Cat Paws: Discover 10 Interesting Facts
Cat paws are incredibly versatile. Your cat’s paw is a tool for climbing, moving, communicating, staying comfortable and staying alive – and much more!
Cat paws are incredibly cute, but also incredibly well designed for the task of looking after your cat. It can be very interesting to properly study the paw pads on your cat to better understand the huge jobs they undertake every day. These jobs include communicating with you and other cats, sensing the environment around them, aiding in hunting and helping to groom your cat. Also paws are also designed to absorb the shocks of your cat jumping around and to regulate the temperature of the overall cat’s body.
10 Interesting Facts About Cat Paws:
Cats have dominant paws
Just like humans, studies have shown that cats can have a dominant front paw. When performing especially difficult tasks, it has been recorded that cats tend to use one preferred paw more than the other – although it is not clear whether cats are more likely to prefer the left or right paw, or if there is a significant number of ambidextrous cats.
An interesting study from researchers at Queens University in Ireland suggested that paw preference is related to the cat’s gender – male cats appear to tend to prefer their right paw, while females prefer the left.
Cats walk on their tiptoes
Although it may not look like it as they move around so gracefully, cats walk everywhere on their tiptoes due to the design of their legs. In other words, they are digitigrade. This serves cats well, as walking on tiptoes ensures that stride length is increased and speed is maximized, skills that are critical for a good hunt. Tiptoe walking also makes cats much quieter and sneakier, making them even more successful when hunting.
This kitten-like behavior can look a bit like your cat is kneading bread dough. This harks back to when your cat was young and would knead its mother’s chest to awaken the milk ducts, to feed. This kneading behavior is thus strongly associated with happy childhood memories for your cat and happens when your cat is very happy. Your cat may start to knead you every so often as they get older – although be careful because unlike kittens, adult cats have very sharp claws! Your cat might also exhibit this behavior on blankets, stuffed toys or pillows that they particularly favor.
Your cat may also sometimes “hug” you, by draping their arms around you, especially your neck. Don’t worry though if your cat doesn’t do this – only the most affectionate cats are likely to do this!
Cats use paws for grooming
Paws are used by all cats to groom and clean themselves. The flexibility of the front legs and paws means that cats can reach all of the awkward parts of their body, including behind the ears, around their necks and all over their faces. Cats groom by licking their paws and forearms and then wiping this on their dirty bits, so they don’t have to try and use their tongue all over their bodies!
After a few swipes of their paws on each dirty place, they repeat the licking process to ensure they get as clean and sleek as possible. This is learned but also instinctual behavior, and you should notice your young kittens begin this grooming behavior before they reach their four week birthday.
Paws are sensitive
You may have noticed that cats are very reluctant to have their paws played with. This is because the pads on their paws are highly sensitive, and it can be very uncomfortable if too much attention is paid to them. There are huge numbers of nerve endings in the paws, which all contribute to a highly sophisticated organ designed for hunting and balancing when moving and jumping around. All sorts of sensory inputs, including texture, pressure, and vibrations, are detected through the cat’s paws, helping them better understand and interact with their environment and prey.
This extreme sensitivity, however, can cause problems. Pads are strong organs that can withstand a lot of environmental dangers, but they can be harmed quickly by high or low temperatures and pressures and can feel a lot of pain. Particularly, there is no insulation on the paws so temperature is a key danger you should watch out for.
Paws are flexible
Cat paws can easily bend and twist, due to the need of a cat to jump and climb all over the place in their environments and to hunt well. Cats can climb trees, or all over your furniture, because of the intense flexibility in their paws and wrists. The stability enjoyed by cats on all sorts of objects and surfaces are also attributable to the paws.
However, you may have noticed that although cats are excellent at climbing, due to the ability to turn paws inwards to sink claws into the surface, it is much harder for cats to get back down again! The front claws of a cat face the wrong direction to descend particularly steep objects like trees, and the much weaker front legs add to these difficulties. This is why cats are known to get so often stuck at the top of trees!
Paws act as shock absorbers
Cat paws are also well-designed to absorb shocks and sounds that are experienced by their feline owner. The paw pads are soft enough to reduce the shock felt in the cat’s legs when it lands and makes it more comfortable for the cat to walk around on rough surfaces. This cushioning effect also allows the cat to move around silently, enhancing its ability to sneak up on its prey.
Cats use paws to communicate
Cats scratch and mark objects all over their territories to give other cats and creatures details about themselves. Visual marks, as well as smelly pheromones, are left all over surfaces thanks to the scent glands that are hidden between the pads of the paws, both front, and back. This scent transmits huge amounts of information about the cat which left it. After urinating or spraying cats may also scrape and scratch the same area.
To stay cool, cats have the ability to sweat through their paw pads which can be very helpful on a hot day. Scared and upset cats also tend to sweat through their paws, as humans do. This is often most visible when you take your cat to the vet, where you might notice little-wet paw prints all over the vet’s table.
Paw colors vary
Paw pads vary in color between cats to match the overall coloring of the cat’s fur. These colors all come in pairs – gray furred cats have gray paws pads, orange cats have pink pads, “tuxedo” colored cats tend to have black spots all over their cats and so on. The same pigment chemicals color all parts of the cat, including fur and paws.
You will now likely always look differently at the cat’s paw pads now that you are aware of all the special details that make them so special. Paw pads, as with all other cat parts and behaviors, have many functions, all of which help your cat survive and thrive.