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10 fun facts about cat paws that you never knew

Cat's paw extreme closeup on beige background.
Article checked by a vet
Article checked by a vet

A cat’s paw pads are affectionately known as “toe beans” by cat lovers worldwide due to their purrfect aesthetics. We have a fondness for cat paws because they are delicate and squishy but they also play very important roles in a cat's well being and survival. 

In this article, we will uncover 10 fascinating facts about cat toe beans and explore the overall anatomy of the cat paw. We will also do a deep dive into their sensory capabilities and the role of a cat’s paw in feline communication.

10 facts about your cat’s paw

Unique structure of cat paws

A cat’s paw has a unique anatomy and every cat has an individual paw print just like humans all have unique fingerprints. The structure of a cat’s paw revolves around their soft paw pads, affectionately known as ‘cat toe beans' which play multifunctional roles in your cat’s overall health, including protecting their bones and joints as well as contributing to their ability to maintain balance and cushion a nasty fall. 

A cat’s paw has retractable claws, retracting the claws until they are needed protects the nails from wear and tear, with fur tufts surrounding the toes providing protection and warmth to the paws. A cat’s claws are used during hunting, play, climbing, and defending themselves. 

Sensory organs

Cat paws are incredible sensory organs containing nerve receptors that help cats sense vibrations, temperature and textures, allowing them to avoid dangerously hot or cold surfaces. Cats' paws are therefore more sensitive to certain surfaces that humans may deem temperate, which is why making sure your home is cat friendly is always a good idea. This paw sensitivity also allows cats to maintain their legendary balance.

Cats also sweat through their paw pads! Those nifty cat paw pads help your pet regulate their temperature. Cats do not sweat like humans do, although they can be prone to anxious sweating just like us. Cats mostly produce sweat from the sweat glands within glands on their paw pads, which act like a built-in cooling system.

Communication

Cats also use their paws to communicate with their owners and can indicate happiness through kneading and displeasure through swatting movements. Cats have sweat glands in their paw pads that contain their unique scent and they usually use this to mark their territory through scratching and scent marking around their home. You can help keep your furniture scratch-free by providing your cat with scratching posts. 

Colour coordination

Did you know that your cat's toe beans are related to their fur colour? There is a genetic relationship between fur colour and paw pad colour, this means that the pigment in a cat's skin determines what colour their coats are as well as the shade of those adorable paw pads. White cats don’t have melanin (pigment) so their paw pads are light pink in contrast to black cats who have plenty of melanin and therefore have black paw pads. 

Multi-coloured cats will probably have multi-coloured paw pads but some cats can have pads that don’t match their coat at all which illustrates the diversity and uniqueness of every cat!

Mood indicators

Cats often communicate their mood through the positioning of their paws, it is important to be able to read their body language so you can understand each other better. Tucked paws generally indicate that your cat is relaxed and content, cats are sometimes described as looking like a loaf of bread when they tuck their paws under their body, this body language means they are very at ease. However, if your cat is doing swatting movements with their paws this is generally a sign of fear and aggression, so try to work out what is causing the cat to feel unease and resolve the issue.

Kneading with their paws

Did you know that when cats knead their paws it is a comforting behaviour that they have carried over from kittenhood? When cats are kittens, kneading their mother’s undercarriage stimulates milk flow when they are nursing. Adult cats continue to knead their owners as a sign of affection and they also knead around their favourite areas to prepare a cosy spot they want to lie down on! 

Stress relief

Cats instinctively scratch to stretch their paws, work their muscles, release energy and express emotions. All of these actions can significantly reduce their stress levels. Are you looking for new ways to play with your pet and combat potential stress? Try incorporating different textures around your home for your cat to scratch and explore such as cardboard and fabric scratching posts or cat trees. This will provide mental stimulation and aid in stress reduction ensuring you have a very happy cat. 

