A dog or cat’s paws are very important. Not just for running around and playing, but they help them protect themselves from the surfaces they’re on, balance, and navigate the world around them.

Paws in dogs and cats may be more or less rough depending on their lifestyle. Dogs who are out and about and walk around outside will have rougher paws than those who are only exposed to soft surfaces.1

The shape of certain dogs’ paws helps them with their daily activities. For example, dogs who have webbing between their toes are often those who were bred for hunting or swimming, while dogs who have what are called hare feet (two longer central toes) were usually bred for speed, like greyhounds. A third foot shape is called cat foot, and this is a smaller, rounded foot shape that a lot of working breeds have.2

Paws are vital because they absorb the shock of running, jumping, and walking. This relieves the pressure put on their joints and bones. They also help regulate a dog’s temperature. A study found that dogs have arteries close to their footpads, which allows blood flowing through the paw and back into the body to be warmed as it does so. This keeps them at a stable temperature. The fat tissue in the paws also helps keep the paws from freezing. Meanwhile, the inner layer of the paw has sweat glands, which release sweat when it’s hot out and allows the dog to cool off.2

This is a different trait than what wolves have on their paws. While wolves can regulate the temperature of their paws and keep them above freezing when they’re in cold temperatures, they don’t have the sweat glands that dogs do on their paws to help cool them in warmer weather.3

Wolf paws have some webbing between the toes, which allows them to move more easily over snowy terrain. They also put most of their weight on their toes. This helps distribute their weight more evenly over their feet. Their claws and fur on their feet help give them traction on slippery surfaces, too.3

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