The Omlet Blog

Why Do Some Animals Have Paws?

Have you ever looked at your pets’ paws and wondered why? Why don’t they have hands and fingers like us? The answer dates back thousands of years and is the result of our pets’ ancestors adapting to the independent and wild lives they once lived in an environment which was very different to your safe, warm home. 

The History of the Paw

Before our pets were domesticated, they had to defend themselves to stay alive while hunting for their own food. Many of the traits that helped them do that haven’t changed, staying with the species’ throughout evolution. This includes the paw

Dogs and cats are the main paw-ed animals that may come to mind. But before we had house cats and dogs, there were generations of wild cats and wolves. The purpose of the paw is largely related to sound and shock absorption. The fatty tissue inside the pads helps animals jump and land without pain or noise, especially helpful for silently hunting prey in the wild while protecting limbs from impact. 

A dog's paw pad

The paw pads are also much rougher when the animal is subject to extreme surfaces day in, day out. This assists with grip in treacherous or slippery conditions, working in a similar way to human shoes. For our domestic pets, the paw pads are often much smoother as conditions are easier underfoot. Some dog breeds still have webbed feet to help them swim, an adaptation that wolves passed on and still benefit from.

While paws are well adapted for walking and jumping around, debris can sometimes get stuck in the paw pads and cause pain. If you spot your pet chewing at their paw or limping and lifting it off the ground, carefully check their paw pad for any stones or splinters that may need removing. If your rabbit or guinea pigs paws look sore it could be a sign that their bedding is too scratchy. 

What can the paw tell us?

Did you know, that some animals use their paw pads to keep cool and release sweat? So damp paw prints could mean your pet needs some help cooling down.

Pet’s paws can sometimes tell us a little bit about how they are feeling, too. For example, cats will knead blankets, beds, pillows and even humans with their paws when they are feeling happy and content. There’s lots of reasons why this may be; it might remind them of nursing from their Mother, they could be trying to create a cosy spot to sleep, or they could be using the scent glands in their paw pads to mark their territory. 

Have you also noticed your cat doesn’t like their paws to be touched? This is because the pads are extremely sensitive to touch, but some cats can be trained to tolerate their paws being touched, often easier if done from a young age, so if your cat does let you touch their paws it could be a sign of trust. 

More info here and here.

This entry was posted in Cats