Your cats' paws may seem constantly drawn to your furniture, but there's much more to your moggy's mittens than scratching your sofa.
Cats' paws are remarkable. Your cat's paws have many different uses from communicating, grooming, absorbing impact, and even regulating temperature. But how much do you know about your feline friends' feet?
Five things you should know about cats' paws
Here are the top five pawsome facts you should know about your moggy's mittens.
1. Cats walk on their tiptoes
Cats are digitigrades, which means they walk on their tiptoes. Having the ability to walk and run on their toes gives them that burst of speed and a longer stride. Cats are also quieter on their toes which is essential when hunting or avoiding predators in the wild. Cats are so good at being on their tiptoes, it's rare for them to walk on the balls of their feet.
2. Cats' paws have scent glands
Cats have secret scent glands hidden in tufts of fur between their toes. Just like the way dogs urinate to mark their territory, cats scratch or knead objects to mark what is theirs. When your cat is kneading your lap, they are marking you as their turf. They leave behind a personalised mixture of pheromones that we can't detect, but other cats can, and it tells them that this spot (your lap) belongs to another feline.
3. Cat paws are sound and shock absorbers
Cats are fantastic jumpers. They can jump up to seven times their height and land gracefully too. It's all thanks to their paw pads which provide extra cushioning and means they can land silently. Cats' paws can absorb sound and reduce the impact after they take a big jump. Not only that, but your kitty's paws also act as tiny sensors. Cats' paws have nerve receptors that tell them about their surroundings and help them to sense different pressures, vibrations, and textures. This information alerts them to any possible predators and movements of their pretty.
4. A cat's front paws have more toes than the back paws
If your feline friend has ever let you take a close look at their paws, you may have spotted an extra toe on their front paws. Each front foot has five toes or digits and four on each back foot. The extra toes on their front paws are called dewclaws which act somewhat like thumbs for cat paws, located slightly higher than the other toes. Cats are not the only animal to have dewclaws. Birds and reptiles also have dewclaws, although they've tended to lose their function over the centuries. But for cats, the dewclaw is still used for playing, hunting and giving them extra grip on their prey (whether that's a poor unsuspecting bird or a fluffy toy on a string).
5. Cats' paws help to regulate temperature
Your cat's paws act as an effective cooling system to help prevent them from overheating when it's hot. Cats also sweat from their paws whenever they are stressed or frightened. When you take your furry friend to the vet, have you ever noticed them leaving little footprints on the examination table? Just like how we get sweaty palms when we are anxious, your cat will break into a cold sweat too.
What is the thing under a cat's paw?
Cats have a carpal pad on each of their front paws. A carpal pad gives cats traction if they skid and acts as a shock absorber when the cat jumps.
Should I moisturise my cat's paws?
If your cat's paw pads feel dry or look cracked, it's a good idea to contact your vet for advice. They will likely recommend using coconut, olive or another food-quality oil safe for them to lick. If your cat needs something with more oomph, then ask your vet to recommend a cat-friendly paw moisturiser. Avoid using anything made for humans, such as creams and petroleum jelly, which could be harmful to your cat.
How can you tell if your cat's paw is hurt?
All that jumping from heights can cause a cat to hurt their paw. They can also catch a nail that can tear or break. An obvious sign they've hurt their paw is bleeding. This should stop after a few minutes. But if it continues, take your cat to the vet to be checked out. Other signs to look out for are if your cat is excessively licking their paw, limping or growling in pain. If this happens, get them checked out by the vet as soon as possible.
Do cats like having their paws touched?
Cats' paws aren't just remarkable in what they can do. They are adorable to look at too. But most cats don't like having their paws touched because they are very sensitive. Even a little squeeze or touch can be painful for them. But if you need to touch their paw, there are ways you can touch their paw that minimises your cat's discomfort. For example:
- Only attend to your cat's paws when your cat is relaxed and calm
- Try stroking your cat in their favourite spot with one hand while your other hand gets on with what you need to do
- Give them some taste cat-friendly treats as positive reinforcement
- Be as gentle as possible, even if this means you must take it very slowly
- Get help from a professional cat groomer or your vet if your cat gets too distressed with paw care
Next time your cat is strolling around the garden, jumping from a height, kneading your lap or giving their scratching post a thorough seeing to, watch those paws closely. Cats' paws are remarkable, aren't they?