Categories: Cat Anatomyfur

Cat paw hair

The purpose of hair between the toes of a domestic cat is, I suppose, obvious.  It has to be there to protect the paw pads.  Wild cat species like the sand cat have more than the usual amount of hair between their toes because they’re walking on hot sand.  There is, therefore, no need, strictly speaking, for domestic cats living indoors to have a lot of hair between their toes and it is said that it may get in the way and become a slight problem if the cat is walking on shiny hardwood floors (see below).

In my experience, looking at many thousands of photographs of domestic cats, I hardly ever see noticeable hair between the toes of a random bred cat, even feral cats who live outside where you might think that they need protection for their paw pads.

However, the world-renowned Maine Coon cat is also renowned for hair tufts between the toes! I can prove that in the photographs on this page, which show the longest toe hair tufts I have seen. The photographs come from the Flickr photographer whose username is ~Sage~.

The International Cat Association’s (TICA) Maine Coon breed standard (the standard by which breeders should breed their cats) states: “Feet: Large, rounded and well-tufted”. The standard demands that breeders create cats with lots of fur between the toes. This mirrors the tufted ears of the Maine Coon.

I wonder why this cat association is so insistent upon there being lots of fur on the feet of this cat breed. I’ve decided that it must be because this was, once upon a time, from the 17th to 20th centuries, a farm cat living outdoors in barns. Conditions must have been quite harsh on occasions particularly during winter as this is, after all, the state of Maine. Winters in this state are cold and snowy and are especially severe in the northern areas of Maine.

The main Coon should therefore be quite shaggy in appearance (for TICA – the CFA prefer less shaggy) and that shagginess extends to both the ear tips and the feet.

Is it necessary to trim the hair growth between paw pads on my indoor (only) cat? (Forum visitor)

The answer has to be a firm no in my opinion (but please read on) and I believe that other thoughtful cat guardians would agree. I can’t see the point of it unless there is some particular medical condition which applies as diagnosed by a vet. It might also be foolish to try to do it because there is a danger of damaging the paw pads. Doing anything with a cat’s paws is going to be tricky and to use scissors in that area is going to be dodgy. It is simply not worth the risk. However, as mentioned above, a cat may slip and slide on shiny wooden floors. Trimming the fur allows the paw pads to make contact with the floor providing some friction. It seems that hair between the toes and under the pads makes the foot slip.

One lady on a forum states that she uses clippers with a guard on them to trim the toe fur but her cat is always compliant and stays still.

Another option, if the owner is uncertain, is to employ a veterinarian’s assistant or a professional cat groomer to do the job. Although personally I don’t have a lot of confidence in domestic cat groomers because there have been some recorded accidents at grooming parlours causing injury to both dogs and cats. They are unlicensed, unregulated establishments.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • I always thought my two long haired cats had some Maine Coon in them . This helps to explain the fur between their toes. I had never seen this before. I think it adds to their individual personalities. Thanks for the info.

  • Long tufts of fur between the toes can also provide protection against extreme cold on the ground as well as heat. I daresay there are regions around the world where moggies and ferals need thicker fur on their toes.

    I've had a few longhaired moggies with long tufts of hair between their toes, but nothing as extreme as seen on the Maine Coon. I suspect that the reason the cat fancies insist on such long tufts between the toes is to further distance the Maine Coon from similar looking moggies. As these show cats are indoor-only their tufts are purely decorative and serve no useful purpose to the cat.

    • Absolutely agree with you. The lynx tipped ears are a prominent feature of this breed and this long paw fur is another way, as you say, of distinguishing this cat from the rest.

      • I just hope that the Maine Coon breed standard doesn't suffer any more "refinements". It's a very attractive cat and doesn't need "improving" in any way.

        I would hate to see the MC go down the same route as the Persian and Siamese, who have been over-typed purely to distance themselves from their moggie counterparts.

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