Rare 24-toed kitten wowing Central Texas

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CHINA SPRING, Texas (KWTX) A paw-some discovery in Central Texas--a kitten with 24 toes!

24-toed "mitten kitten" Titus Pullo being held by his owner Heather Lehman during a check up at Clifton Veterinary Clinic. (Photos by Rissa Shaw)

"It looks like he has mittens," said owner Heather Lehman.

Popularly known as "mitten kittens" or "Hemingway cats," the eight-week-old domestic shorthair kitten named "Titus Pullo" has polydactylism: a genetic mutation which causes cats to be born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more of its paws.

Lehman, who lives in China Spring, said her husband found the wild kitten hanging around a barn outside the shop in Valley Mills where he works.

"My husband had sent me a photo saying 'check out this guy's feet!'" said Lehman. "I said, 'ohhh that's a polydactyl cat!' I've never had one, always wanted one."

She already had three cats but couldn't resist taking the unique kitten home.

"He was blessed to come to our house, we're blessed to have him, and we've really been enjoying him," said Lehman.

Typically, cats have 18 toes: but Titus Pullo has six extras, just four short of the Guinness World Record of 28.

"He has 24-toes, so he has six on each foot," said Lehman.

Most polydactyl cats have extra toes on their front paws, fewer have them on the back paws, and ever fewer have them on all paws like Titus Pullo.

"He has polydactaling on all four feet, which is an incredibly rare expression of this gene mutation," said veterinarian Kaki Nicotre with Clifton Veterinary Clinic. "I mean, how fun is this right, he's adorable, and it's exciting and to have one (a patient) that's super rare."

Titus Pullo is the first 24-toed kitten the vet has ever come across.

"We've seen polydactyl kittens before, but not with this many," said Nicotre. "I think he has special super powers because he has all these toes."

Once upon a time, those "super powers" caused lots of superstition in Europe where polydactyl cats were said to be hunted over fears of witchcraft--it may also be why they're rarely seen in present day Europe.

They're also uncommon for Central Texas as most polydactyl cats in the United States are on the East Coast where sailors brought them over on boats because they believed they were good luck at sea.

"Polydactyl cats tend to be dispersed geographically, it's thought that they came over with some pirates to the Atlantic from Britain, which is I think a really fun story, but of course the most famous of those in the Hemingway cats in Florida, that's where the majority of our polydactyl cats in this country are," said Nicotre.

A lover of polydactyl cats, Ernest Hemingway's estate in Key West, FL., now a historic landmark, is home to about 50 of them; some are even descendants of the late-author's first polydactyl cat "Snow White."

The upside for polydactyl cats? Nicotre says it can make them more dexterous, making them better hunters and climbers.

The downside? It makes their nails harder to trim.

However, Lehman doesn't mind and says Titus Pullo, who she named after a character on the HBO show Rome, has brought joy to her and her daughter Emma and even her co-workers at Alliance Bank.

"He's very social, very happy," said Lehman. "We've thought about getting him his own Instagram, but that might be too much fame for him!"

While polydactyl cats are "neat" and now highly sought after, Lehman says she hopes people will adopt cats and kittens from shelters who need homes.

Nicotre says now's the perfect time because it's kitten season.

"Though these (polydactyls) are fun, the real need is for people to adopt cats, and to spay and neuter the cats they have around their house so that we're not having kitten explosions and all these kittens without homes," she said.