Rabbits do have paws, but they don’t have “paw pads.” The paws of the rabbit are distinct from those of other mammals. They lack the cushy pads that dogs, cats, and other mammals have and instead have dense fur on the underside of their paws.
The word “paw” has multiple meanings and can sometimes be confusing.
To understand the nature of a rabbit’s paws, we must break down some of their characteristics.
What You'll Learn
The Difference Between Paws and Feet
Before we get in too deep talking about paws, what’s the difference between paws and feet?
Paws are considered feet, but not all feet are considered paws. It’s like the “All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.” Paws can be found in many mammals. Cats, dogs, bears, and guinea pigs, for example.
What are Paw Pads?
Paw pads are one of the essential defining traits of a paw. So, what are they?
Paw pads are made of fatty tissue covered in a layer of thick, durable skin. Many animals have them in different forms, and each animal uses them differently.
The paws of cats are developed to aid them in stealth. They can walk a lot quieter because of them. The paws of dogs help them hunt and go down steep slopes without slipping.
Rabbits don’t actually have paw pads. They are one of the few mammals in their type that don’t have paw pads. They just have claws and thick fur to protect their feet.
Do Rabbits Need Foot Protection?
When rabbits constantly have to walk on rough surfaces or have some sort of foot injury, they may need some form of protection.
That protection doesn’t have to come in the form of shoes. It can be provided by changing the surfaces they walk or sleep on.
Typically, rabbits’ paws do not need extra protection. To understand why rabbits can survive without paw pads, we must understand two different types of animal quadruped movement. The two types of walking or running are called plantigrade or digitigrade.
What Kinds of Materials are Safe for Rabbits to Walk On?
As we’ve discussed, rabbits’ feet are unique and have unique needs for the flooring they walk on. Rabbits are also prolific chewers. They’ll chew constantly. It’s important that surfaces like flooring are comfortable for rabbits but also that they’re rabbit-proof.
In a Cage or Hutch
A cage is where a rabbit will typically spend a lot of time if it’s being kept as a pet. In the rabbit’s cage, they should have something they can sleep on, chew on, and is soft.
- Some good options are:
- Timothy Grass or Orchard Grass
- Wood Shavings
- Seagrass Mats
If possible, avoid having a rabbit in a cage walking on wires all the time. This can make them more prone to sore hocks and other foot issues. It’s okay to do for short periods, especially when they aren’t litter trained, but after that, it’s best to make the switch.
Ideally, rabbits will be able to walk on something natural. If they are outdoor rabbits, they should be in a hutch with access to a “run.” A run offers them access to nature and at least a little space to explore. Some ideal surfaces are:
- Smooth paver stones or bricks
A combination of these options can also be suitable. Just ensure they can’t dig out of their enclosures and that potential predators can’t dig into them.
Some rabbit owners may want to have them as indoor pets. If this is the case, the materials for the floors should help them feel comfortable, be easy to clean, and not be tempting for them to chew on.
Because of this, avoid rugs with any kind of tassels. Also, avoid thick textured natural rugs. These will give them too much temptation to chew.
Shorter carpets usually do the trick. Linoleum and wood floors can also work, although some rabbits have a phobia of walking on wood floors. Have some sort of rug for the rabbits to have traction if the floors are too slippery.
Stick with something that is tightly woven and not very thick. This will discourage chewing!
Why are Rabbit’s Paws Different from Other Mammals?
Many movies and cartoons show rabbits with paw pads, but they don’t actually have them. The reasons for this difference are uncertain. What is known is that animals develop their feet in different ways to fulfill different purposes.
As mentioned earlier, rabbits tend to live in environments with less damaging surfaces. Rabbits’ paws developed for speed and they’re built to last. They often require intense running to run away from predators.
We know that cats use their paws for stealth, cushioning a landing, or jumping. Dogs use their paws for hunting and navigating tough terrain. Rabbits don’t need either of these, and a lot of them can be found in meadows or forests where there wouldn’t be as many terrain challenges.
This could be part of the reason that they just have those soft tufts of dense fur in place of paw pads.
Signs a Rabbit’s Paws May Need Medical Attention
Several conditions can affect a rabbit’s feet. One of the more common ones is pododermatitis. It’s also known as “sore hocks.” It’s a condition that affects the back parts of their paws. It’s often caused by repeated exposure to rough surfaces.
It happens when the fur on the bottom of their paws wears down excessively. You will see the patches of fur starting to thin, or rabbits walking with a sort of limp.
If you see these signs, seek medical help and immediately provide extra soft surfaces for your rabbit to walk and lay on.