Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Living under the cat’s paw? Here are a few pawsome facts you might not know about that fascinating bit of feline anatomy

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Our cats’ paws tap us gently on the face to wake us. They touch the ground silently as cats stalk their prey. They sheathe lethal blades of death -- for mice, anyway.

Beautiful, soft and deadly, paws are an integral part of felinity. Here’s how they work.

A paw is gloved in thin, pigmented skin. This well-designed, soft-yet-tough covering overlays an impressive supply of blood vessels, nerve endings, fatty tissue and connective tissue, which all work together to provide shock absorption, balance, cushioning, insulation and tactile information about surfaces and prey. Their sensitivity also makes them valuable in detecting vibrations of approaching or fleeing animals.

Each paw has at least four small digital pads, often nicknamed “toe beans” for their appearance. The digital pads and the larger metacarpal (foreleg) and metatarsal (hind leg) pads help support the cat’s weight. Cats also have a carpal pad on the backside of each front leg. It doesn’t contribute to weight-bearing, but it does help to provide traction if a cat jumps down, skids to a stop or is moving downhill.

Because cats have greater circulation in their paws than humans do in their feet, they can withstand lower temperatures -- and even snow on the ground -- without booting up. They can, however, suffer frostbite from prolonged exposure to bitter cold.

If you’ve ever looked closely at your cat’s paw pads, you’ve probably noticed that they are a particular color, usually black, pink, lavender or spotted. They can even be different colors. Paw pad color is usually related to the color or pattern of a cat’s coat. For instance, in the ocicat breed, chocolate-colored cats have chocolate-pink paw pads, fawn cats have pink pads and blue cats have blue (gray) pads.

At least two studies have shown that cats have paw preferences when it comes to stepping over an object, going down steps or which side they prefer to nap on. Interestingly, males tend to prefer using their left paw for these actions; females prefer the right paw.

Cats use their paws for grooming and for drinking water. A classic image is of a cat licking her paw and then using it to wash her head, ears and face. You may also have seen your cat holding her paw beneath a dripping faucet or dipping it into her water bowl and then licking water from it.

Paws are communication devices as well. They are loaded with scent glands, which release pheromones that deliver chemical messages when the cat scratches objects.

Paws also tell us how a cat is feeling. If you notice that your cat is leaving damp paw prints on surfaces, it might be a signal that she’s feeling nervous.

“I have seen the presence of a wet paw print left by patients who are nervous during a veterinary exam,” says Julie Reck, DVM, a Fear Free Certified veterinarian and owner of Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill in South Carolina. “Paw pads are one of the only places that have sweat glands in the cat’s body. They are designed to provide a cooling mechanism through evaporation during hot external temperatures, but when cats are scared or nervous, cortisol and adrenaline flood through the bloodstream. Those hormones inadvertently activate the sweating mechanism that was designed to provide thermal regulation to the body.”

Another characteristic of paws is that they have claws. In the case of cats, the claws are protractible, meaning that the cat can extend them at will. (The exception is cheetahs, with semi-retractable claws that act like cleats, providing traction for the speedy cats.) When the cat is at rest, the tiny but sharp sabers are too, cloaked by protective skin folds and fur. Keeping claws sheathed until needed prevents wear from striking the ground and allows cats to move silently on those soft paws.


Housetraining hints

for older puppies

Q: We got a Shih Tzu puppy during the winter. It was really cold, so we potty trained her on pee pads. She is now 11 months old. Is there any way she will figure out that she needs to go outside to go potty?

A: You can definitely teach her that outside is the place to go, but it will take some time, training and scheduling.

Start as if she were still a puppy (and she is, mentally, even if she looks full-grown). As soon as she wakes up in the morning, pick her up and take her outside to potty so she doesn’t have the opportunity to use the pee pad. Stay with her and praise her immediately after she pees or poops. If you have a clicker, click immediately after she is done going potty, and give a treat.

Do the same thing immediately after each meal, after she wakes up from a nap or after you’ve been playing with her. If you know when she typically likes to use the pee pad, set a timer so you can take her outdoors just before she would normally use it.

Gradually move the potty pad closer to the door outside. Eventually phase out the potty pad altogether.

Tether her to you with a leash when you’re at home so you can notice instantly if she gets up and starts to move around. Restlessness can be a signal that she needs to go out.

She will probably start to develop ways to tell you that she needs to go out. These could include going to or looking at the door or stairs, whining or pawing at you. Each dog has different behaviors, so watch carefully until you know what hers are. You can read more about housetraining at -- Mikkel Becker

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Don’t toss floss

in cat’s reach

-- You probably know to keep things like yarn, string and ribbon out of your cat’s reach, but don’t forget about other stringlike items, such as dental floss. After you’ve flossed, place it into a trashcan with a lid so your cat can’t steal it to floss his fangs. If he swallows it, floss can cause an intestinal blockage, a life-threatening emergency that requires surgical repair. Floss can pass through intact. If you notice it hanging out of your cat’s rear, don’t try to pull it out; you could injure him. Let it pass on its own, and take the cat to the veterinarian if you see signs such as vomiting, appetite loss, straining to defecate, depression or acting as if the abdomen is painful.

-- Pets with hair loss (known as alopecia) may be experiencing a hormonal imbalance, an infection or an allergic reaction. Take them to the veterinarian as soon as you notice unusual hair loss or itchiness. If there’s no obvious cause -- such as parasites -- skin scrapings and bloodwork may be helpful in pinning down a diagnosis. Signs of abnormal hair loss include bald spots, hair loss in a single area or hair loss on both sides of the body.

-- Lovebirds are small parrots popular for their inquisitive, affectionate and lively nature as well as a long lifespan of 10 to 20 years. Nine different species are found in the wild -- Africa and Madagascar -- but the ones primarily available as companion birds are peach-faced, masked and Fischer’s lovebirds. True to their name, they are social and cuddly and do best with at least one other avian friend, although they can also bond with humans. Beware: Lovebirds chatter pleasantly but can also have a loud screech that may not make them suited to apartments with thin walls. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.