Polydactyl cats are not exclusive to the Maine Coon breed--they can be found in many breeds. It is actually a genetic anomaly of the Pd gene. The condition seems to affect cats on the east coast of the US, Wales and England more than it does any other place in the world.
There is plenty of folklore that surrounds the Polydactyl, with the Maine Coon at the center of much of the tales. It is not clear if the cats that started this unusual trait were born here in the states, or if they came from England and then mated with the cats in the states.
It is an unusual trait that seems to have started on board ships out of Boston where it was first recorded, while many experts relegate the trait to an adaptation that helped cats that lived on and around ships to hunt and climb more efficiently. The Maine Coon native and the Polydactal ship cats mated at will as sailors often traveled between the ports of Maine and Boston harbor, and the Polydactyl Maine Coon became a rather common site throughout Maine.
The Need For the Extra Toes
Clearly this trait was an adaptation that facilitated a mastery in climbing. The extra toes gave the cats the ability to hang on tighter and to have more hand-like abilities when hunting; Polydactal Maine Coon cats could climb the tall trees and hunt more efficiently in the forests of Maine.
Coon cats are still considered great mousers even though the Polydactal trait has been largely bred out of the breed, however the Maine Coon Polydactal is being slowly reinstated by some breeders. Maine Coon Polydactals are much sought-after by fanciers.
Initially, the genetic anomaly was frowned upon by modern breeders and by various cat organizations but this unique trait has gradually grown in popularity. It has always been a trait that was considered a sign of good luck by sailors.
Polydactyl Maine Coons are slowly making their way back into the mainstream. Actually, it is estimated that if breeders had not tried to breed the gene out of the cats that its normal occurring rate would represent 28% of the overall Maine Coon population.
The bigger Polydactal paws are used well by these highly intelligent cats, and perhaps if the breed is allowed to progress naturally they will become the first cat breed to develop the ability to utilize their extra toes in ways never imagined.