Pet Tips

Dog and cat paws – Pet tip 147

Dogs and cats don’t have feet! What they have instead are paws. However even though paws look and are built differently than human feet, paws and feet are simply two different ways to do the same thing, walk. Walking is normally taken for granted, but it can be interesting to understand what makes our furry friends’ paws unique.

For most land animals, feet provide the same functions. Feet support our body weight and give us slip-free contact with the ground. Feet are built (with claws and toes) to give extra stability, because if you think about it, there is actually a large amount of weight supported on the small surface of our feet. Because of gravity, no motion on land is possible without using feet (with the exception of animals like snakes). In the wild, if an animal injures a foot, its life can be in danger, because, even though a sore foot can’t kill an animal, it cannot hunt, socialize, or run from predators.

Of course, dogs and cats don’t have ‘feet’. Their anatomy is much different than ours. To start with, they only have four toes. Their fifth toe, which compares to our pinky fingers on our hands and baby toes on our feet, either doesn’t exist or exists only as a small ‘dewclaw’. Therefore, dogs and cats only have four toes. In fact, animals like cows only have two toes and horses only have one!

So, why don’t dogs and cats walk on ‘feet’? It’s because they walk on their fingers and toes! The three bones that make up each of our fingers are what support all of your pet’s weight. If you look at a paw-print, you will see one large pad surrounded by four smaller ones. The four smaller pads are thickened skin located at the very end of their fingers (like our fingertips!). The large pad is at the base of the fingers. It’s almost like dogs and cats run on tippy-toes all the time. The bones that make up our palms, wrists, soles of feet, and ankles are in the straight part of our pets’ legs.

There is a reason for this. Over time, evolution has given some animals certain unique features that help them survive better. For example, bats have developed radar to hunt prey at night and porcupines have developed quills to protect them from predators. Horses run on one toe because the fewer toes (and bones) that they have, the lighter their legs are, and the faster they can run with light legs. This may also be part of the reason that dogs and cats have four toes instead of five.

Also, when dogs and cats run on their toes, the extra bones in the straight part of their legs makes their legs longer. It’s the same as the idea that a person is taller when they stand on their tippy-toes. When you do this, you are making your legs longer. This way you can take longer steps. Therefore, dogs and cats have evolved to run on their toes so they can take longer, more powerful steps and escape danger more efficiently.

Now that you understand why your pet’s paws are shaped differently from our hands and feet, it is also important that you understand how to take care of them. Paws are very sensitive areas, so it is advised that you train your pet to allow you to handle and look at their paws. Make sure you regularly check your pet’s paws by running your fingers along the pads and between the toes. Use good lighting to look for any cuts, objects (like burrs or sand), or red and itchy areas. Die to the fact that the paws are always in contact with the environment, they commonly get injured. Itchy paws are also one of the first signs of allergies. A dog or cat with sore paws is an unhappy animal. Their paws are just as important as their bones when it comes to walking properly. Try to routinely examine your pets’ paws and pay close attention especially when it walks in areas that have salt, sand, or spiky plants.

Paws are built differently from feet, but they are just as important. Both paws and feet allow us to move around every day. Make sure you keep your pets’ paws in good condition, and always contact your vet if you have any concerns about the paws!

By Ashley O’Driscoll – writer

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