Polydactylism was deliberately bred out of the Maine Coon

Originally, around 40% of Maine Coons were polydactyls. That's a very high percentage. It comes from several authors writing about the Maine Coon cat. Perhaps the best-known book on the topic, That Yankee Cat by Marilis Hornidge, states that: "The number of claws in those paws was perhaps the most controversial of all issues in the final stages of setting up a standard. The traditional MC was frequently a polydactyl or many-toed cat, a genetic mutation that occurs with great frequency in the upper north-east United States."

Polydactyl Maine Coons written by Susan Grindell MSc, BOptom - Mainelymagic Maine Coons
Image from: Polydactyl Maine Coons written by Susan Grindell MSc, BOptom
Mainelymagic Maine Coons

Beth Hicks, one of the foremost experts of the breed, stated: "I don't know if you are familiar with it but there was a study done by someone connected with a university in the 1950s which showed that 40% of Maines were polydactyls. Now, this was before they came back on the show circuit."

She means that once Maine Coon cats became show cats under the auspices of the cat associations the breed standard stated that polydactyl Maine Coon should be disqualified from competition. Accordingly, breeders bred out of their breeding lines polydactyl Maine Coons until this natural condition has been all but eradicated, as I understand it. Perhaps the non-show cat Maine Coons are frequently polydactyl.

This is despite the fact that there are no health issues associated with polydactylism. So, the reason for removing polydactyl Maine Coons from breeding lines was because the administrators of major cat associations like the CFA arbitrarily decided that Maine Coon shall cats should not have more than the usual number of toes.

I guess this was a decision based on aesthetics. The people who drew up the breed standard decided that it was aesthetically unacceptable for Maine Coon to have more than the usual number of toes despite the fact that this breed is famous for being polydactyl. It is part of their heritage and their legacy.

And it's pretty clear that a lot of people including breeders disagreed with the decision to remove these cats.

RELATED: Can a polydactyl Maine Coon win a CFA cat show?

When the Maine Coon was first accepted as a breed, polydactylism was not seen in other breeds. It seems that the cat associations wanted to get away from the barn cat legacy of the Maine Coon which indicates a lack of refinement. I guess they wanted to refine this cat to make the breed prettier. Can someone add to this? I'd like to hear from someone in the cat fancy who was around at the time the breed standard was drafted! Ideally 😊.

As I understand the history of the writing of the breed standard, initially polydactyl Maine Coons were intended to be accepted for showing as they were never viewed as deformed or detrimental. Something changed the minds of the cat association administrators.


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