Cat anatomy is endlessly fascinating to me. Cats have some unique anatomical abilities that they share with no other species, and this is true for their paws as well. A cat’s paws are not just for standing, walking and jumping, the cat’s unique anatomy also makes her paws a tool to support her predatory nature. Cats have unique “fingerprints,” just like humans. Cats have been able to unlock the iPhone 5S, which is equipped with a fingerprint sensor.
Anatomy of the paw
A normal cat has 18 toes: four toes and one dewclaw on each front paw, and four toes on each back paw. The dewclaw is basically a rudimentary inner toe that never touches the ground. Some cats boast extra toes, usually on their front paws. These cats are called polydactyl.
The paws have skin pads that are tough enough to protect the cat’s feet when she walks on rough surfaces, yet sensitive enough to be able to discern hot, cold, and other signals. This can help the cat in her evaluation of prey.
Cats have retractable claws on their front and rear paws. The claws on the front paws are usually sharper than the ones on the rear. Claws are vital for a cat’s well being, and are used for scratching an itch, hunting, self-defense, climbing, and for extra traction.
How cats walk
Unlike humans, who walk on the heels and balls of their feet, cats walk on the tip and balls of their toes. This is known as digitigrade walking. Everything about the cat’s walk is designed to help her move silently.
Cat paws contain scent and sweat glands
Cat paws have glands between their toes that secrete a unique scent. Cats use their paws to mark territory: when your cat scratches a surface such as a scratching post or tree, she deposits some of the scent from these glands, marking it as hers. Cats also have sweat glands in their paws. They are designed to help them regulate their body temperature, but they will also secrete sweat when the cat is stressed or anxious.
Paw pads come in many colors
The same pigment that colors your cat’s coat also colors her skin. In solid color cats, paw pads are usually the same color as your cat’s fur. In multicolored cats, paw pads may range from pink to black.
Caring for your cat’s paws
Even though cats usually groom themselves thoroughly, you should periodically check your cat’s paws to make sure they’re clean. Trim your cat’s nails regularly, and provide plenty of scratching surfaces.
Don’t use household products containing chemical cleaners on floors and other surfaces your cat has access to. Cats may ingest toxic residue from these products when they’re licking their paws. Use cat-friendly cleaners instead.
Do not declaw your cat. Declawing is an inhumane and unnecessary surgery that involves the amputation of the end of a cat’s toes and causes significant pain during recovery. Please honor your cat’s need to scratch by providing scratching posts, clipping her nails regularly, and using behavioral modification to prevent destructive scratching.