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How India Became A Land of No History

  • Srija Boora

The Stealth and Chase of Paws

If you are wondering whether this is one of those posts that determine who is the most loving pet - a cat or a dog, you can relax your claws. The real question is how much do you love your dog or cat. If the answer was a roaring yes, can you tell apart a dog’s paw prints from a cat’s in the picture below?

This picture illustrates the difference between the paws of cats and dogs.
Can you tell apart a dog's and a cat's paw?

What observations led you to your answer? Why are cat paws different from that of a dog’s? Having evolved from a common ancestor Miacidae, what factors shaped their paws differently?

Read on to find out.

As seen in the image to the right, dogs have well defined claws in their footprints. But cats do scratch the hell out of furniture right, so why is it absent in the picture?That’s because they tend to hide it inside their furry paws when they are just strolling. In other words, it’s also called a retractable claw.

Animals spend most of their time hunting for food. The difference in their claws can be attributed to their lifestyle. One wants to move around quietly tip-toeing, while other wants to chase ferociously until the prey gives up.

Retractable claws in a cat

Sharp claws allow cats to grip onto it’s prey when hungry and climb up walls and trees when in danger. Their claws require to be sharp and clean at all times, exposing them only when required. Retractable claws allow the cat to extend their claw bones only when they want to catch hold of a prey, exercising their muscle power only for gripping into an animal’s body. And since they are covered most of the time, it doesn’t wear away as easily, and facilitates silent ambush of the purring animal.Felid’s paws grow in the form of layers so that outer blunt layers get peel off by scratching onto things. This brings out the clean and sharp claws underneath. But in dogs, the whole claw grows out as a single piece, just like in us humans.

Since dog claws aren’t retractable, they easily get worn out and become blunt. This very blunt and strong nature of their claw enables them to exert extra thrust when they are in the mood for a hunt. It provides for extra grip. And since they needn’t expend more energy for controlling their claw movements, it makes the retractable feature of claws rather detrimental had it been incorporated. Sharp claws are really disadvantageous to dogs since they can’t run faster when tucked in because they may pierce through their own skin. Extended, they can get stuck in dirt and cause the canine to trip over and fall.

Apart from claws, there are a number of differences that really make each one’s life easier. For instance, in cats, paws have a huge heel pad compared to the toe pad. It can sneak up to a prey and it will never notice until it’s too late. It’s also good to note that their paws are circular in shape, but dogs have an oval and symmetric shape. The symmetric shape lets them balance their bodies at high speeds. Even their toes are bigger compared to their heel, because while running, toes provide much needed thrust which propels it forward.

Dog's paws are designed for agility

As mentioned earlier, both creatures evolved from a single ancestor. So, when did they diverge from each other in their eating habits? Research suggests that it might have occurred due to climate change. Miacids were beasts that would hide behind bushes and trees to take its enemy by surprise. But as Earth’s temperature started to rise rapidly, huge forests gave way to open grasslands. A sub category of Miacids(their common ancestor) started exploring these grasslands, where they could run freely and become the chasing predators. Slowly, the bones adapted to give away the features that were working well in stealth movements, and started developing characteristics that could allow them to run faster. Plus, cat ancestors had to retain their hush and ambush strategy, because running in a forest could mean dashing and hurting oneself.

All this lead me to wonder about what would happen if a cat woke up in a dog’s body? Would it be able to cope up with the new lifestyle? Do their body parts force them into a particular method of procuring food, or has it really been their choice while evolving?

External links and sources:

How climate played a role in the evolution of paws - https://www.oregonlive.com/living/2015/08/smarts_stealth_and_retractable.html

How do I tell the difference between cat and dog tracks - https://www.bear-tracker.com/caninevsfeline.html

Evolutionary history of paws - https://www.petpooskiddoo.com/blog/why-dont-dogs-use-their-claws-and-cats-do/


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