6 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Cat’s Paw Pads

Whether playing indoors or roaming outside, paw pads are a cat’s best-kept secret.

Apr 3, 2023By Abigail Gould
things to know about your cats paw pads

They’re soft. They’re little. They look like everything good and wholesome in the world. We know them as ‘toebeans’. And we think they are adorable (even without the internet telling us)!

Is there anything as delightful as kitty paws and the pads underneath them? We think not! And it’s not just being gorgeous that makes your cat’s paw pads so unique! There’s more to them than you might think.

6) Walking On Tiptoe

cat walking along wall

The scientific term for toes is digits. Cats are digitigrade animals. This means that they go around on their toes like little ballerinas. Only the front portion of the metatarsal (foot) supports their weight, touching the ground as they walk and run.

So, putting all this vocab together, cats have four digital pads and a metacarpal or metatarsal pad on each paw. The forelegs also have a carpal pad—a small auxiliary digit that helps with extra traction during landing or running downhill.

Being anatomically tiptoed means more of the foot is available for leverage and strength—perfect for running, jumping, and tackling prey!

Since cats' movements are fast and impact-intensive, their bones and joints need protection. And that is precisely what paw pads do. In other words, paw pads are part of the reason cats are so quiet, so fast, and so good at leaping!

Fun Fact: Is your cat right or left-pawed? Recent scientific studies have proven that cats spontaneously display paw preference.

5) Paw Pad Sensitivity

cat digital pads

Cats’ paw pads are designed for sensitivity, which allows them to respond to tactile information in the environment. The pads are bald, having no fur to obscure their contact with the world. They are also filled with a high concentration of nerve endings and blood vessels.

For example, if your cat wants to walk across an unfamiliar surface, she will be able to feel its texture, temperature, and even vibrations. Such important details as these will let them know whether it's safe enough to walk across.

Plus, having sensitive paw pads helps with balance and accuracy when jumping, leaping, and landing. It makes them ideal for grooming too!

4) Sweat Glands

grey cat resting in shade

When it comes to temperature regulation, cats are very good at keeping themselves comfortable. Their methods for staying cool include sleeping through the day’s heat and covering their fur in a layer of moisture by grooming themselves.

Your cat's body will start generating sweat through his paw pads when feeling nervous. So sweating in cats is more of a stress response than a way to cope with a hot day.

Additionally, cats have more blood circulation in their paw pads than humans do in their feet, so they can walk barefoot across colder and hotter surfaces than we can. However, their paw pads are still susceptible to frostbite, burns, and blistering.

Fun Fact: Panting in cats is seldom seen. It’s mostly a warning sign that something else is wrong. So if you notice your cat panting, don’t dismiss it as normal behavior!

3) Paw Pad Colors

calico cat paw pad coloration

Have you ever wondered why cats have different colored paw pads?

The pigments that color the fur do the same on the skin underneath it. So, if Sparkles is calico, she will probably have pink paw pads with patches of black and orange. Her paw pads will match the rest of her coat. Generally speaking, a black cat will have black paw pads, a white cat will have pink ones, a grey cat will have grey ones… and so on.

Paw pads come in the same colors as the rest of the cat.

2) Scent Glands

tortoise shell cat climbing tree

Did you know that one of the ways cats communicate with each other is through their paw pads?

Every time a cat scratches or kneads, tiny glands between each of the digital pads secrete pheromones. So, as a cat claws their way through your house and garden, they leave interesting chemical messages behind on all their favorite surfaces.

Cat communication is all about smell. That's why cats will always release a little of their scent throughout their territory and sniff the markings of other cats.

1) Soft but Tough

cat jumping off fence

A cat's paw pads must be soft enough for grooming, sensitive enough to identify surfaces, and yet tough enough to function as weight bearers and impact absorbers.

As we know, cats prowl and pounce a lot. Low kitty body weight combined with strong legs result in impressive jumping abilities, further enhanced by soft landings—all thanks to their paw pads!

By absorbing shock and sound, paw pads make it possible for cats to perform stunts that don’t hurt or make a noise.

cat grooming with paw

Paw pads have three basic layers. First, there is the soft outer skin (epidermis) with a layer of thick tissue (dermis) underneath that. Then, there is the all-important spongey layer made of fat and collagen fibers, giving the pad its softness. When Sparkles leaps off the top of the refrigerator, this fatty tissue cushions her landing.

When paw pads are used for walking exclusively on plush carpeting and indoor furniture, they become even more soft and sensitive. Conversely, if they are used for climbing trees, darting over rocks, and lounging on driveways, they develop a little extra toughness to accommodate that type of roaming.

Regardless of what the scientists tell us, if you’ve been referring to your cat’s digital pads as ‘toebeans’ this entire time, don’t change a thing! You’re quite correct, and your cat thinks so too!

Abigail Gould
By Abigail Gould

Abigail’s experience with animals comes from growing up on a farm. She has been fortunate enough to look after cats, dogs, ducks, geese, chickens, and guinea pigs. Of all the pets she’s cared for, guinea pigs have been the most entertaining, dogs the most rewarding, and cats the most essential!