This Cat Has How Many Toes?! The Surprising Truth About Feline Feet


The anatomy of a cat’s paw is fascinating and reveals the unique structure that allows cats to adeptly hunt, climb, play, and explore their environments. The number of toes a cat has on each paw is a common point of curiosity for cat owners and observers. While most cats have 18 toes, polydactyl cats can have extra toes, and in rare cases, cats may be born with fewer than 18. Examining why the typical number is 18, how the toes function, and variations in toe counts provides insight into feline feet and evolution. Additionally, analyzing a cat’s paw anatomy aids in keeping them healthy through proper paw care, and understanding paw signs that may indicate illness or injury.

Anatomy of a Cat’s Paw

A cat’s paw is a complex structure made up of bones, joints, pads, and claws that allow it to walk, jump, climb, scratch, play, and more. Here are the main parts of a cat’s paw anatomy:

Pads – Cats have five pads on each front paw and four pads on each back paw. The large central pad is called the metacarpal or metatarsal pad. There are four digital pads, one for each toe. Pads provide cushioning and traction when walking and jumping. They are rough in texture to grip surfaces. The pads also help distribute the cat’s weight evenly across their paws (Source 1).

Toes – All cats normally have a total of 18 toes, with five toes on each front paw and four toes on each hind paw. Each toe has three bones called phalanges, while the first toe also has two additional bones linking it to the rest of the paw. Cats use their toes to grip, scratch, climb, balance, and more.

Claws – Cats have sharp, retractable claws that they can extend out through the toes to scratch, grip, hunt, remove dead shedding claws, mark territory, and more. The claws are made of keratin. Cats keep the claws retracted when not in use to keep them sharp.

Carpal Pad – This larger pad is located near the lower part of the front leg above the paw itself. It provides additional cushioning when landing from jumps.

Dewclaw – Some cats may have a dewclaw, a claw higher up on the front or hind leg. It does not make contact with the ground and does not aid gripping or scratching.

Overall, a cat’s paw contains a complex arrangement of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels that allow for coordinated, agile, and versatile movement. The pads, toes, and claws work together to make the cat sure-footed, stealthy hunters and nimble climbers (Source 2).

Number of Toes

Most cats have a total of 18 toes – five toes on each of their front paws and four toes on each of their hind paws (, 1886). This gives them an anatomical formula of 5-4-4-5. The presence of 18 toes is considered the normal number for the average domestic cat.

Each toe has three phalanges or segments, except for the dewclaw which only has two. The dewclaw is the thumb-like toe located on the inner side of each front leg. So each front paw has four normal toes with three phalanges each and one dewclaw with two phalanges, making 15 phalanges total per front paw.

On the hind paws, there are four toes with three phalanges each, making 12 phalanges per hind paw. With two front and two hind paws, that equals 18 toes and 54 phalanges in the average cat (

Why 18 Toes?

Cats are known to have a total of 18 toes—5 toes on each front paw and 4 toes on each hind paw. This unique toe arrangement evolved to provide cats with improved balance, agility, and stealth when hunting prey.

Theories suggest that having 5 toes on the front paws helps cats grip surfaces better for climbing and pouncing. The extra toe gives them more traction and distribution of weight across the paw The 4 toes on the back paws likely help with balance and absorbing impact when landing on their feet.

Having 18 toes also enables cats to silently stalk and seize prey. Their flexible toes help them walk very quietly and carefully place each paw. The soft paw pads further muffle noise and aid in sneaking up on prey undetected. Having 18 spread out toes improves cats’ ability to gently yet precisely grip surfaces.

In evolutionary terms, the 18 toe configuration gave cats an advantage in climbing, hunting, balance, and stealth. This adaptation helped wild cats effectively catch prey and thrive as predators.

Variations in Toe Number

While most cats have 18 toes, some cats can have more or fewer toes due to genetic mutations like polydactylism. Polydactyl cats have extra toes, usually on their front paws, due to a dominant gene mutation [1]. The extra toes look like mittens, which is why polydactyl cats are sometimes called “mitten cats.” Ernest Hemingway was famous for having polydactyl cats at his home in Key West, Florida, so they are also called “Hemingway cats.” Polydactyl cats can have as many as 7 toes on each front paw and 5 on each back paw. This means they may have up to 26 toes in total.

While polydactylism results in extra toes, some cats may be born with fewer than 18 toes due to congenital abnormalities. For example, a genetic disorder called oligodactyly causes cats to be born without some toes. Cats can also lose toes due to injuries or medical conditions like cancer later in life. So while 18 is the typical number of toes for a cat, variations can and do occur due to genetics or health issues.

Toe Function

Cats have five toes on each front paw and four toes on each back paw. Each toe serves an important purpose for a cat.

The front paws are used for holding prey, climbing, scratching, and other manipulative functions. The toes on the front paws help grip objects and provide stability. The front toes are especially important for grasping and killing prey when a cat hunts. The extra toe on the front feet, called the dewclaw, provides extra gripping power and balance.

