Photo by Jeana Pierson
I sit on Michaela’s bed in her central Illinois home. Luna, her cat, is curled into a tiny ball of gray and white fur in my lap. I can feel the bones in her back as I gently pet her fragile body. I quickly learn that she doesn’t like to be petted on the back as her body shoots up with the touch of my hand. I instead pet her head.
I pause the petting for a second to answer a question from Michaela. After a few seconds, Luna takes her small, mitten-like paw and starts caressing my thigh. Hmm, I think to myself, I have never seen a cat that pets you back.
“She kneads,” Michaela says when I ask her about Luna petting, “Especially if you pet her first, then she pets you back.”
I continue to sit completely still so as not to disturb her “kneading.” Michaela and I fall silent as we both watch Luna pawing at my leg, completely content.
Meet Luna, a twelve-year-old polydactyl cat from Normal, Illinois. She currently lives with her owner, Michaela, in Lincoln, Nebraska.
At first glance, Luna looks like a typical, adorable, dark gray and white cat. She has beautiful greenish-blue eyes, although they often make her look a little grumpy, even when she is not. Luna is also an older cat and quite small and fragile. However, if you look closer, you will notice her paws look like mittens. Luna is a polydactyl cat. This means she has a genetic mutation in which she has more toes than most cats. While most cats have five toes on their front toes and four on their back, Luna has six toes on her front paws and five toes on her back paws.
Michaela has had Luna for about four years now.
When signing her apartment lease prior to her sophomore year of college, Michaela noticed that if you paid a fee you could have a pet in the apartment.
“I remember specifically tweeting, ‘Who wants to give me $350 for my pet fee?’, says Michaela, “But I didn’t actually think I was going to get a pet.”
The tweet was a joke. Michaela was not serious about getting a pet at the time. She ended up changing her mind though, and a few months later, her search began. She knew she did not want a kitten. So, she was looking for an older cat, specifically a declawed older cat, as her apartment at the time had leather couches. Michaela typed “shelters near me” into Google, pulled up the first listed animal shelter, and soon found Luna.
“She was the cat I was actually coming in [the shelter] to look at,” Michaela says, “And they took me into the back room where she was and I just sat on the floor and she just hopped right into my lap and just cuddled with me and I was like, okay, yes, love her.”
Luna’s polydactyl paws immediately drew Michaela into adopting her. They make her fun and unique and a little different from all other cats.
In general, polydactyl cats, while unique, are not that rare. The Spruce Pets explains that the genetic mutation is a dominant gene passed down from cat to cat. If one cat parent has polydactyl toes, the chances of kittens also having them is 40 to 50 percent. Polydactylism is much more prevalent in Main Coon cats.
“It is also much more common for extra toes to appear on the front paws than it is to have developed on the hind paws,” explains Jo Singer from Florida Wild Veterinary Hospital. “Kittens who are born with extra toes on all four paws are extremely rare.”
So not only is Luna a polydactyl cat, but she is an extremely rare polydactyl cat. Michaela states that she did not even know the rarity of Luna until I began talking with her for this story.
Besides being a super-rare polydactyl cat, Luna is pretty normal. Well, sort of.
“I would say she is a weirdo cat,” giggles Michaela. “Her name kind of fits her well.”
Michaela describes Luna in two different ways. One is that she is super sweet and snuggly.
“Any time I’m sitting down, she wants to be in my lap and be snuggling,” Michaela says.
As a college student, Michaela did not want an overly energetic cat. Luna, an older cat, was the perfect amount of active and calm for Michaela.
The other way Michaela describes Luna is the “weirdo” way.
“She’s also a little bit annoying because she always wants attention,” says Michaela, “So anytime there is not anyone very near her, she will meow super obnoxiously, which myself and my roommates love, of course.”
Another thing I learned while visiting Michaela and Luna is that Luna loves to “stomp.” Along with her meow cries for attention, it also takes Luna forever to get comfortable.
Before settling down on my lap. Luna turns in circles on top of my legs. She lifts her small, polydactyl feet up and down and she turns and turns. Finally, she has done enough turning and takes a seat.
As for her polydactylism, Michaela says it does not have much effect on Luna’s daily life. Dr. Arnold Plotnick, a retired veterinarian, points out that for most polydactyl cats, their extra toes do not hurt or benefit their quality of life.
“Polydactylism doesn’t affect cats adversely,” says Plotnick, in an article by Florida Wild Veterinary Hospital, “It offers them no advantages, nor does it yield any disadvantages. If it had disadvantages, polydactyl cats most likely would have died out. It is simply an enchanting quirk.”
Michaela says the only “effect” Luna’s polydactylism has on her life is when she spreads or stretches her toes it looks “extra creepy.” As she says this, Michaela demonstrates the spider-like movement with her hands.
“She doesn’t have front claws, I think I mentioned, and she’s not an outside cat, so I would be interested to see if that would impact her like hunting or climbing skills,” says Michaela.
While Luna is not typically outside, she does go on the occasional walk. Before moving to Nebraska this fall, Michaela bought Luna a harness and leash for walks. The main purpose of the harness was for taking Luna on bathroom breaks on the seven-hour drive to Lincoln. Michaela says that while Luna does not like her harness, she enjoys the walks.
Besides being polydactyl, Luna is just your average, kind of weirdo, super cuddly cat. As Michaela would describe her, she is perfect for what she was looking for in a pet. Michaela, who is now in grad school, seeks comfort in Luna. Luna, who has grown out of her energetic age, is always down for cuddles in bed.
“I am very glad that I got a pet during my college experience, especially having her during grad school too because I think she does provide ‘emotional support’,” Michaela says, “Which is really nice. It’s nice at the end of the day to just have a little buddy to snuggle with, and Luna is like perfect for that. So, she’s great. She makes my life better… like 95 percent of the time.”
I am guessing that extra 5 percent is when Luna is loudly meowing for attention.
Back to sitting on Michaela’s bed in her home, Luna is “kneading” my leg still. Michaela says this is how she thinks Luna shows her affection. And she is right. World of Animals Inc. describes kneading, and even uses that terminology, as one of the main ways cats show love to others.
Having polydactyl paws makes it even easier for Luna to knead. While her polydactyl paws do not affect her life much, they are the one way she shows that she needs you the most.