Healing licks

Your cat’s paws play a huge role in grooming, allowing your pet to reach all those tricky spots during their self grooming routine. Cats are famously clean animals, however, did you know that their methodical grooming routines also play a unique role in maintaining their overall physical health, helping to clean any wounds and remove any dangerous debris? These healing licks can even help minor cuts or infections on their paws disappear even faster. The power of the paw! 

Polydactylism

Have you ever met a Polydactyl cat? Most cats have 18 toes in total, with 5 toes found on each front paw and 4 found on each back paw, however polydactyl cat paws have even more toes to love! 

Polydactylism is a genetic variation that results in cats having more toes on one or more of their paws. This is an inherited trait but there tends to be more of these felines found in certain areas of the world, including along the East Coast of North America (in the United States and Canada) and in South West England and Wales! Polydactylism can affect any breed of cat, however, it has been noted that Maine Coons have a slightly higher chance of developing extra toes. Polydactyl cats are charming and adorable to many and this trait is also associated with good luck, particularly among sailors who believed these cats were superior mousers and brought good luck at sea.

Hunting

A cat’s paws are also their greatest hunting tools, making them one of the most highly skilled predators around! The soft pads on a cat’s paw allow them to move silently across any surface, making it even harder for their prey to notice them before it's too late. Their retractable claws secure their prey during hunting and allow cats to scale trees or landscapes to gain an even better vantage point or escape any imminent danger, fast! 

How to take care of your cat’s paw

Looking for more practical advice on how to care for your cat’s paws? We have compiled a paw care overview so you can improve the overall well-being of your feline friend. Cats naturally love to groom themselves and are famous for keeping themselves clean, however, sometimes they need a little extra help, especially with nail trimming. Cat owners should aim to keep their cat’s nails healthy and their paws clean. 

Trim nails regularly

Most young, healthy and active cats won't need their nails trimmed. Cats' claws must be left sharp and long enough to be used as nature intended! This includes hunting, climbing, scratching and general feline behaviour. The outer layers of the cat's claws naturally shed and often when a cat uses a scratching post it aids the shedding process to reveal a fresh, sharp edge to the claw.  

Generally, we only need to cut the claws of indoor cats or elderly, less active cats.

A nurse at the local veterinary practice will be able to check your cat's claws and safely clip them if they need a little trim. You can trim your cat’s nails at home but you need to be very careful not to hurt yourself or your cat, it may be a two-person job!

  • Hold your cat in a comfortable, secure position that the cat feels safe in and secure one paw at a time. Do this when your cat is feeling relaxed. 
  • Use clippers that are designed to be used on cats.
  • Press on each toe to retract the cat’s claws, one at a time.
  • Take care to identify the tip of the nail, long before it meets the quick and snip this part off on each claw before moving to the next paw and repeating these steps. 
  • The quick will look like a pink triangle and the nail will be white. Be extremely careful during this step as cutting the quick is painful, it can cause damage to your cat’s claw and it will bleed.
  • Alternatively, you can take your cat to the vet to get their nails trimmed professionally. 

Clean those Cat Paws

  • To clean your cat's paws you can use a soft, damp cloth. 
  • Wash each paw pad gently. It may be easier to do this when they are resting. 
  • Make sure you clean the fur in between paw pads too. 
  • You may want to consider trimming the tufts of fur in between a cat’s toes if they are collecting a lot of dirt or debris. Only trim level with the paw pads! 
  • Make sure to keep an eye on the skin of your cat’s paw pads, they can become infected or show other signs of injury or illness. 

Moisturise dry paws

  • Occasionally the paw pads can get dry or cracked, this is more common in humid or warm climates and colder climates, it can also be due to health issues. 
  • Ask your vet about a suitable cream for the paw pads to help the healing process.

Keeping those adorable cat paws and claws in tip-top condition doesn’t need to be stressful for you or your pet with our advice. Those toe beans have many important roles to play in the overall well-being of your pet and keeping them healthy will guarantee a happy cat! 

Looking for the right cat food for your new cat or kitten? WHISKAS® have got you covered with our nutritionally balanced wet and dry food. Delicious meals that make cats rush to their bowls every time. 

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