Do Cats Have 3 Toes or 4?

You can get to the fifth little piggy on your cat's front paws, but usually not on the back ones.
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Counting your kitty's toes seems simple enough -- until you take a closer look at her paws. Most cats have a different number of toes on their front and back paws. To complicate things, some cats have extra toes.

Functional Toes

Although your kitty has four toes on each back foot and five on each front foot, she doesn't use one of the five front toes. This gives her an even four-for-four functional toes on the front and back. The functional toes have claws that retract when they're not in use, helping them to stay sharp and unbroken for when they're needed -- or kneading, as the case may be.

Dew Claws

The fifth toes on the front feet are the dew claws. These are on the inside of the foot, a little bit above the others. The dew claws don't touch the ground, and normally they are not retractable. Keep an eye on your feline friend's dew claws, because they can get snagged on things, and your kitty can be hurt when she tries to pull away. Also, because she doesn't use the claw at her scratching post, it usually needs clipping more often than her other claws to prevent it from growing in a circle and back into her toe.


Your cat has more pads than toes, which can be confusing when you're trying to count toes. On the front feet, she has seven pads -- one for each toe, a big pad in the middle, and a tiny one a bit higher on the wrist. These sensitive pads help your kitty be sneaky, but they also help announce her presence. When she scratches on a tree or your favorite recliner, the pads release a scent that tells other cats she was there first.

Extra Toes

Made famous by Ernest Hemingway, and still living famously on his estate, polydactyl cats have extra toes on their front paws. Usually, it's just one extra toe per paw, but you might occasionally see two or three extras. If you count your kitty's toes and keep going past five, a genetic mutation that is often found in some cat lines is involved. The extra toes typically are fully functional, although it's common for them to have nails that grow at odd angles and that require frequent trimmings.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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