If your cat gently paws at you to wake you up in the morning, it's just one way she uses her paws. In addition to rousting you out of bed, Princess uses her paws to walk on, hunt prey and play. They're built for work and fun.
Anatomy of a Cat's Paw
A normal cat has approximately 27 bones in each paw, which normally comprise four toes and one dewclaw. The dewclaw is basically a rudimentary toe or thumb that doesn't touch the ground. Her paws also have skin pads that are tough enough to protect her feet when she walks on rough surfaces, yet soft enough to allow her to be sensitive to touch. Her ability to sense hot and cold and other signals help her evaluate prey. When humans walk normally, we use the heels and balls of our feet, however when Princess walks normally, she uses the tips of her digits -- toes -- and the balls of her feet. This is called digitgrade walking and when combined with her soft pads and small feet, helps your cat move silently in a wide variety of terrain.
Purpose of Cat Paws
Princess's paw pads have touch receptors to help her evaluate her prey. After killing prey, a cat will often paw at it to check for signs of life before putting it in her mouth. Cats also sweat through their paws, which helps them keep their body temperature balanced. If you've ever taken Princess to the vet and noticed her paw prints on the examination table, you're seeing signs that she's anxious and sweating in response. Her paw pads also contain glands that secrete a scent that only cats can smell. When your cat uses her clawing post, she's not only sharpening her claws, she's also marking the post with her own unique scent.
Extra Toes? Polydactyl
It's not unusual for some cats to have extra toes on their paws. These are known as polydactyls, which is the Greek equivalent of "many fingers." Typically these cats have one or two extra toes on each foot, with the extra toes laying on the thumb side of the foot. In most cases the extra toes -- or sometimes extra dewclaw -- will be on the front feet. If Princess has extra toes on her rear feet, she most likely has them on her front feet as well, as it's highly unusual for cats to have them only on their rear paws. Polydactylism is a genetic variation that doesn't provide any special benefit or hindrance to a cat, although it can give Princess the appearance of waiting to play a game of catch. A cat named Jake is considered the record holder for having the most toes among all four paws, with 28 toes -- 10 more than the normal cat has.
Caring for Paws
It's pretty simple to take care of Princess's paws. Check them regularly to ensure they're clean and that she doesn't have any cuts, splinters or sores that need tending to. If there's any dirt, litter or other debris clinging to her paws, wipe them off with a soft cloth. If you spill something on your floor that may cause her problems if she ingests it, make sure you wipe off her pads if she's been in the area. Cats use their paws for grooming and can inadvertently ingest whatever they've walked through. Finally, make sure you keep her nails in good condition. You can do this by providing her a variety of scratching posts and pads as well as regularly clipping her nails.
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