One part that is essentially endearing to all cat owners is their paw pads or also called cat toe beans. Who couldn’t resist those pink paws?
These cute cat paw pads are the reason why “cat’s paw” idiom came about; which is used to describe a person who was used by someone else without their knowledge. So, from the pinkish paws to black pads, let’s talk about it.
Below are the 12 surprising things you probably didn’t know about these cute body parts of your kitty:
1. When it gets too hot
It’s not commonly known that cats use their paws to help them regulate their temperatures as they are unable to sweat(1).
Since they are unable to sweat in a similar way to humans, they instead sweat through their paws similar to dogs. They also have a large number of blood vessels running through their paw pads which help cool their blood down by coming into contact with a cool surface and then circulate it back into their body.
They will lick their paws; wetting it with saliva and the evaporation helps make things cooler on those hot days.
2. The perfect landing
As the saying goes “cats always land on their feet” and very silently at that. Any cat owner can tell you just how soft and flexible their paws feel.
Cats have the ability to jump from a high-story building towards the ground with ease. The paws have evolved to be the perfect shock absorbers for landing when jumping out of trees and also jumping from surface to surface.
With the delicate skin plus fur around and between the toes, it makes for the softest tool to make sure they don’t hurt themselves when jumping from most heights(1).
3. Claws and their uniqueness
Cats’ claws are very important for their protection against predators or other cats. They are also used to help hunt for prey, climb over uneven or smooth surfaces.
By slightly or fully extending the claws, it makes for better traction. The claw itself is controlled by a ligament that is attached directly to what would be a knuckle on the human hand. This gives the cat full control over the position of the claw.
Cat claws are very unique in the animal kingdom and are retractable; being hidden away by fur and skin when not in use. If you have a willing cat subject, then, you can gently push above and below the base of the toe which causes the claws to come out.
As sheaths are to swords, paws are where cats’ claws retract to. Their claws would retract if they don’t need it, or else, they’ll scratch themselves.
It would really be difficult if cats don’t have anything to protect their feet from their own claws as they are different from human nails. Our nails grow out of our flesh, whereas, cats’ claws grow out of their bones.
This is where the issue of declawing comes in. It is considered inhumane as there is a need to break the topmost part of cat’s bones just to stop the claws from growing. This affects the cat to the point that it may affect the way it walks.
4. A little furry ballerina
Cats are digitigrade walkers. Something that may not be obvious at first glance is that cats actually walk on their toes and not their whole paw – much like a human ballerina. This way of walking means that they can walk near silently and sneak up on unaware prey.
Their walking style is also defensive in helping them move around without being detected by potential threats like foxes or other cats. It helps them hunt and aids in being unseen by other predators.
It also helps them make quick turns of speed as their legs are ready to come into action at a moment’s notice.
Their paw pads also serve as a good footing when they climb an uneven surface.
5. Color coordination down to the tiniest detail
Quite unique to cats is that their paw pad color will correspond to their fur color.
You will see that all white cats often have bright pink pads, whereas black cats will most commonly have black pads. Ginger cats also have an orangey hue to their pink pads.
If the cat has bi-colored fur, its paws would most definitely have two colors as well. You also get an interesting mix of pink and black with more than one fur color in the mix. For some breeds, the color oftentimes applies even to the color of the nose pads.
Be sure to check your feline’s pads if there are any changes to their color as it may indicate that something is wrong with your pet. Don’t let debris or dirt accumulate on its paws as they tend to dry the skin which may lead to infection.
This affects its claws in a way, as any dirt that accumulates on its paw pads hinders the claws to retract properly. They might end up chipped and may hurt your cat especially when it decides to scratch a hard surface.
6. How many toes is too many
This mutation is called polydactyl – meaning, they have up to 7 toes instead of the more common five on the front paws and four on the back.
The most common occurrence of this mutation is seen on the front paws; with extra toes on the back or all four paws is very rare. There are two breeds which are specifically bred for this trait – the American Polydactyl and the Maincoon Polydactyl.
This condition can be dangerous to cats due to how their claws grow. It might cause an infection and essentially hurt your pets so be sure to consult a vet if your cat has polydactylism.
The claw of a cat has its very own blood supply and has its own interesting way of being shed.
You will often see cats scratching various surface – hopefully, the ones that don’t cause property damage. This is done for many reasons and one of them is to help shed their old claw for the new one that is growing underneath.
If you have a cat you may see around the scratching posts what looks like whole claws shed, it is actually the outer layer of its claws that has been pulled off. This maintenance helps to get rid of the dull old claw and replace it with the much more sharper new one.
8. The softest pads become climbing tools
The lovely soft pads of cats are very versatile and are special in their uses compared to other animals. It is often considered that the paw pads could potentially change shape easily or help with their tasks of climbing trees to chase after prey.
