Both dogs and cats have four paws that get them around, cushion their body weight and allow them to manipulate objects. While Fluffy's and Fido's paws might appear similar at first glance, a closer inspection reveals quite a few differences between the two.
Cats and dogs have pads on the bottom of their feet that act as a cushion. Your cat's front paw has seven pads. Five are digital -- sort of like a person's toes. There's also a large pad on the heel (called the plantar pad) and a small one on the wrist or carpal area. In contrast, your dog has a total of six pads -- four are digital, one on the heel and one on the carpal area. Your dog also has a dewclaw, sometimes referred to as a dog's thumb, on the inside of each front leg. The dewclaws never make contact with the ground.
The overall shape of the canine paw is oval, while the overall shape of the feline paw is circular. The pads themselves are triangular on the dog and teardrop-shaped on the cat. If you take a look at the large heel pad on your cat, you'll see that it has three lobes on the back edge and two lobes on the front edge. Pick up your dog's paw and you'll see it has two lobes on the back edge of the heel and one lobe on the front. If you can hold it still long enough, you'll also see that the middle pad of the five digital pads on your kitty's paw is located slightly ahead of the adjacent pads, while your dog's two middle digital pads are aligned and close together.
Nails and Claws
Cats have retractable claws, meaning they can extend them or sheathe them. When a cat is relaxed, walking or playing gently, the claws are sheathed. If your kitty needs a tool or a weapon to bring down that mouse, however, the claws will be extended. In contrast, your canine has nails that are always extended, similar to a person's fingernails.
Using the Paws
Besides walking, cat and dog paws also serve other functions. Dogs sweat from their paws, can maneuver objects, dig holes or impress your friends with a friendly shake. Kitties probably won't shake paws with your guests, but they can climb with their paws, use them as weapons and shred food (or perhaps, on occasion, things in your home best left un-shredded).
Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.