You’ve probably wondered about that peculiar little toe hanging off Toby’s front lower legs. Don’t worry, all cats have these dewclaws -- a toe that doesn’t touch the ground. Just like the rest of his toes, his dewclaws need a little TLC, otherwise he can have problems.
Counting All Toes
Felines have 18 toes in all: four toes on each paw plus a dewclaw on each front paw. The dewclaw doesn’t line up with the other toes, nor does it hit the floor when Toby is parading around. It may seem like an odd extra digit, but he actually uses it for the mischievous things he does all day.
A Feline Thumb
Think of the dewclaw as a sort of a thumb. This seemingly misplaced digit helps your feline friend grasp onto things when he’s hunting prey or simply playing with his toy mice in the middle of the living room. The dewclaw is flexible, giving him extra control over his recent catch. Watch Toby the next time he plays with his toys. He’ll pick up that catnip bag with his paws and toss it across the room so he can fetch it, keeping you entertained for hours.
Much like you, Toby also needs his nails trimmed once in a while. Walking around on the pavement or scratching at his sisal post naturally files down his claws. Some kitties rarely need nail trims, depending on what types of surfaces they walk on or scratch at. Since his dewclaws don’t line up with his other digits and touch the ground, his dewclaw doesn’t get filed down. The nail grows in a circular shape and can curl back around into his skin, causing an infection and severe pain, similar to an ingrown nail on your toe.
Take Toby over to your vet’s office or groomer once or twice a month for a nail trim. A professional can tell you how often Toby needs his nails trimmed and can also show you how to safely do it yourself at home.
Some cats also have extra toes that are not dewclaws -- a condition known as polydactylism. If you have a polydactyl furry family member, he’ll have one or two extra toes on each of his front paws. Polydactyl kitties are perfectly normal, and that extra digit isn’t harmful or dangerous. It’s simply a little quirk among certain cats. Sometimes -- although rarely -- that extra toe doesn’t quite form properly. Your vet can rule out any paw problems at Toby’s next checkup.
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.
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.