one with his toes, I thought “How’d they get a picture of my kitten?! Maybe this is her foster mom….” it’s not obviously, but he’s got more personality than any cat I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking care of.

    …. I think it comes from the toes!

  6. 6 Anna Jan 11th, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    It’s called Polydactyly and it’s completely normal. It’s an ancient trait and the only thing about the cat it changes is the number of toes and sometimes the dexterity.

  7. 7 LUCY Feb 9th, 2008 at 5:39 am

    HI
    I LOVE THIS WEB IT REMINDS ME OF MY CAT FELIX?
    HE IS SO CUTE?
    IT REMIDS ME OF ME?
    KEEP THE GOOD WORK UP
    LUCY

  8. 8 Marcus Feb 9th, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks Lucy. I’m putting together a photo gallery of readers’ cats… would love to include a shot of Felix! If you have one handy please send it (along with any info or stories) to me at:

    marcus@bigblackcat.org

  9. 9 janice Apr 25th, 2008 at 1:08 am

    I had a kitten born last summer, that had 7 fully functiong toes and 1 under developed toe, and 2 pads on each front paw. If the under developed toe had been a full toe he would have had double paws on his front feet. His hind paws have 5 toes on each foot. A total of 26 toes and 6 pads. That under developed toe had a claw that was growing up and it was beginning bother him, so we took him to the vet and ask them to remove only the claw from that one tiny toe on each front paw. When we picked him up the idiot vet had amputated all of the polydactyl toes from both of his front paws.He cut this 8 mth old kittens feet in half, and crippled him. Be very careful who you choose as your vet. Some of them apparently view polydactyl feet as a deformity.Needless to say, a law suit is going to be an easy win in this case. Mostly we want to make sure that vet does not chop up any other animals.This kitten was a registered American Polydactyl. I register all my kittens with Rare and Exotic Feline Registry, and the vet amputated his breed distinction. I wish I could chop off 3 of his fingers, that way he would not ever mutilate another kitty.He had no excuse for doing this. All he said, was he wasn’t sure which claw to remove, so he just decided to just take off 7 fully functioning toes with fully functioning claws. Its so, so sad.

  10. 10 Marcus Apr 25th, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Janice, thanks for sharing your story. I am very sorry to hear about the vet’s outrageous betrayal of your trust. Polydactyl cats sometimes require special care, like frequent claw trimming, but their condition is quite normal in the wild, and is not a “deformity” that needs to be fixed. I hope your kitty adapts to his unfortunate “treatment.”

    BTW, I love your website, especially the gallery!

  11. 11 Natalie Jun 9th, 2008 at 8:29 am

    i have a cat that looks exactally like that! his name is Bageera (Ba-geer-a) he has no extra toes though.well anyways the pic of when he is behind the pot half way is my new backround and people always ask me how we got Bageera to stay like that. so we tell them we found it in goole images under little black kittens.so i think its a great story and your kitten is sooooooo cute!

  12. 12 Marcus Jun 9th, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Thanks Natalie! I’ve heard from several other people who like the picture enough to make it their computer wallpaper. Shadow is a year old now, and I’m getting ready to post an update on him, as well as a look at his wild-looking feral brother Blacky (crazy fur!) who started showing up by the back door for food.

    I like your cat’s name. If you send me a pic, I’ll start a cat-egory called “More Big Black Cats”…

    –Marcus

  13. 13 Melissa B Jun 17th, 2008 at 11:04 am

    My Cowboy, I love his name, is a little black kitten with 7 toes on each front, 6 toes on his back right and his left back foot is “normal”.

  14. 14 Marcus Jun 17th, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Hi Melissa

    Wow, My Cowboy has a wild setup, he sounds sweet. If you want to send a pic I’m putting together a gallery for the site. Thanks for dropping by…

    –Marcus

    marcus(at)bigblackcat.org

  15. 15 Mousey Aug 31st, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Hi. Just thought I would tell ya that I have 4 cats, and all of them don,t get along. But anyways, the one I do have is a female and she just had kittens , 5 as of yesterday, 2 where orange and 3 are black in color, but the first one that came, he came paw first, and she had some time having him, when he did come , we had noticed he had 7 claws or toes, on each front paw, the last to be born has the same, but small in size as he is the runt,As this is the first time I have ever seen something like this , I thought oh my something is wrong, but now that I have read some of your notes here, I feel now its ok, and its cool to say I have 2, 7 toed cats,It will be interesting to see how they can handle them selves when they get older , ohhh by the way anyone looking for a kitty :)

  16. 16 Marcus Aug 31st, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Mousey
    Congrats on the new kittens! Many people feel that polydactyl cats are special and I agree. They’re quirky and stay playful long after they grow from kitten to cat. My two, Shadow and Blu, are mellow in temperament (they’re half-brothers) and can do amazing things with those big mitts!

    Their extra toes and claws should be of no great concern (DO NOT allow a vet to amputate) … just be sure to trim their claws on a regular basis. Some of their claws can grow in a weird curly way that could hurt their toes. But other than that, they are normal in every way. Enjoy!!!

    – Marcus

  17. 17 Ruvane Jul 5th, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Neat. Do you still have Shadow?

  18. 18 Marcus Jul 6th, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Hi Ruvane
    Yes Shadow has become my constant companion. He keeps me company as I work on video projects and I keep him busy chasing toy mice etc. His Mother, Queen Anne, still lives on our window sill and we feed her twice a day. Sweet deal for her! Shadow’s brother, Blu, is also part of our family. We found lots of love in that woodpile!

    New pix of Shadow (he is THE Big Black Cat now) on the way. Thanks for stopping by…

    Marcus

  19. 19 MERARI Nov 8th, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I also have a big cat named Negry (blacky)that has six toes in his front two paws, that is very cute i love my little baby.

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