Dogs walk on four paws. Cats walk on four adorable paws. But the similarities between a dog and cat paw print pretty much end there. Some simple anatomical differences account for the difference in a cat paw print vs dog paw print, and once you know what to look for you'll be an expert in distinguishing which is which.
What is canine and feline?
Canine is a word meaning related to dogs or dog-like. Any animal in the family of domestic dogs and wolves are canines, according to Live Science. Coyotes, foxes, and jackals are dog-like animals that are also canines. Their paws are all similar, but are of different sizes.
Feline is a word meaning cat-like or related to cats. Brittanica explains that the feline family includes house cats, lions, tigers, and related animals such as leopards, cheetahs, and cougars. Because cats in this family are closely related, house cat tracks will look very similar to a cougar paw print, except that a cougar print will be much bigger.
Dog versus cat print?
The biggest difference between a cat paw print and a dog paw print is that cat claws are retractable, and dog claws are not. Cats have had retractable claws ever since their earliest cat ancestor lived about 20 to 25 million years ago. A cat footprint will rarely show a claw mark. A dog, on the other hand, cannot retract its claws, so a dog footprint will almost always show a claw mark.
House cat tracks
The Green Belly website says that house cat tracks show four toes on each of the front feet and four toes on each of the hind feet. House cat tracks are easy to tell from their wild cat counterparts because of the size. The house cat footprint is only about 1 to 1 1/2 inches, and is generally round in shape.
Dog and coyote tracks
It's easy to tell that a print is that of a canine, but it's harder to tell which type of canine the print is from. The tracks of a wolf are among the largest, showing up at about 4 inches. The fox shows the smallest prints at 2 to 3 inches. Coyotes are smaller than wolves, but their tracks often are hard to tell from a domestic dog. Coyote paw prints are about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches.
The dog print, however, can vary a lot based on the size and type of the dog. Green Belly says that the way the animals walk may be what you need to look at to be able to tell the difference.
Wild animals like wolves and coyotes are trying to conserve energy and are therefore walking with purpose in a straight line. Domestic dogs are likely to move around more, and their tracks may zigzag. The site also points out that coyote tracks can be narrower than a domestic dog's tracks, and wild canines often have sharper nail marks.
Cougar paw print
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources website explains that a cat paw print will have two lobes on the front of the heel pad, whereas the rear of the heel pad will have three lobes. Feline tracks have more of a circular shape, in which the length and width are roughly even. Canine tracks tend to be more rectangular.
A cougar paw print is about 4 inches wide and 3 1/2 inches tall. A bobcat paw print is much smaller, at roughly half the size of a cougar paw print.
You can look at pictures of cat paw prints and dog prints and learn to distinguish between them. But if you can, try to go outside where there is soft sand, mud, or snow and try to look for places where domestic dogs and house cats may be going outside. After seeing some real-life examples, you'll quickly be able to see the differences.