Cats walk on their toes. They are digitigrades as are dogs. Cats ‘directly register’. This means that they place each hind paw almost directly into the print of the corresponding forepaw. This minimises visible tracks and noise apparently.
The picture below by me, shows how our hands would operate if they were the forepaws of a domestic cat i.e. it shows how cats walk on their toes.
When walking, the hind and forelegs of each side of the cat moved together in parallel. This is called a pacing gait. Giraffes and camels have the same gait.
Almost all of the cat’s forward movement is generated by the hind legs. The forelegs act like a break when they impact the ground. The forelegs do provide some forward movement but it is somewhat negated by this breaking effect.
When a cat trots the gait changes to what is called contralateral movement – a “diagonal” gait. The right foreleg moves forward together with the left hind leg and vice versa.
When galloping the body is propelled forward by the power of both the hind legs pushing off at the same time.
I remember filming a serval in an enclosure in Oklahoma and although this cat walked like a domestic cat the hind and forelegs were not synchronised in quite the same way that you see for a domestic cat. This may be to do with the uniquely long legs of this wild cat species.
P.S. Because cats walk on their toes it is a major reason why declawing is so cruel.
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