The feline body is most wonderfully made, including right down to the paws and pads. Most cats have five claws on their front paws and four on their rear paws. A dewclaw is the first digit found on the inside of the front paw.
The front paws have seven pads; five digital pads that have claws and a larger plantar pad made up of three lobes. There is also a small wrist pad. These pads act as shock absorbers and help protect the leg bones when a cat lands from a jump and, of course, are very instrumental to a cat’s climbing ability. In contrast to the front paws, there are five pads on each of the hind paws; four digital and one plantar pad. These hind feet are stronger than the front and endure greater stresses and strains incurred when running and jumping.
(Pssst…those strong hind legs and paws are what help a cat jump as high as 7 times its own height, which we already discussed in Part 1).
How can a groomer tell that Kitty is experiencing some stress during the grooming process? Well a cat has sweat glands, called Eccrine Glands, in the pads of their paws. These glands excrete sweat to help balance body temperature as well as excrete sweat in stressful situations. If a groomer sees a sweaty paw print on their stainless steel table, they know to slow things down and help Kitty stay relaxed. Tucked between the footpads are sebaceous glands that secrete pheromones which are scent detectable only to cats. Another benefit of these glands is they help keep their paws moisturized.
Some domestic cats are prone to an ancient mutation known as polydactylism. Polydactyl means “many toes”; this means that they may have six to seven toes on each paw! The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, FL houses approximately 40-50 polydactyl cats. About half of the cats at the museum have the physical polydactyl trait, but all the cats on the property carry the polydactyl gene in their DNA. The cats with ‘only’ four and five toes can still breed six to seven-toed kittens. It is more common for polydactyl cats to carry extra toes on just the front paws, but quite a few will carry them on the back paws too!
So, how did all these beautiful felines end up at Hemingway’s home? Legend has it that Mr. Hemingway was given a white, six-toed cat by a ship’s captain. Some of the cats who live on the grounds are descendants of that original cat, named Snow White. He named all of his cats after famous people and the caretakers of the estate follow that same tradition today.
Sit back, relax, give your paws a nice lick (get in between all those toes!) and we’ll razor down everything we want to share with you about Kitty’s claws in our next installment.