Thursday 24 February 2011

Clipper Cats

The name of this cat breed is based on the fast sailing ships of the 19th Century.  The word "clipper" derives from the word "clip" meaning fast. It is believed that these ships arrived in New Zealand bringing on board ships cats that were polydactyl cats. I say, New Zealand because this cat breed is registered exclusively in a New Zealand cat registry or association. I am yet to find out which one. It is not the New Zealand Cat Fancy Inc.

Polydactyl cats, as you might know, are cats with a greater number of toes than normal due to a genetic mutation. The mutation does not affect the health of the cat (some mutations do, incidentally).

Polydactyl Paw - Wikipedia Commons file (modified). Author: Averette

It is also believed that sailors chose polydactyl cats on the basis that the extra toes and broad paws made them better on deck! In other words the extra toes stabilised them when walking along decks looking for mice and rats. That, however was only part of their attraction to sailors.

It was also thought that they were lucky and were good climbers and hunters. I think every one of these ideas is false bar one! The extra toes do seem to give the cat greater dexterity and this leads to the cat using its toes and claws in a polydactyl cat-like way meaning almost like the finger of a hand. This picture of Tootsie a polydactyl Maine Coon bears that out.

Tootsie, polydactyl Maine Coon. Photo: by valleygirl_tka

This theory that polydactyl cats were often chosen as ships cats is supported in practice by the fact (is it fact?) that there are or were a higher percentage of polydactyl cats at ports. I am thinking of the east coast of America and places such as Nova Scotia and Halifax in Canada.

I am not sure that any of this is true but it sounds plausible. I don't know of studies that bear this out, however.

Some of the descendants of these original clipper cats are registered cats but are they purebred cats? It appears that anyone with a polydactyl cat can apply for registration, "on the open register as a Clippercat, if it fulfills very specific guidelines" (src: This implies that random bred cats can be registered. This seems to be the same as the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) classification of "Household Pets" or moggies. There are some fabulous moggie show cats.

The number of toes on a Clipper cat varies and this is recorded on registration. It also appears that there is a limit on the number of toes allowed under the breed standard (src: I don't understand that because it it not relevant to health and it only affects appearance in a minor way. The "structure of the feet" is also restricted to the breed standard guidelines. I can understand that as some polydacytl feet look misshapen. Personally though I like these huge, lumpy polydactyl feet.

As to breeding, this cat is only bred to New Zealand long and shorthaired cats of a type laid down in the breed standard and not to other breeds accepted for championship status in the NZ cat fancy, as I understand it (as at Feb 20011 - things change sometimes).

I have not shown any photographs of Clipper cats because I don't have permission but they look like your random bred cat or mixed breed cat with paws that are larger than normal and with those extra toes! All colors and patterns are acceptable it seems.
Cattery breeding Polydactyl Clipper Cats: MISTLETOES CATTERY

Michael Avatar

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  1. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for including the Tootsie pic! I just found this post of yours.

    She is a hoot!

    She still loves straws. see here

    And, knowing the tales of the Maine coon polys often being found in seaport areas, I was looking out for polys of any type when I when to Essourira, Morocco, a seaport of long history. I didn't see a single poly cat!

    Valley Girl

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