I recently got my cat X-rayed due to a broken leg.

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When looking at the X-ray images, I noticed that the cat seems to have more leg bones than I would have thought.

From the bottom/left, equating the bone segments to human bones:

  1. Thigh bone
  2. Shin
  3. Foot?
  4. Toes

I imagine that cats have roughly the same number & types of leg bones that humans have -- just shaped differently.

This makes me wonder, do cats walk on their tiptoes, and their foot bone is actually quite long (resembles a leg bone)?

  • If you think about it , they are always planking
    – ck1987pd
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 6:52
  • What are those bright white artifacts in the x-ray images? Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 23:05
  • 1
    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket Good question. None of the vets I’ve talked to have any idea. I also don’t know how the leg was broken in the first place (outdoor cat). Hopefully the surgeon will be able to determine what they are during the upcoming surgery.
    – User1974
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 10:23
  • 4
    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket The white spots are metal. This is probably a gunshot wound, and the white spots are shards of metal. Obviously you would expect to see external wounds as well. It can make surgery more complicated as there is often more soft tissue damage than with your typical fracture. Sadly it's not uncommon for pets to be shot at.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 14:52
  • 1
    Thanks everyone for your replies. @HarryV. I hope that's not the case, but if it is, that's simply a horrible and atrocious thing for a person to do. Disgusting, IMO. Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 23:31

2 Answers 2


Cats and dogs do walk on their toes, in what is called digitigrade stance. This is opposed to the plantigrade stance of humans.

This is shown nicely on this Wikipedia diagram, where the dog (or cat) is the middle picture, human to the left, and ungulate (hoofed animal) to the right: enter image description here

The cat stands on their toe bones (phalanges). Note that this diagram is a bit of an oversimplification; cats have many more bones in their feet than shown in the diagram, but the general idea is correct. Cats actually have three phalanges that make up each digit.

As you noted, the metatarsal bones in the foot are comparatively long in the dog or cat, compared to the human.

In your cat's case, the bones that are broken are the tibia and fibula. The tibia is another name for the shinbone.

Apart from your cat's fracture, you can also see that the left hip joint appears dislocated.

Definitely advised to have a surgeon stabilize this fracture, and hopefully the hip joint can be (or has already been) replaced into normal position.

  • 1
    Potentially off-topic, but what's the use of the "heel" (the red bone in the photo) extending so far beyond the joint? Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 14:32
  • 8
    @BrydonGibson It's a pivot point where muscles attach to. Muscles contract, causing the bone to act like a lever, pushing the whole foot down, allowing more force to be applied to the ground. That particular leg represents the back leg of a dog/cat, the heel is extended on the blackleg to give the animal more power when jumping. This is good for pouncing predators, but also only practical way large animals can jump with any distance, such as horses, which only have the pivot on the back leg and have pillar legs on the front (the bones are inline, there is no modified heel pivot location).
    – Krupip
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 16:37
  • @Krupip Thanks. Just a heads up, I quoted your comment here: What is the purpose of a cat's heel (halfway up the leg)?. Feel free to let me know if that's not what you want.
    – User1974
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 21:32

Not sure how many bones are past them, but those toe-beans look like they're exactly where I develop callouses on my hands. So they're kinda walking on their palms.

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Put your fingers flat on a table and lift your palm. And then imagine that you can still do things with your nails.

  • 1
    Nice pose. I imagine that's just a stretch, and not the cat showing off their manicure? Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 0:50
  • 3
    As a Sphynx owner, I believe that's: "Human, never forget that I can mess you up with these. Now bring me treats." Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 18:28
  • 1
    Sphynx are very good for anatomy lessons. One can always show a specific bone or muscle under their skin without being unpleasant to the cat.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 14:20

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