| |
Language » Home » Polydactylie

"Maine Coon Polydactyl - To Be Or Not To Be?"

by Polina Shevtsova (OldyGoody) and Olga Musina (SalexCoon), Russia

Recent years at TICA cat-shows in Russia more and more often there can be seen unordinary representatives of popular nowadays breed maine coons - polydactyl maine coons. The term itself originates from Greek words «poly» - «many» and «daktylos» - «fingers», i.e. we talk of multi-toed maine coons now. A little bit of history.




According to historical evidences the share of polydactyls in natural maine coons population in the North-East of the USA made somewhere up to 40%. At the dawn of the 20th century, when the breed experienced the first peak of its popularity, they took part in shows along with the standard-footed cats. Much later, in 1968, when after nearly a half-century oblivion period, association MCBFA (Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association) initiated campaign aimed at maine coon breed acceptance by cat registrees all over the world, polydactyl maine coons were included into the Standard initial version with the following wording: "The Maine Coon Polydactyl Cat should conform to the Standard of the Maine Coon Cat, with the exception that multiple toes are allowed on either fore or hind paws or both" (1970). However, the final Standard revision yet still excluded polydactyl cats from the championship basing on aesthetic ideas in order to introduce this trait later on when the breed gets finally established. Unfortunately, this never happened so far. Purposeful exclusion of polycoons out of breeding programs brought to substantial reduction of their world population. In fact, maine coon polydactyls were used for breeding only by enthusiastic breeders worked in particular with the foundation lines. Polydactyls were treasured by them for heavy boning, robust health and wonderful temper. More 30 years passed and these enthusiasts decided to combine their efforts in attempt to get polycoons back to show ring. In 2005 there was established international association PolyStandard that deployed wide activities targeted at maine coon polydactyl inclusion into the breed Standard within TICA frames. Under the aegis of this association there was conducted a number of poly-gene investigation, were collected and organized extensive statistic date on this gene expression, and finally, there were submitted to TICA sufficient supportive data for polycoons to enter New Traits division and further advancement to championship status. In May 2008 TICA Breed Committee found polydactylie a permissible natural mutation showing no harm to cat's health, after which twice - in 2008 and 2010 - there was held a world-wide voting by maine coon breeders to decide if to include polycoons into the breed Standard or not. Unfortunately, these efforts were in vain. Nevertheless, in December 2008 NZCF (the New Zealand Cat Fancy - WCC member) accepted polydactyl maine coons into champion ring along with their normal-footed counterparts.

As a main reason to their unwillingness to see maine coon polydactyl in championship the advancement opposers call insufficient scientific basis describing inheritance and expression of poly-gene - in plain words, to what extent this gene is harmless to the cat's health. Let's try to investigate the matter.


First observations based of morphological data were organized in Danforth's Studies (1947) where he comes to the conclusion that polydactylie is caused by dominant gene with variable expressiveness, not related to sex and not lethal when homozygous. Much later, in 1998, the issue of polydactylie was thoroughly investigated by famous American geneticist Dr. Solveig Pflueger (Director of Medical Genetics at Baystate Medical Center, USA). She expressed an assumption that there were at least two different genes related to polydactylie: the first one has simple dominant autosomal type of inheritance, shows no adverse effect on cat's health even when homozygous and isn't associated with any other deviations from normal being; but the second one causes radial hypoplasia that is a severe disease featuring with absence or underdevelopment of radius bones. Following her, in 2006, another American scientist Karen Commings specified that there were really two independent genes existing: Pd - gene of polydactylie itself, that is an autosomal-dominant trait with nearly 100% penetrance being of no danger for the animal's health; and Rh - radial hypoplasia gene that expresses itself in unusually small twisted radial bones or their full absence and makes an effect of "twisted cat". Besides, Karen states in her paper that if the cat has polydactylie gene she will necessarily show it in her appearance, and no polydactyl kitten can be born from two normal-footed parents with the exception of cases of new spontaneous mutation.

The new epoch in polydactylie matter investigation was opened with engagement of state-of-the-art methods and technologies. In 2007 Dr. Leslie Lyons (University of California, Davis, USA) published the results of her many-years investigation of poly-gene in maine coons, British cats and pixie-bobs held using now DNA-samples. Her paper fully confirmed the conclusions of the previous authors stating that Pd gene has nothing to do with radial hypoplasia disease, not harmful for cat's health and not lethal when homozygous. Moreover, she found out that this gene is common for all cat breeds but has several various mutations (Hw, Uk1, Uk2). The results of Dr. Lyons' work were incorporated in a wider research program implemented by Edinburg scientists (Western General Hospital, Human Genetics Department, GB, 2007) and aimed at investigation of polydactylie gene in various mammal species including humans, mice and cats. They arrived at conclusion that associated with preaxial polydactylie mutations in cats reside in gene regulator ZRS same as in humans, mice and other mammals, and correspondingly, the nature of preaxial polydactylie is identical in them. "Since these mutations produce a limb-specific phenotype in human with no other discernible physiological defects", the authors conclude that "this type of polydactyly has no further detrimental affect on the cat's health". The next investigation of polydactylie gene in maine coons was completed in June 2011 by Dr. Alexia Hamelin (Paris National Veterinarian Academy, France). She used in her work both DNA-samples and X-rays of paws belonging to entire genealogical families of maine coons. As a result, Dr. Hamelin concluded that Pd-gene is an autosomal dominant trait with complete penetrance and high expression variability that can not be bound to certain lineages. Presently large-scale research of polydactylie gene is carried out by Genetic Department of University in Bern, Switzerland (Dr. Bianca Haase and Prof. Dr. Tosso Leeb) involving DNA-samples of genealogical families of polycoons and their standard-footed close relatives. Furthermore, Department of Theoretical Biology in University of Vienna (Dr. Axel Lange) conducts investigation of evolutionary aspects of Pd-gene expression in maine coons on the basis of X-rays of the cat paws.

