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Does a Cat Have Scent Glands in Their Paws? Pheromone Communication 101

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By Nicole Cosgrove

close-up of cat paw

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Dr. Luqman Javed

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Scent is an important mode of communication for a cat. Humans have between five and 20 million scent receptors within their noses, while cats have about 67 million to indicate sexual receptivity, mark territory, and interact socially.

Interestingly, one of the ways a cat deposits scents is through their paws. Cats have scent glands in all four of their paws, which release pheromones onto the object they’re scratching.

Understanding a Cat’s Paws

A cat’s paw is an important part of their anatomy. Each paw consists of soft skin, hair, and tissue packed with nerve endings, blood vessels, and fatty tissue.

A cat’s paws have several uses:

Cat Paw Uses
  • Grabbing onto things
  • The muscles in their paws and further up their legs offer cats incredible acrobatic abilities (jumping, pouncing, sprinting)
  • Their paws act as a loofah of sorts when cats self-groom; a cat will often begin grooming by licking their forepaw and wiping their face
  • Digging (important for the litterbox)
  • Cats paws have sweat glands which assist in thermoregulation by allowing them to sweat if they feel hot.
  • Cats have whiskers near their carpal pads on their forepaws. These specialized hairs are used for sensory information and helps your cat navigate their environment.
  • Cats use their paws as a defense mechanism, they will unsheathe their claws and swipe at a perceived threat if necessary
  • Cats also use their paws offensively when they practice hunting by using their claws to latch onto a perceived target or toy.

A cat’s front paws have five digital pads on each toe, a round metacarpal pad in the middle, and a carpal pad further up the leg. Their rear paw pads are similar to their front paw pads, except their hind paws don’t have a carpal pad and have fewer digital pads (four).

Along with all these purposes, cats use their paws and claws for communication and to leave their scent behind. When a cat scratches, they deposit pheromones from small glands—interdigital glands—found between their pads.

Cats will paw at surfaces to leave their scent or scratch, which serves to communicate and maintain their claws. This is often on surfaces that have different scents that cats may want to cover up with their own, such as the smell of humans, the outdoors, or other pets.

close up of cat paw with whiskers on its legs
Image Credit: JumpStory

How Else Do Cats Leave Their Scent Behind?

Cats may paw or scratch at objects to release pheromones, but they also have scent glands in their cheeks or the rest of their bodies. For example, your cat rubbing their face against you may be a sign of affection, but they’re also depositing scents from the cheek area and claiming ownership.

What to Do If Your Cat Is Destructive

Rubbing against objects may be fine, but if your cat starts scratching your furniture or moldings, it could be a problem.

Fortunately, it’s easy to redirect your cat to appropriate scratching. Provide a scratch post or scratch mat to give your cat an outlet for scratching. Many cats enjoy cardboard, but sisal rope or pieces of carpet provide some changes in texture that could be appealing. Professional advice from a cat trainer and your veterinarian are recommended to help rule out underlying causes of aggression and destructive behavior.

Seeing as how useful paws and claws are for cats to live a normal life, the practice of permanently removing your cat’s claws, also known as declawing, is strongly discouraged. The procedure is extremely painful, completely unnecessary, and lowers a cat’s quality of life. A cat’s claws can be trimmed, and most cats will readily use a scratch post to keep their claws manageable.

It’s best to choose a versatile scratching post that has a few different designs and surfaces, so your cat can experiment a bit.

Here at Hepper, we love cardboard as a cat scratcher material. We love it so much that we have designed our very own beautiful, modern-looking, and excitingly functional Hi-Lo Cat Scratcher. Purposefully crafted for feline satisfaction from solid birch plywood with a non-toxic gloss coating, it ensures exceptional sturdiness, making it a long-lasting addition to your home.

grey cat upside down on hepper hi-lo cat scratcher

With three positions, dense B-flute cardboard, and replacement options for even the wildest of scratchers, this scratcher offers style, engagement, and durability in one standout piece. Click here to learn more about our Hepper Hi-Lo Scratcher.


Cats communicate a lot through scents from glands found on their forehead, cheeks, back, tail, and paw pads. When cats paw or scratch, they release pheromones that only other cats can smell, marking territory (and you!) as their own.

Featured Image Credit: patthamapong, Shutterstock

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