The back paws propel a cat’s movement and provide power for jumping and running. The hind toes help absorb shock and provide thrust when a cat is in motion. The hind toes are also important for scratching, which helps cats stretch their bodies and mark territory. Cats use their back toes to kick litter over their waste after using the litterbox.

Both front and back toes contain pads on the bottom that help absorb shock, provide traction, and allow for silent movement. The front and back toes work together to enable a cat’s quick reflexes, gymnastic-like agility, and ability to accelerate, jump, climb, pivot, and more.[1]


Paw Size

There is considerable variation in paw size between different cat breeds. Some breeds like the Maine Coon are known for their large, wide paws. Maine Coon cat paws can be up to 5 inches wide! This gives them a firm footing for climbing and exploring the outdoors. Other large cat breeds like the Norwegian Forest Cat and Ragdoll also tend to have bigger paws. Smaller breeds like the Siamese and Abyssinian have much more delicate, petite paws in comparison.

A cat’s paw size is proportional to their bone structure and body size. Larger cat breeds have bigger frames and more substantial paws. According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association, the ideal paw size for a Maine Coon is 1.5 inches wide for females and up to 2 inches wide for males. Smaller breeds have daintier paws about 1 inch wide. So paw size gives a good indication of the cat’s eventual size as an adult if the breed is unknown.

While big paws indicate a larger cat, they don’t necessarily determine a cat’s potential size exactly. There is variation within breeds. But a kitten with big paws will generally grow into a big, heavy cat. Monitoring paw size as a kitten grows can provide clues about their mature size and confirm if they fall within the normal range for the breed.

Paw Care

Proper paw care is essential for a cat’s health and wellbeing. Here are some tips for keeping your cat’s paws in good shape:

Trim your cat’s claws regularly. Use special claw clippers designed for cats and trim just the sharp tip of the nail. Be careful not to cut too far down into the quick, which can be painful and cause bleeding.

Check your cat’s paws often for debris or injuries. Especially long-haired cats can get litter, dirt, grass, burrs, etc. stuck between their toes. Gently wash the paws with water or a pet wipe to keep them clean.

Moisturize your cat’s paw pads if they appear dry or cracked. There are special balms made just for this purpose. Apply a small amount to the pads, but avoid between the toes.

Discourage scratching on inappropriate surfaces by providing appealing alternatives like scratching posts. Keeping nails trimmed will also reduce damage from scratching.

Avoid using harsh household chemicals on floors or furniture, as cats can absorb these through their paws. Use pet-safe cleaners.

Inspect your cat’s paws for any cuts, infections, or embedded foreign material like foxtails. Seek veterinary care if you have any concerns.

Cats spend much of their time on their paws, so it’s important to properly care for these important appendages. With regular inspection and grooming, you can help keep your cat’s paws healthy and pain-free.

Paw Signs

A cat’s paws can reveal a lot about their health and wellbeing. Here are some key things to look for when examining your cat’s paws:

Swelling or inflammation can be a sign of an injury, infection or condition like pododermatitis. Redness, warmth and sensitivity when touched may accompany swelling. According to Royal Canin, pododermatitis often causes swollen paws along with scales, crusts and discolored thick skin.

Cuts, scrapes or bleeding between the toes or on the paw pads could indicate an injury from rough play or sharp objects. Cats may limp or lick excessively at wounded paws. Deep wounds may need veterinary attention to avoid infection.

Crusty discharge around nail beds can signal an infection or condition like feline plasma cell pododermatitis. Your vet can diagnose the cause and provide treatment. According to 1st Pet Veterinary Center, abnormal toenail growths may also warrant examination.

Licking, biting or overgrooming at the paws could indicate itching or discomfort. Allergies, stress, parasites or other problems can prompt this behavior. Observe for any accompanying skin irritation or damage from excessive grooming.

Changes in paw size, shape or color may result from injury, infection or underlying illness. Unusual growths, lumps or swelling should be evaluated by your veterinarian.

Regularly inspect your cat’s paws for any concerning signs. Be alert for limping, sensitivity or excessive licking as well. If you notice anything abnormal, contact your vet for advice and proper treatment.


In summary, cats typically do not have 18 toes. Cats normally have 5 toes on each of their front paws and 4 on each of their back paws, for a total of 18. The 5 toes on the front paws usually consist of 1 dewclaw and 4 main toes. The 4 toes on the back paws do not have a dewclaw. While 18 toes is the standard number, some cats may have more or less due to genetic mutations like polydactylism. The exact number of toes is not critical, as long as the paws are healthy and functional. But the myth that all cats have 18 toes is inaccurate. After reviewing a cat’s anatomy and toe configuration, we can conclusively confirm that while 18 is a common total number of toes, it does not apply to all cats.

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