Thus, out of the results of the above stated scientific researches it follows that polydactylie gene (Pd) has simple autosomal-dominant type of inheritance with incomplete dominance, complete penetrance and variable expressiveness. It isn't lethal when homozygous and doesn't present any danger to the cat's health. So, what prevents us from seeing maine coon polydactyl at ring along with their standard-footed counterparts?


In Europe and America polycoons are used in breeding for a long time, and recently even more and more often. They themselves and their offsprings are registered by all cat associations of the world. They can be shown, however, in New Traits class by TICA and in Champion class by NZCF. In Russia the catteries having polycoons in breeding can so far be counted by fingers. Here the attitude to polydactylie, same as in other countries, is very equivocal. Therefore, we prepared for the "round table" participants a number of questions, that we hope will help us to determine crucial problems in the matter of polydactyl maine coon inclusion into the breed Standard.


Mr. Vladimir Konkov, polycoon owner, Moscow - V.K.

Mrs. Anna Legeza, maine coon breeder, Moscow - A.L.

Mrs. Polina Shevtsova, TICA member, OldyGoody maine coon cattery (TICA), Moscow - P.S.

Mrs. Olga Musina, polycoon breeder, Salexcoon cattery, Novouralsk city - O.M.

Mrs. Beth E. Kus, Dirigo Maine Coons, Windham, Maine, USA - B.K.: "As a Maine Coon breeder since 1974, and born and raised in the State of Maine myself, I have worked with both polydactyl Maine Coons and normal toe Maine Coons. Most probably I have more personal experience and observation of the Polydactyl Maine Coon than any other active breeder in the United States, if not the world".



What do you think of polycoons acceptance to the champion ring by NZCF (the New Zeeland Cat Fancy - WCC member) along with standard-footed maine coons?


A.L. - Nothing. New Zeeland is too far, and polycoons accepting by one of the WCC members doesn't guarantee their world-wide accepting. Most likely, polycoon accepting in New Zeeland is caused by the limited pool of the breed on the island, nothing more.


P.S. - In my opinion, NZCF registree was the first one who thus restored a historical truth. Of course, this will increase competition in the breed that always made positive impact on improvement of type and health of breeding animals in a certain population on the whole. I see this event as a start of positive trend that shall be followed by other cat registrees.


B.K. - By including the polydactyl Maine Coon for championship eligibility, the NZCF is the first cat association to allow the complete breed of the Maine Coon Cat to be shown.


O.M. - I'm happy for polycoons and very jealous of New Zeeland breeders! Polycoons participation in shows along with standard-footed maine coons (in any registree) shall strongly promote improvement of polycoons in terms of meeting the standard. For today they are low competitive.


In your opinion, what other aspects of polydactylie genetics are to be investigated to confirm this trait isn't dangerous to the cat's health? Or the acquired theoretical and experimental knowledge is already sufficient?


A.L. - I don't see the reasons for deep investigation of polydactylie. Accumulated theoretical and experimental information on this subject is sufficient to shift to more acute problems of cat health in general and of specific breed diseases in particular.


P.S. - I think that available theoretical and practical knowledge is a sufficient basis for conduction of correct breeding work with polydactylie trait. Since polydactylie by itself as it follows from available for today studies shows no danger to cat's health, in my opinion, it's necessary now to pay more attention to evolutionary aspects of the trait beginnings, development, consolidation and manifestation. Probably, some other features go along with the trait, which often happens during evolutionary changes, and these features are intrinsic for maine coon breed as it is.


B.K. - There is absolutely nothing to be investigated further, because polydactyl cats have been around for centuries already. Yes, Centuries! They have been bred by normal families and by "Mother Nature" and the polydactyl gene shows up in many breeds of cats, with absolutely no problem whatsoever. The natural, native Maine Coon with polydactyl feet has also been around for centuries. There are no hidden challenges. This trait has already been through the process Darwin called the "survival of the fittest." If there were problems, this trait would not still be here, because the natural Maine Coon was originally a working, outdoor cat, who had to survive outside on farms and edges of fields, as well as on board ship. The current natural population of short hair cats called Hemingway cats lives quite naturally in Florida and has no problem whatsoever. People love the cats for their large feet.


