I’m pretty sure every cat parent out there is obsessed with their cat’s feet!
I mean who wouldn’t be?
Cat feet are simply adorable with their little paw pads that resemble squishy beans. Some cats don’t like it when you touch their paws, but my cats have no issue, so, one day after a few paw massages I realized they both have a strange webbing on each paw.
But why do cats have webbed feet? Most cats big and small have webbed feet and some are more pronounced than others. As in most animals, the webbing on your cat’s feet provides stability for walking on muddy ground and extra help for swimming, as well as capturing food.
If you want to know more about why a kitty that spends the majority of their day snoozing on the sofa needs webbed feet, then all you have to do is keep on reading!
Why Do Cats Have Webbed Feet?
Whether we’re talking about feral cats, our domestic kitties, or their wild big cousins all of them rely on their paws and their exquisite anatomy to survive, and the webbing between their toes also serves a purpose.
Reason 1: To Stalk Prey
Cats are skilled predators that rely on their lithe bodies to stalk, catch and kill their prey. In fact, domestic cats have a hunting success rate of 32%.
So, let’s take a closer look at their paws. Their paw pads, Dr. Barrack, DVM, explains “provide traction and act as shock absorbers for the bones, tendons, and ligaments of the limb.”
Their claws are deadly weapons they use to take a hold of their prey, or bat at it to wound it. Their webbed feet also play an important role, especially in the wild, since they help cats navigate through a wet environment.
The webbing between toes prevents them from sinking into the mud, which is not only helpful when they’re hunting, but also when they’re hunted. This webbing allows them to be stealthier hunters while they’re going after their prey near water sources, may that be a riverbank or puddles.
Reason 2: To Stay Balanced And Agile
Cats are known for their graceful and soundless gait, how they can jump from certain heights and land on their paws. Their webbed feet are also at play since it helps them walk, pounce, and run through the wet and muddy ground without sinking.
This seemingly insignificant webbing gives our kitties if they were free to roam outside, the ability to travel over any terrain, land, or water. Not only this trait is great for hunting, but it also means they can move from one area to another, either to mate, look for more recourses, or avoid a larger predator without the wetland being an obstacle.
Reason 3: To Be Efficient Swimmers
In order to survive cats, need to be able to hunt in different environments, whether it’s the mountains, in the city, or by the water. And if we look at how many cats are around the world, living under different conditions, they did indeed manage to survive!
So, you might see your cat as a laid-back, water-hating fluffball, but just because they don’t like water doesn’t mean they can’t swim. After all, it wouldn’t do an animal any good if they couldn’t.
Just like with other animals, ducks, for instance, this webbing between your cat’s toes helps them push against water and it allows them to propel themselves through it without much effort.
So, cats can absolutely swim if they have to, and just like their big cat cousins domestic cats use their webbed feet to swim more efficiently. For an outside kitty that needs to catch her own food, around areas with water, or run away from predators those webbed feet are essential!
Do All Felines Have Webbed Feet?
Just like all domestic cats have webbed feet so do the cats that are part of the Felis genus, since the Domestic Cat lineage “diverged from a common ancestor in North America about 6.2 million years ago.” as genetic studies have found.
To an extent, you could say that our feline companions are the small versions of their larger cousins. After all, they do share “about 95.6% of its DNA with tigers, from which they diverged on the evolutionary tree about 10.8 million years ago,” according to research.
Tigers are a great example of big cats with webbed feet. The Bengal tigers, for example, live in wet mangrove forests along the Ganges River in India. The Jaguar also do not avoid water, on the contrary, they’re good swimmers thanks to their webbed feet and they get to hunt fish and turtles.
Another adept swimmer that happens to be a hat is the fishing cat. The webbing between the toes makes them pro swimmers, it helps them swim and prevents them from sinking into muddy waters.
Finally, I couldn’t leave out this true cutie, the flat-headed cat of Southeast Asia. According to National Geographic, “the feline has webbed feet, a strangely streamlined head, and it prefers swimming in swampy peat forests.”
Why Domestic Cats Need Webbed Feet?
Similarly, to wild cats, all domestic cats share this evolutionary trait and while it seems strange to imagine our housecats using their webbed feet if they were in the wild, they most definitely would and have more chances of surviving.
