What Is the Difference Between a Dog & Cat Paw Print?

When spotting tracks in the sand or snow, you may be wondering what type of track it is and whether it is a canine or feline paw print. There are some easy ways to differentiate between the two. Knowing the anatomy and shape of canine and feline paws will help determine whether you are following a dog or a cat.

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A canine's paw print is distinct from a feline's.

Feline Paw Anatomy

Feline front paws have a total of seven pads. There are five digital pads, one large plantar pad (heel pad) and one small wrist pad. Feline back paws have a total of five pads. There are four digital pads and one large plantar pad (heel pad). Typically felines have five nails on the front paws, one each to the digital pad. Due to a genetic disorder, some felines may have up to seven nails. Felines have four nails on the back paws, one to each digital pad.

Canine Paw Anatomy

Canine front paws have a total of six pads. There are four digital pads, one large metacarpal pad (heel pad) and one carpal pad. Canine back paws have five pads. There are four digital pads and one large metacarpal pad (heel pad). Canines have five nails on the front paws, one each to the digital pad. Canines have four nails on the back paws, one each to the digital pad. Sometimes canines have a fifth nail higher up on the paw called the dew claw and in many instances this is removed when young.

Feline Paw Shape

The shape of a paw is identified by the shape of the pads as well as the placement of the pads. The overall feline paw is a circular shape and the digital pads are teardrop shaped. The feline plantar pad has three lobes on the hind end that are aligned with one another and two lobes on the front end. The most notable difference is the placement of the front two toes (or pads). In felines they are not close together; one pad print is higher than the other.

Canine Paw Shape

The canine paw is more oval and the canine digital pads are triangular. The canine metacarpal pad has two lobes on the hind end with one lobe on the front end. With regard to the placement of the front two toes, the canine’s toes are aligned and close together.

Paw Prints

While both the feline and canine have four toes on both the front and back feet, the main difference is shown by the inclusion and exclusion of claws in the prints. A canine paw print will always have claw marks whereas the feline paw print will not show any signs of claws because of the ability to retract them. If the cat is running, then the claws may be visible.

Front tracks are larger than hind tracks in both felines and canines. Since feline paws have a toe (pad) that is ahead of the other, this enables you to determine whether it is the front left or front right paw. If the toe that is furthest ahead is on the right, this is the left paw. If the toe that is furthest ahead is on the left, this is the right paw. Canine prints do not have this distinction due to the front two toes being aligned.