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Anatomy of a Cat

8 min read

Our cats are creatures of mystery, but their anatomy needn’t be an enigma too. At Purina, we’ve put together this guide to cat anatomy so you can understand all that’s going on inside your furry friend.

We spend so much time snuggling and petting our cats and obsessing over their adorable looks, but not many of us actually know what’s going on inside. If you love cats as much as we do, you’ll probably be wanting to find out everything you can about these mysterious creatures, so we’ve put together this guide to cat anatomy to give you a peek into what’s happening inside your four-legged friend.


All about cat anatomy

When we have to take our furballs to the vet, we often nod and smile as they go through various cat anatomy terms, but very few of us will actually stop to ask “where is that located?” or “what’s that responsible for doing?” The internal workings of your cat are rather amazing, keep reading to discover everything from the structure of their ears to the amount of bones in the average cat’s body.


Cat ear anatomy

You’ll all be familiar with the adorable triangle shape of your cats’ ear (also known as the pinna), but did you know this serves a far greater purpose than just appearing cute? The pinna is the part of your cat’s ear anatomy which is responsible for capturing any soundwaves and funnelling them into the ear canal and into the middle ear. According to Pet MD, your cat’s ears have loads of muscles so they can easily manoeuvre them and turn them toward sound, increasing their ability to hear even very quiet sounds.

The middle ear houses their eardrum and ossicles – these are small bones that vibrate with soundwaves which then get sent onto the inner ear. The inner ear is incredibly complex as it contains sensory cells which send electrical signals to the brain. The vestibular system is also located here which is responsible for balance and orientation – hence why your cat may feel off balance if they get an ear infection!


Cat teeth and their different purposes

Adult cats have 30 teeth in total and they serve 3 different purposes: holding food, chewing food and killing prey. Cat teeth are located in the alveolar socket within the jaw and are held in place by ligaments, cementum, soft tissue and bone. You may be surprised to learn that your cat’s teeth are made up of three unique substances: pulp – in the centre of the tooth, this contains cells, nerves and blood vessels; dentine – this covers the pulp; enamel – this is the protection for your cat’s teeth, it covers the crown and prevents teeth from becoming too sensitive.


Different types of cat teeth:

  • Incisors: the small teeth at the front, which are used to hold prey.
  • Canines: the long, sharp teeth used for hunting.
  • Pre molars and molars: these are for chewing and cutting through meat and bone.

Cat’s tongue

If you thought that the tongue would be the most normal part of your cat’s anatomy, you’ll be in for a surprise. Cats tongues are covered in small spines – known as papillae – which resemble tiny hooks. Interestingly, they’re made out of keratin, like human fingernails.

The unique design of papillae means that they’re excellent grooming tools as they allow your cat to easily untangle knots in their coat by licking it. As quoted in a recent National Geographic article these spines enable your cat to transfer a large amount of saliva to their fur, which not only helps to keep the coat clean, but also aids in lowering body temperature.


Cat’s whiskers

Whiskers, also known as vibrissae, are embedded deep into your cat’s body and are connected to both the muscular and nervous systems. This allows them to send sensory information via nerve pathways about their surroundings and to initiate a response if necessary.

Your cat’s whiskers are partly why they have such an amazing sense of feeling and seem to navigate the world with such ease, as they help them to sense vibrations in the atmosphere. Their whiskers aren’t exclusive to their face either, but you’ll also find them on their jaw and the back of their front legs! Want to find out more about your cat’s amazing whiskers? Read our article.


Cat paw anatomy

If you’ve ever wondered why your cat doesn’t like their paws being touched, it’s actually because they’re one of the most sensitive parts of their body. They’re packed full of nerve receptors which enables them to feel vibrations and helps with balance. Additionally, cat paws work as excellent shock absorbers, which is important as our cats are often leaping around and jumping off things.

Looking closely at cat paw anatomy, you’ll see that they have five toes on front and four on the back, with the front inner toes being responsible for grasping. Cats will also sweat from their paws too, which is why you may spot damp cat pawprints on your surfaces if they feel particularly hot.


The importance of claws

The amount of claws your cat has matches up to their number of toes, five at the front and four at the back. The claws curl, so they’re great for catching and holding onto things and also makes cats such amazing climbers. However, the direction their claw curls means that they can’t climb downwards, which is why you may spot your kitty shimmying backwards down a tree!

Contrary to popular belief, cat’s claws don’t completely retract, so you may spot them sticking out a bit. To release the claws, cats contract a tendon in their legs, similar to how we move our toes. Additionally, cats also have a dew claw on their front leg (located slightly higher up) which they use to get a better hold of toys or prey.


Cat have a unique skeletal system

Our cat’s skeletal systems are so unique as they have no collarbone and an incredibly flexible backbone with 30 vertebrae – this is part of the reason why cats always land on their feet!

The average cat has around 250 bones in total which are separated into three subunits:

  • Appendicular: limb bones.
  • Axial skeleton: skull, spine, ribs and sternum.
  • Splanchnic: a bone in the soft organs of the body, unattached to the rest of the skeleton, the only example in the cat is the penis.

Bones may also be referred to by their shape:

  • Long bones: limbs.
  • Short bones: wrist and ankle.
  • Sesamoid: located near freely moving joints.
  • Flat bones: found in the pelvis which attach muscles and long bones and, in the head, which surround and protect the eye, ear, sinus and brain.
  • Irregular bones: vertebral column and all other parts of the skull and parts of the hip bone.


Internal systems (the squishy bits)

Your cats’ internal systems are a crucial part of your cat’s anatomy and each aspect has a very important role to play in keeping your cat healthy.