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Cat Toe Beans: how to care for the cutest feature of any cat

I confess I have an obsession with certain features of my cats. They are totally irresistible and I know I’m not alone in thinking this.

Named after their appearance, as far as I can ascertain, I cannot get enough of a cat’s toe beans. For those of you not familiar with this term who are now thinking, “What are cat toe beans,” let me explain.

A cat’s toe beans are thick, rubbery pads of fatty tissue covered by a layer of tough skin and are found on the undersides of its paws. Toe beans can also be referred to as toe pads and come in various colors. They can even vary in number. Those adorable toe beans are a very important part of a cat’s anatomy, responsible for several vital functions.

Red tabby Maine Coon kitten toe beans

Cat toe beans: all you need to know

If you want to sound knowledgeable, a cat’s toe beans are officially known as digital pads! This is because they are found on their toes which are referred to as digits.

The reason we refer to a cat’s digital pads as toe beans is simply because they resemble little beans. We will never know who first coined this phrase but it has stuck ever since.

When you look at the underside of a cat’s paw, you’ll actually find other soft pads as well as its toe beans:

  • digital pads (aka toe beans)
  • a metacarpal pad (front paw)
  • a metatarsal pad (rear paw)
  • a dewclaw (front paw)
  • a carpal pad (front paw)

As you can see, the front paws have more pads than the rear. Here’s a labeled diagram of a cat’s paw pads to help you distinguish each part.

Diagram of the features of a cat's paws

A description of cat toe beans

Unlike most parts of a cat, its toe beans are totally free of hair. Any fur in the toe bean area sprouts from between a cat’s toes.

If a cat has a single-colored coat, its toe beans are usually the same color as its nose leather. If a cat has a bi-colored or multicolored coat, it might have different colored beans.

On a kitten or indoor cat, toe beans have a smooth soft surface. If a cat roams outside, the surface of its toe beans can become rougher.

The functions of a cat’s toe beans

These squishy digital pads serve several important functions for a cat.

A cat’s toe beans are packed with nerve receptors and are one of the most sensitive areas of its body. For this reason, they are often not keen on having them touched.

This concentration of nerves enables a cat to feel vibrations and also aids with balance.

When a cat leaps, its toe beans provide crucial shock absorption to protect the bones in its paws and allow a safe landing.

Cats are digitigrades which means they walk on their toes and the balls of their paws. Each toe bean provides a soft cushion to aid with walking.

More importantly, they allow a cat to move in silence when it is stalking prey. Once a cat has caught its prey, its paw pads can help it to evaluate it.

Another crucial ability of toe beans is to sense hot, cold, and sharp surfaces, preventing a cat from suffering any injury or risks that these conditions might pose.

Toe beans also house a cat’s claws which can be extended or retracted as necessary. If you apply gentle pressure to a toe bean and the top of the toe, a cat’s claw will be revealed. This is a good way to enable clipping if necessary.

Finally, between a cat’s toe beans are scent glands and sweat glands. When a cat scratches at things, its scent is released to mark its territory.

If a cat overheats, sweat is released, and when it walks you may notice a trail of little sweaty paw prints!

grey tabby cat displaying black toe beans

The number of toe beans on a cat

A regular cat has 18 toes and toe beans: five on each front paw and four on each rear paw. However, a particular type of cat can have more than 18 toes.

Polydactyl cats have extra toes and the number can vary. Polydactyl is a term applied to cats who for genetic regions are born with more than the standard number of toes.

Every extra toe has an accompanying squishy toe bean.

Toe bean care

Cats love to lick their paws and you can help to ensure they don’t ingest anything unsavory or even dangerous by keeping them clean.

By far the best way to do this is with a cloth and warm water. Don’t forget to clean in between your cat’s toes too! This is always recommended before you go in for a kiss!

Inspect your cat’s to beans regularly for cracks cuts, scratches, splinters, and inflammation. If you are unable to resolve any problems you find, it’s time to visit a vet.

Grey cat paw with pink toe beans

In the cold months, especially if your cat has access to surfaces coated with winter salt, it’s important to remove any residue from their paw pads each time they’ve been outside. Licking salt can make a cat ill.

Acat’s paw pads are sensitive to hot and cold temperatures and can become dry and cracked in winter or summer. Moisturizing a cat’s paws will help to protect them from drying out.

Petroleum jelly or olive oil are safe moisturizers. Don’t use anything that contains essential oils or any sort of medication. If in doubt, ask your vet for a safe moisturizer recommendation.

Musher’s Secret offers excellent toe bean protection and is made from 100% natural waxes. It’s conveniently available on Amazon and you can see more details by following this link.

Occasionally, you might notice a cat’s paw pads change color. Though the most common reason is because of an injury it can signify something more serious such as anemia, vitiligo, or pododermatitis.

If you are ever unsure of the reason for a color change, take your cat to the vet for a check-up.

Cat toe beans: the conclusion

There’s no doubt in my mind, toe beans are one of the cutest parts of a cat’s anatomy. As well as being gorgeous, they serve a very important function for a cat and will benefit from extra care on your part.

Keep an eye on its toe bean condition to keep your cat happy and active.