- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
It seems these days the Universe is obsessed with cat toe beans. And for good reason! Cat toe beans are among the cutest parts of cats–along with cat noses, cat eyes, cat ears, cat whiskers, cat pantalones, cat tails, and…well, pretty much every single inch of the entire fabulous feline species.
But what are those cute little toe beans actually for? Are they just there to make us humans smile with delight or do they serve a purpose? Because pretty much everything about cats serves some kind of incredible purpose, let’s look into it.
What Are Cat Toe Beans?
First off, toe beans are basically cat paw pads and the “official” term for them is digital pads; the digits being a cat’s toes. Cats have four toe beans on each foot though they have five toes on their front feet, two of these being the dew claws. That makes for 18 toes unless your cat is polydactyl. Polydactyl cats, also known as Hemingway cats, have extra toes and therefore also have extra beans.
Digital pads are basically padding for cats’ feet but they also serve special and amazing purposes, such as being where cats sweat from. So, not only are toe beans cute, they are also super useful! Here are some other amazing cat toe bean facts.
Cat toe beans help absorb impacts during falls
Cats are famous for their superpower-like abilities to fly through the air and still (mostly) land on their feet. Their skeletal systems are uniquely adapted to absorbing the impacts of such landings but their toe beans and paw pads also play special roles, acting as shock absorbers of sorts. While the toe beans can help a kitty slow to a stop or control their momentum when jumping off something high, such as your counters, the larger paw pads (called the metacarpal pad on a front paw and the metatarsal pad on the back) protects their bones from harder impacts.
Cats sweat through them
Like dogs, cats don’t have pores to sweat through so must regulate their body temperatures in other ways. This is done mostly through panting, which you might see in a kitty who has been chasing a toy with abandon and gets a little over heated, but is also done through those toe beans and paw pads. The pads on their feet have sweat glands that help them to release extra heat. Because they are so small they aren’t super effective, which is why cats when hot will seek out a shady spot, sprawl out on a cool surface, or engage in frequent grooming sessions to help cool off.
Toe beans are related to fur color
The melanin (pigment) in a cat’s skin determines what color their coats are but also colors those juicy little toe beans. White cats have no melanin so their toe beans are pink while black cats have plenty of melanin and therefore have black beans. Many cats’ toe beans tend to be the same color as their noses. Here’s a handy bean color chart.
|Fur Color/Breed||Toe Bean Color|
|Tabby||Grey & dark pink/red|
|Some Purebred Breeds||Same color as nose|
|No Fur||Usually the same color or mix of colors as their skin pigment|
Toe beans have scent glands for marking territory
Another cat superpower is the ability to sniff things out but also leave scent behind. Cats have well-known scent glands on their heads with which they use to mark their territories, their people, and anything else they like. Toe beans also have strategically placed scent glands cats use to mark what’s theirs. While most see making dough or biscuits as signs of a content cat, this action also activates those toe bean scent glands so a cat can mark places that make them happy.
Cat toe beans are useful when trimming your cat’s nails
Anyone who has played with a toe bean also knows it’s like a little button. You push it and out pops a nail. This is great for trimming a kitty’s nails as it safely exposes the whole nail. When you’re done with your trimming and stop pushing the bean, the nail disappears back into its place where it is further protected by its soft little bean pad.
Toe beans are highly sensitive
People often wonder if it’s OK to touch cat toe beans and the answer is yes–but with some caveats. Toe beans and paw pads are extremely sensitive and contain numerous nerve endings that help a cat literally feel her way around in the world. Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, Veterinary Medical Advisor for Rover.com and Chief Veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital, shares the following information for those wondering about bean touching. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with touching your cat’s paws (if they will let you!) and in fact, teaching your kitty to let you gently handle their feet often comes in handy for owners who like to do at-home nail trims.”
Dr. Greenstein also adds, “As I’m sure most cat parents know, there is a huge amount of individual variation on what your particular cat likes and dislikes. Gently touching their paws and paw pads and assessing their response will give you a sense of whether they are receptive to being handled there.”
If your kitty doesn’t like having their toe beans handled, Dr. Greenstein points out that “it’s important with any animal to read their body language and other cues and respect their boundaries. If your cat is really resisting being touched in a particular area (assuming there are no signs that there could be any injuries or lesions to explain why there are guarding the paw), then let it go. Always go slow and maintain their trust in you with positive
A cat’s toe beans can get dry/injured
While cats generally do a great job at caring for their foot pads, in some instances they may need a little bit of help from you. Dr. Greenstein notes that “cats are excellent self-groomers but it’s always worth a sneak peek at their little footsies once in a while to make sure they are smooth and free of any cuts, scrapes, cracks, or unusual growths.”
One example is if something gets stuck or embedded in the crevices that surround their pads. If your kitty is limping or seems to be favoring a foot, gently examine the paw pad. There may be something there such as a small pebble or sticker that you can easily remove with a pair of tweezers. If you can’t find anything and your cat continues to display behaviors that indicate something’s up, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
Sometimes toe beans and paw pads can get dry and cracked–especially if you live in a warm climate with little humidity or a really cold climate. In such cases you’ll want to chat with your vet about what’s causing the dryness and/or cracking and they can recommend how best to get your cat healed up. Many times, you can rub olive or coconut oil into the pads to give your kitty some relief but be sure your vet approves the product first. Essential oils, petroleum jelly, and other ingredients common to moisturizers made for humans can be deadly to cats.
Sometimes cats have six or more toe beans
Cats have lots of beans, four each on both the front and back feet. Some cats have bigger bean pots, though, because they have extra toes! Known as polydactyl cats, these are just regular kitties who have a genetic anomaly that makes for extra toes. Polydactyl cats may seem rare but they are actually quite common–it just depends where you are looking. Polydactyl cats are more common in certain areas simply because that’s where cats with the genes live; these areas tend to be near transatlantic ports as that’s how cats made their way around in days past.
Watch out for “pillow foot” or pododermatitis
Though it is an uncommon medical condition, “pillow foot” or plasma cell pododermatitis, can happen to some kitties. This condition is caused by an overactive immune system response which sends plasma cells to the foot causing it to appear puffy. No one really knows why it happens, and different cats react differently to it, so it’s as baffling as autoimmune issues in humans. If your kitty has one or more “puffy” paws, don’t fret. The condition is treatable and your vet can help you and your cat get back on good footing.
There are so many wonderful and amazing things about cats and, as we’ve found, this includes toe beans. These amazing little pads are a lot more than just cute and soft–they have many important and practical applications. If you want to be sure your cat’s toe beans stay in great shape, go ahead and get your kitty used to having them handled.
If your kitty is not toe bean-touching averse, you can help them with their regular grooming by gently wiping dirty beans with a soft, warm cloth. Paying this much attention to your cat’s feet will also make trimming caws easier, and this is great for your kitty–as well as your clothes, furniture, and carpets.