Do Cats Have Toes or Paws?

Lucy needs a manicure and a pedicure once in a while.

Lucy needs a manicure and a pedicure once in a while.

Don't get your cuddly kitty's toes and paws mixed up -- they are in fact separate and distinct parts. Think of Lucy's front paws as her hands and her back paws as her feet. Her front paws have fingers and a thumb, while her back paws have toes.

Not Just for Pouncing

Feline paws and toes are an intricate system allowing them to perform all of the same activities as their larger wildcat cousins. Lucy's front paws, fingers and claws are just like your hands. She uses them to grab prey -- or furry mice toys -- shovel food into her mouth and groom her face. Her back paws and toes help her jump, pounce, play and run away from predators. Additionally, the pads of her feet sweat a small amount, helping her cool down when it gets steamy outside. Her paw pads also help her glide around quietly when she is getting ready to pounce on one of her siblings.

Counting Fingers and Toes

All cats have four paws, unless they suffer some kind of tragic accident. Each front paw has four fingers and one thumb, which is known as a dewclaw. Her back paws each have four toes. Every finger and toe also has a claw, similar to your fingernails. In all, Lucy has 18 fingers and toes spread out between her four paws, explains Dr. Arnold Plotnick, a New York City-based veterinarian.

Extra Toes

Once in a while felines grow extra toes. A condition known as polydactylism is a genetic mutation in which your lovable companion may wind up with one or two extra digits on each foot. Having an extra toe is simply a kitty quirk and is not dangerous or harmful to her health. The extra digit doesn't offer little Lucy any extra benefits, however if the toes don't form properly, she'll wind up having chronic problems with ingrown or overgrown claws.

Special Care

Inspect Lucy's paws and toes each day, especially if she goes outside. Thorns, chunks of cat litter, small rocks or other debris can be painful when they get stuck between her digits. She also needs her nails trimmed every few weeks or so. If you hear clicking on the linoleum when she walks, it's a sign her nails are too long. When trimming her nails, avoid getting close to the quick. This pink part inside the nail is the blood supply and causes severe pain when you get close to it. If you're unsure about how to give her a proper manicure, have your veterinarian show you how. Getting her used to extra handling ahead of time helps minimize any angry hissing episodes at the vet office.


About the Author

Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.

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