A study was done to compare the snow leopards paw with the domestic cat and it suggests that the suspensory ligament within the paw pad helps the pad form to the branch so that it aids with climbing trees. This interesting ability is something minor but makes the cat’s paws more special to the species.
9. Are they left or right-handed?
Most commonly, cats will use both paws for most tasks but will show preference when doing certain tasks. And so, cats can be added to the list of animals that have a left or right paw preference when doing activities.
This was demonstrated by Yalcin Yetkin in a study entitled: Physical Properties Of The Cerebal Hemispheres And Paw Preferences In Mongrel Cats: Sex-Related Difference.
Cats have a variety of tools at their disposal to use in communication but one of the most important is the scent. Their paws serve as a hidden scent factory. With the help of sweat glands in their paw pads, they can leave scents in whatever they walk on or whatever they scratch.
So, it’s understandable that they have a scent gland located on their front paws, just between their main pad and toe pads. While walking, they will be leaving little scent marks.
It helps them to mark their territories, especially if you own a lot of cats. More so when they scratch a particular pole, they leave their scent to let other cats or animals know that it is their territory.
And also when scratching surfaces, they can leave many messages for other cats and animals to smell and “read” – much like their own little social media outlet.
This also gives other animals information about how long ago it was at that location, general age, sex, and health status of the cat. This communication of information is very important in territory-sharing or finding another mate.
Also, these scent glands secrete pheromones that serve as calling cards for other animals or felines. These are like warning signs that they have to be careful or be aware of where they are. They also indicate if there is something wrong with your cat’s health.
It is interesting enough to note that humans and cats are alike when they sweat; that their sweat glands go into overdrive when they are nervous. This feeling is often included in the pheromones that they give out which become a warning signal for other cats.
11. Sensitive tools of the trade
All cat owners at some point have experienced how soft and delicate their paws feel to touch and how some cats will naturally pull away if they are touched unexpectedly. This is an understandable reaction considering how sensitive their pads are; they have many nerve endings within their pads plus many blood vessels.
Since their pads serve as finely-tuned sensory organs that they use for balance and for hunting, it goes to say that they can also use their paw pads to feel the texture of the surface that they walk on. Their paws are also sensitive enough to even feel the vibration in the surface.
This also makes the paws feel the slightest debris stuck to their pad as many owners have seen when cats do a funny little paw shake. But it also means that they are more sensitive to touch in general and so, may want to protect their paws from unpleasant touches that may mean injury.
This is the reason why some kittens hiss or growl when their paws are rubbed incessantly by their owners.
12. Perfect for that “just groomed” look
All cat owners have seen the gymnastics and amazing flexibility of a cat grooming themselves. This can include their own built-in comb and brush to help get to those spots they can’t lick.
Cats like to groom themselves and each other, and are often oblivious when they do it. Since they are afraid of water, they use their tongue along with their paws to clean themselves.
With their tongue, they can use their paws like wet cloths to help wipe their fur and also help distribute natural skin oils.
Their fabulous claws can also act like a comb to help brush out any stuck debris. The flexibility of their paws also helps to reach all the spots that they can’t naturally reach with their tongue, which are very few with their natural bending abilities.
This usually starts when they’re about four weeks old. Similar to the way we use loofahs to scrub ourselves when bathing; their paws scrub their fur to keep it clean.
Cats’ paw pads are often used to knead other cats or their owners as well. This is the reason why some cats are known to make great biscuits because of this kneading action. Their pads when they knead also serve to stimulate milk for female cats.
If your cats continuously knead you, it means they are happy and content to be with you; although it will be quite a challenge if your cat includes its claws when it massages you. This serves as leaving its pheromones on you – marking you as only its own.
- Gonyea W.J. (1978). Functional implications of felid forelimb anatomy, department of cell biology, University of Texas, published online: July 11, 2008.
- Malinovský L (1966).Variability of sensory nerve endings in foot pads of a domestic cat (felis ocreata., F. Domestica), department of anatomy, J.EPurkně’s University of medical faculty, Published online: July 01, 2008.
- M.Koltzenburg, H.-J.Häbler, W.Jänig (1996). Functional reinnervation of sweat glands in the adult cat paw by inappropriate postganglionic axons, Journal of the Autonomic Nervous System, Volume 60, Issue 3, 12 September 1996, Pages 193-199.
- A.V.LPike and D.P Maitland (1997). Paw preferences in cats (Felis silvestris catus) living in a household environment, Behavioural Processes, Volume 39, Issue 3, February 1997, Pages 241-247.
- W.Jänig and H.Kümmel (1981). Organization of the sympathetic innervation supplying the hairless skin of the cat’s paw, Journal of the Autonomic Nervous System
- Volume 3, Issues 2–4, April 1981, Pages 215-230.