What does digitigrade mean?

The domestic cat, is a digitigrade which means he/she walks on his toes or digits. In the video you can see a digitigrade animal, a serval, walking.  It is quite difficult to see that cats are walking are their toes. Perhaps this is because we are so used to it.



The bones that extend from the paws to the first joint are the feet of the cat. The bones of the feet are the tarsal bones and they are quite long. These connect to the lower leg (the leg below the knee) via the hock. The human equivalent of the hock is the ankle. The hock of the hind legs of the serval in the video are about 9 inches off the ground.

You will see cats rest on their feet when they sit upright and sometimes when eating from a bowl. Dwarf cats are well known for taking up the meerkat position while sitting on their feet. My three legged cat Charlie does this.

The fact that a cat is a digitigrade makes it particularly cruel to declaw a cat as the operation is the removal of the last joint (phalange) of each of the toes. It is a partial amputation of the toe and the cat is meant to walk on his toes. What some do after declawing is walk on their wrists.

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