O.M. - I suppose, that enough data was collected to make certain conclusions on polydactylie harmlessness in maine coons.


What hidden dangers do you see in polydactyl breeding animals use in catteries?


A.L. - No dangers if a breeder is a specially educated and responsible expert in cats. Otherwise use in catteries even standard-footed cats can bring to sad consequences in terms of both health and offsprings type.


P.S. - As polydactylie is also a concomitant feature at some severe diseases (radial hypoplasie, for example), I think it's unsafe to use for breeding polydactyl cats without their sufficient testing in several generations including inbred matings. This rule is especially true for breeding cats close to foundation cats.


B.K. - The centuries of past healthy existence of natural polydactyl Maine Coons has already proven that it is very safe to intentionally breed this trait.


O.M. - I see no danger at all!


Basing on your personal experience, if polycoons differ from their standard-footed counterpart in any other way except for extra toes?


V.K. - If we talk of Polycoon than he has no equal. At least, that was said to me by experts from England, Japan, the States... I mean real Polycoon with 26 toes. He differs drastically from standard-footed maine coons and coons with less number extra toes, for example, by 6 on front paws and that's all...

In my opinion, today they are absolutely different maine coons. Either Full Polycoon or common maine coon with genetic defect.

Full Polycoon features fantastic behaviour! I have no claims about his living together with 5 standard-footed maine coons. Not a single standard-footed coon tries to dominate over him, but he (alone) lets nobody dominate over him.

He lives with pleasure among standard-footed maine coons not trying to dominate.


A.L. - I don't have such experience. I don't think polycoons differ from their standard-footed counterparts with anything but their extra toes - there are no preconditions to that.


P.S. - In my own experience polycoons differ from their standard-footed counterparts first of all with temper and intellectual development. They are a little bit different. Many breeders call them more"human" - I think, it's the most accurate definition of all I ever heard. Under my observations polycoons are more dexterous in games and demonstrate non-standard way of thinking in various situations. I didn't notice any significant distinctions in appearance but extra toes.


B.K. - In my many years experience owing and loving native bloodline Maine Coons with polydactyl feet, I have noticed an increase of intelligence and dexterity of cats with this trait over those with normal toes.  The cats have more ability to handle prey or toys, and the owner has many opportunities to smile at the cute and funny ability of the cat.


O.M. - They are very much different! It's difficult to describe, and much easier to show! Polycoons are very intelligent. Standard-footed maine coons are smart, but polydactyls - ... When our first polydactyl arrived, just a baby, we were astonished by him. And if I didn't see his baby teeth changing and him growing, I'd say and adult and experienced male joined us! Polycoons are very active, playful and dexterous. You should see them catching flies! On the wing, with one palm! Flies just don't have any chance!


If polydactyl maine coons use in breeding is permitted by cat registrees, what from your point of view is the reason for prohibiting their participation in shows? What could be the subsequences?


V.K. - Mimi Tsuruoka (TICA judge) judged about a hundred polycoons from various countries. Salexcoon Anthony she saw for the first time in St. Petersburg during the recent cat show. She liked him very much. We talked to her when the expertise was over. She said that polycoons must be judged as polycoons, but not as maine coons with extra toes (that, in my opinion also, is a defect). They have too different head shapes and...

And real Polydactyls are so different from common ones with genetic defect... I saw lots of them...


A.L. - There is no ban for showing polydactyl, cross-eyed, deaf, parenthetic-pawed, cryptorchidistic, conk-tailed and sternum-chested cats. You can show such cats but they will be disqualified, if not only one of the disqualifying features is allowed by the breed standard. I know only two such exceptions - pixie-bobs where polydactylie is allowed and bob-tails where conked tail (if compared to other cat breeds) is allowed and even required by the standard. These exceptions only confirm the rule - all-breed disqualifying features are the same for everyone but for the breeds where the standard says otherwise. Thus, polycoons to me are acceptable only as a separate breed for which a standard allowing polydactylie shall be approved.


P.S. - I think that ban for polydactyls participation in shows is more of aesthetical than ethical nature. Through the centuries any deviation from the commonly accepted "standard" was considered ad defect and carried negative connotations. But following this principle hair-less, tail-less, etc. animals should not have been allowed to show halls. In fact, exception of any group of the breed representatives from championship only, not from breeding, leads to breeding animals quality decrease in the entire breed due to lack of competition. But its exception out of breeding also will bring to significant change in the breed appearance on the whole since a considerable part of primary gene pool will be excluded.


B.K. - It would appear that significant oversight and neglect of reality is occurring within the major cat associations that do allow registration of polydactyl Maine Coons but do not allow championship. The complete breed of the registered Maine Coon Cat is not being shown in the show halls. This is an error that should be overturned.


O.M. - I see only one simple reason - somebody doesn't like polycoons and somebody think them cripples. And as a logical consequence of ban for polycoons participation in championship along with standard-footed maine coons is weaker type of polydactyls.



Translation by Polina Shevtsova