Do Cats Have Opposable Thumbs? (How Cats Grip Things)

Do Cats Have Opposable Thumbs

Cats do not have opposable thumbs, no. Cats have five toes or digits on their front paws, and four on their hind paws. None of their digits are thumbs, and they do not use any of their digits as thumbs.

Opposable thumbs are a characteristic of primates and have been instrumental in our evolution and developing the dexterity we needed to create and use tools.

Cats are perfectly able to survive without opposable thumbs. In fact, they’re perfectly designed just the way they are right!

That said, here is a closer look at how important opposable thumbs are to us – and just why cats don’t have or need them.

What Are Opposable Thumbs?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have opposable thumbs, and the fact that humans have them has been instrumental in our development.

So much of modern life revolves around being able to use our thumbs. From typing and swiping on our smartphones to holding and using tools – it’s made possible by our thumbs.

Our hands are quite unique compared to other mammals and animals. Our thumbs are longer, compared to finger length, than any other primate thumb.

This is what enables us to grab, grasp, and manipulate objects of all shapes and sizes.

Our thumbs enable us to grab things with strength and a good degree of control. It’s what separates us from other animals, cats included.

Related How cats use their paws to drink.

Do Cats Have Thumbs?

If you look at a cat, you can see it doesn’t have hands. Cats have four legs and four paws, which are more like feet than they are hands.

Cats do have an extra digit or toe on the inside of their front paws over their hind paws. You may think this is a thumb, but it’s not classified as one.

Interestingly, this extra toe does have one fewer bone, just as our thumbs do. They’ve evolved not to use it, however, so it’s not called a thumb.

Why Cats Don’t Need Opposable Thumbs

Opposable thumbs are important to use and are the reason why we’ve been able to master so many tools and do so many things.

Evolution is the gradual development of life forms, and it has a way of helping each animal, mammal, and so on develop according to what helps it survive.

Cats – and other animals – that do not have opposable thumbs simply do not need them.

Sure, there is an argument that any animal that had the ability to grip and use things with a fully functioning thumb might be better off, but you can’t look at it like this.

Cats have evolved to have four legs and walk on their tiptoes. This enables them to be incredibly agile and fast, which is perfect for hunting in the wild.

They don’t need to drip tools to find food as primates did. They have sharp teeth and can easily pick apart food to eat.

That said, it’s quite amusing when a cat does try and pick something up with its front paws.

I’m sure you’ve seen it on occasion when playing or eating. They kind of paw at things and never really get a good grip.

Sometimes their claws will get caught on something and pick it up, which works. But cats are very clearly not able to use their digits to grip objects.

RelatedHow many legs do cats have?

So, How Do Cats Grip Things?

Cats don’t grip things, at least not by using the strength in their toes to hold onto anything. They are able to grip by digging their claws in stuff, though.

This works out better than being able to grasp things in most instances, as having sharp claws enable cats to scale fences and other surfaces.

Cats use their claws to climb trees, fences, whatever is required to escape a dangerous situation or chase down prey.

The fascinating thing about cats’ claws is that they’re retractable. If you take a look at a cat’s paw when they’re sleeping or relaxing, you’ll probably just see soft paw pads.

This is because they’re able to retract their claws when they’re not needed. This allows them to move around quickly – and they can extend their claws when they need them.

What Are Polydactyl Cats?

You may have heard of the word polydactyl used when describing cats before. Polydactyly is a condition that means a cat has more than the normal number of toes.

This genetic abnormality is not that uncommon and it’s nothing to worry about. So, if you’ve just rushed off and counted your cat’s toes and realized they don’t add up to 18 – don’t panic.

The most common form of polydactyly results in a cat having an extra toe stuffed into its front paws.

It’s often hard to even notice at first. Although, once you know a cat has an extra toe it’s hard not to notice!

It’s a cute little trait more so than weird. It’s even believed to be good luck in some parts of the world.

In Summary

Cats may not have opposable thumbs, but as I’ve explained in this article, they really don’t need thumbs and do just fine without them.

We rely on our opposable thumbs, and we can credit much of our progression to having good dexterity with our hands and thumbs.

Cats have evolved to be incredibly effective at doing what they do best – and it doesn’t involve needing thumbs, that much we know.


Image credits – Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

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