If you have seen a cat with white paws, you must have wondered “Why do some felines have white feet?” The chance of cats having white paws are high among the house cats. Many pet owners use the term “white socks” as a symbol of affection. However, the socks are uncommon among wild cats. That raises another concern that why the wild, undomesticated cats do not have white socks but many other pet cats have furry white feet?
After a lot of research, we found out that about 10,000 years ago, humans started making cats a part of their lives. Lesli Lyons is a professor and head of the Feline Genetics Lab at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. According to her, the process of domestication evolved cat breeds and led to “white socks” on them with other color patterns on their coats. Lyons also adds that many years ago humans used to work as farmers. While they were staying in one place, they had piles and grains stored in a large amount as they had to sell those. Due to the storage of grains, they started attracting rodents which is why they started to keep cats for the benefit of both. From there, the process of domestication started. After many years, people started breeding cats as they had found a connection with these little buddies.
The undomesticated cat ancestors were Felis Silvestris that originated from Africa and Eurasia. One part of their population also lived in Mount Etna, an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily. These progenitor species when they become adults prey on other animals. This species started to evolve with a coat and reproduced further population with different color patterns, camouflaging with the habitats.
Lyons says that there is enough evidence to show why those farmers had chosen these wild cats. She adds that the cats with coats were the indication that those people had preferred keeping cats with markings. The environment our agrarian ancestors used to live in was usually a forest or a desert. Cats with “white socks” would be easy to stand out to predators and prey. With time, people also started taking interest in cats with white paws and decided to make them survive.
Humans started taking interest in keeping cats in a calm and quiet nature. Relating traits to the color coat does not make sense to the scientists. Somehow, the cats with white spots on them tended to be the friendliest and selected by the humans. This is also true for horse breeds, pigs, rodents, cows, and rats. The markings and coat color patterns emerge when the cat embryo is developing. Lyons says that the neural crest cells are responsible for the fur to appear in cats.
These cells then migrate down throughout the body to create fur. If the cluster of cells moves farther enough to meet each other on the front side of the cat’s body, then the kitten will be born with a solid pattern e.g. an all-black or all brown color. These cats come with white faces, feet, or paws if these cells do not make their way fully to the front side of cat’s body.
Now you have a better idea of why do so many cats have a white sock on their paws. The popular and distinctive feature is a result of genetic mutations. The domestication and biology development also play an important role for this feature to appear. You may want to explain this to your little bud, but she will only give you a puzzled look and ignore you for sure.