So, even though most domestic cats hate water, if there was a great flood and they truly had to swim they could use their webbed feet to save themselves. Whether you want to believe it or not your little furball is a natural-born swimmer!
Do All Cat Breeds Have Webbed Feet?
As mentioned above, all cats have webbed feet, no matter the breed. As crazy as it may sound there are also plenty of cats and certain cat breeds that enjoy swimming. Thanks to the webbing on their feet this is made possible; however, the length of the toes and the amount of webbing isn’t necessarily the same.
Let’s take a look at the Sphynx, the internet is flooded with videos of these unique and hairless beauties enjoying their baths, which is fortunate since Sphynx cats actually need to be bathed quite often! It’s also much easier to spot the webbing on hairless breeds since there’s no fur to cover it.
Another breed that is known for their love of water and swimming is the Bengal Cats. This personality trait could be attributed to the Asian leopard that is famous for their swimming and hunting abilities in the water.
It’s worth mentioning a northern breed, the Maine Coon that also enjoys swimming. Not only do they have webbed paws, but they also have a thick coat that repels water and offers extra insulation. And since we’re on the subject of paws, not only does this breed has webbed feet, but the fun fact is that they carry the gene for extra toes, a condition known as Polydactyly.
You can definitely see this Maine Coon stretching his webbed toes apart as she explores the waters!
Living in Greece I can also confirm that I’ve seen plenty of cats swimming in the Aegean sea!
How To Spot Your Cat’s Webbed Feet?
If you’ve read the article so far and you still have no idea what a cat’s webbed feet are or look like, or perhaps you’re not convinced that webbed feet are a thing then there’s an easy way of spotting them!
It might be a difficult task if your cat doesn’t like it when you touch their paws unless of course, you have a free pass. You can gently take your cat’s paw in your hand and try to gently feel between their toes to see if they’ll tolerate this kind of toe inspection.
If you don’t see a swatting tail, ears pulled back and a generally annoyed expression on your cat’s face then you can spread their toes apart and you’ll feel that your cat’s digits are partly connected to the toes on either side.
It’s important to note that unless your cat has very pronounced webbing, it won’t look anything like a duck’s or frog’s webbing.
For owners that don’t have permission to check their cat’s webbed paws, then you can wait for your cat to wake up and stretch. Most cats will naturally spread their toes apart while stretching, allowing you to catch a glimpse of their webbing.
I usually can see the webbing when my cats sit down to groom their belly with one paw raised above their head, a pose I call “Spock’s greeting.”
Do My Cat’s Webbed Feet Need Special Care?
Cat paws are usually very hardy and resilient, but this doesn’t mean you don’t need to take care of them. Our kitties walk on all kinds of surfaces at home, some might be dirtier than others, and if they’re allowed outdoors then the dangers of getting a cut, or getting some infection are more likely.
That’s why you should check their paws regularly. You could easily make it a part of their overall grooming routine. Look for discoloration, redness, inflammation, cracks, and dryness on their paws, the webbing, and around the nail shaft. Also make sure to wipe their paws with a soft wet cloth around the pads and between the toes, after each walk.
Injuring the webbing between your cat’s toes might be more difficult than the rest of the paw, but it’s also a spot that’s hard to inspect. So, make sure to take your kitty to the vet if you notice them limping, excessively licking, and biting their paws.
If you have a long-haired cat, some veterinarians suggest trimming the hair between your cat’s toes, otherwise, your cat might begin to obsessively lick and pull at the hair and end up hurting the webbing.
Cat paws are a sensitive area that’s why any changes in your cat’s walk, the way their paws look like and anything abnormal about the webbing on their feet should be checked by your kitty’s veterinarian.
The first time I noticed my kitty’s webbed feet, he was kneading his favorite blanket. It was the cutest thing, but it did make me wonder if that was normal and if all cats share this strange trait.
I definitely didn’t expect to find out that cats have webbed feet for swimming, I mean my cats will skin me alive before they let me place them anywhere near water, let alone inside of it!
What about you? Did you know your cat had webbed feet before reading this article? If you did let us know how you found out!