HEALTH & CARE

How Many Bones Do Cats Have: A Closer Look at the Amazing Feline Anatomy

cat's skeleton
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

After seeing your cat perform numerous stunts like leaping into a tree, landing on her feet, or even squeezing her body into a small box, you may have asked yourself at least once: how many bones do cats have?

You don’t need to be a geek to be curious about the number of bones in a cat’s body. This is a useful knowledge to have at hand. You won’t only develop a deeper understanding of your pet’s fascinating anatomy, but you may even learn enough information that it can serve you well when talking to a veterinarian about a potential feline bone problem.

In this blog post, you will learn more about the structure and the functions that cat skeletons perform. And you will also get to peek at the bone disorders affecting our feline friends. At the end of this post, you should be a lot more familiar with the structure of a cat’s body.

How Many Bones Do Cats Have?

Let’s start by answering the question we posed earlier: how many bones do cats have?

The truth is that this question doesn’t have an exact answer. The number of bones is not the same for all cats. Some cats may have 230 bones—others may have 240, and some may have 250 bones.

But why is it so?

Well, the number of bones cats have varies depending on two factors—the number of toes and the length of the tail.

Some cats have extra toes which give them more bones than other felines. In an ordinary cat, there are five toes on the front feet and another four on the back, bringing the total to 18 bones. However, the so-called polydactyl cats typically have more toes on their front feet.

But why do some cats have extra toes? It’s because they inherited a gene for polydactylism, which is, in reality, a genetic abnormality. In fact, if just one parent cat is polydactyl, there is up to 50% chance that the kittens will also have extra toes.

In the past, Maine Coon cats were known to have the highest incidence or chance of being polydactyl (around 40%). But that trait is no longer considered predominant in Maine Coon cats. Today, this trait is found in many cats in the eastern parts of the United States and Canada as well as in western England.

polydactyl cat

See Also: Polydactyl Cat Names

Then there’s the tail factor. Simply put if your cat has a long tail, then she obviously has more bones compared to other cats. Depending on the length, the tail of a cat may consist of 20 to 23 bones.

Here’s something you should know about cat tails: about 10 percent of feline bones are found in it. We might overlook the importance of a cat’s tail, but this part of the body helps our pets in maintaining their balance; the bones in their tails also serve them well when they fall or jump.

American Shorthair with a long tail

These breeds, in particular, are noted for their long tails:

Cat Skeleton vs. Human Skeleton

cat skeleton

The feline skeleton is an internal framework consisting of bones as well as ligaments and tendons. It consists of the following sections:

  • Axial skeleton: this includes the head, ribs, vertebrae, and sternum

  • Visceral skeleton: this consists of soft bones like those in the throat, inner ears, and penis

  • Appendicular skeleton: bones of the pelvis and the legs

Most people usually think that the skeleton of cats is different from that of a human. After all, our favorite pets have the unique ability to sneak into the tightest holes and even curl up in a box for many hours. Even the most flexible person in the world won’t be able to do that, right?

However, there are actually several similarities in the function, structure, and shape of cat skeleton as compared to the human skeleton.

For example, both humans and felines have a skull and a jaw that are characteristic of many land mammals. Like humans, cats have seven cervical vertebrae, four appendages, and a vertebral column.

Both cat and human skeletons also have the same functions. Due to the bone density and hardness, the skeleton provides a rigid and sturdy framework that houses or protects the other bodily systems and organs like the heart, lungs, and brain.

In fact, it is the skeleton which determines the basic shape of cat and human bodies. Moreover, feline and human skeletons serve as storage for many minerals like phosphate and calcium.

As for the differences, the human skeleton is undeniably larger than that of a cat’s. However, humans have 206 bones which are fewer compared to the number of bones that cats have.

The extra bones are found mainly in the backbone of cats, which gives our furry friends superior agility and flexibility. Cats have 52 or 53 vertebrae which are nearly 20 more than what we have (ranging from 32 to 34). Those additional bones have more padding which enables cats to twist and turn as if they were made of rubber.

The Rundown: Where are the Cat Bones Located?

Now that we have established the number of bones cats have, as well as the differences and similarities of human and feline skeletons, let’s take a closer look at where those bones are in a cat’s body.

Cat bones can be classified into four types depending on their shape.

  • The first kind is the long bones typically found in the legs and the feet. Long bones support the weight of cats and enable them to move well.

  • The flat bones, meanwhile, protect the internal organs of the body. These are located in parts of the skull as well as the shoulders, ribs, sternum, and pelvis.

  • Then there are the short bones located in the wrists and ankles. These bones provide stability to cats.

  • Finally, irregular bones are located in some parts of the skull and the vertebrae.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, there are three sections of the feline skeleton—axial, visceral, and appendicular. We’ll go through the bones from the top all the way down to the bottom part of a cat’s body, first with the axial then with the visceral and finally, the appendicular skeleton.

#1: Bones in the Axial Section

white cat's head

Let’s start with the head of the cat. There are 29 bones in this part of the body. The head of a cat has several parts like the skull, the face, and the jaw. The thick skull bone houses the delicate brain. Aside from the skull bone, other bones in the head are the cheekbones, nasal bones, eye orbit, and the jaw bones.

The neck of a cat has seven bones. Along with the spine, it forms the vertebrae of the cat. Aside from the seven neck bones in this part of the body, there are also 13 backbones and 20 tailbones to go along with three sacral bones.

Compared to the human vertebrae, a cat’s vertebrae aren’t tightly connected. This gives our pets more flexibility because of the greater elasticity in the disks of the bones.

Now let’s go to the ribs which surround the chest cavity. There are 13 pairs of bones in this part of the body, so you get 26 bones in this area alone. The shoulders or scapula of the cat is not linked to other bones. Instead, the muscles hold it in place.

The last part of the axial skeleton is the sternum or the chest bone. It is a flat bone located in the chest area that protects the lungs and the heart of the cat. The ribs of the cat are connected to the sternum through cartilage.

The chest of cats is particularly deeper and narrower compared to other mammals and even of humans. It’s because the clavicle of cats is located deep within their chest muscle unlike in humans where the bone connects the sternum with the shoulder blades. This characteristic benefits cats because it extends their stride and lets them get into the narrowest of places.

#2: Bones in the Visceral Section

cat's ear

Now let’s proceed with the visceral section of the feline skeleton. As we’ve mentioned, this part of a cat’s body consists of soft bones like those in the throat, inner ears, and penis.

  • Inner Ears: The bones of the inner ears are called ossicles. These are small bones designed to amplify sound. There are three ossicles in each ear—the malleus or hammer, the incus or the anvil, and the stapes or the stirrup.

  • Throat: The throat has one bone called hyoid. This is a unique bone which anchors the tongue. In fact, many scientists believe that this is responsible for the purr that domestic cats produce. Even the larger cousins of cats, lions, are said to benefit from it as it helps produce their trademark roar. Find other theories about how cats purr here.

  • Penis: Finally, there’s also a small bone found in the penis. Called the baculum, this enables the penis to stay hard during sexual intercourse. This bone is also found in many mammals like gorillas and chimpanzee.

  • Pelvis: There are three bones in the pelvis—ilium, ischium, and pubis. It is divided into two halves, so there are six bones in this part of the body.

#3: Bones in the Appendicular Section

cat's legs

Now let’s discuss the bones found in the appendicular skeleton or those found in the pelvis and the legs.

The hind legs of cats are powerful enough to help them climb and jump long distances in order to catch prey. The forelegs have long bones consisting of the humerus (or long upper bone), ulna, and radius. The latter two are long bones found in the lower leg. There are three bones in each foreleg.

The hind legs, on the other hand, consist of the femur, tibia, and fibula. The last two bones are connected by the rear foot to the tarsal bones consisting of seven bones.

Cat legs are connected to the feet by the carpal bones for the front legs and tarsal bones for the rear legs.

As for the toes, cats have five on the front or forelegs. One of the toes, the dewclaw, is slightly higher and thus doesn’t touch the ground. Meanwhile, there are four toes located on the hind legs. Each toe consists of three bones—distal, middle, and proximal phalange, where the claw is attached.

As you can see, cat anatomy is simply incredible. Our pets are blessed with specialized bones that give them superior agility and balance. But this doesn’t mean that cats are impervious to bone problems.

Common Cat Bone Disorders

x-ray for cats

Just like us humans and other animals, cats are also prone to certain bone disorders.

  • One congenial disease involving the bones is osteodystrophy. It is characterized by abnormalities in the bones, particularly in the tail, the ankles, and the wrists.

  • Mucopolysaccharidosis VI is another congenital disorder of cat bones which causes changes in the bone structure.

  • It’s also possible for cats to suffer from bacterial infections which can lead to osteomyelitis, a condition characterized by bone inflammation. Usually, cats with bone implants are prone to this condition.

  • Nutritional deficiency may also affect bone growth and development. Rickets, for instance, can strike cats who are calcium deficient. Kittens who are bereft of meat are often prone to this condition. On the other hand, excessive intake of vitamin A may also lead to bone deformities.

Wrap Up

polydactyl cat's paws

So the next time someone asks you “How many bones do cats have?” tell him or her that it depends on the length of the tail and the number of toes of the cat. If you are pressed for a number, answer that the feline bone number can range from 230 to 250.

While the number of cat bones varies depending on the toes and tail length, one thing is certain: our favorite pets are blessed with amazing anatomy that gives them superior agility and quickness.

Did you learn something after reading this article? Let us hear from you. Please leave your feedback in the comments section below. Better yet, share this article with your friends so that they too would know fun facts about how many bones cats have, or how long a cat’s memory is.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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