1. Dog tracks have nails and cats don't.... right? Well, often that is true. But don't count on that being true all of the time. A domestic dog may have nails that are kept short. And at can extend nails for traction or other reasons. Here is a dog track from the dog park in Great Falls Montana that did not have obvious nails present:
|Domestic dog track, no nails (Great Falls, Montana 2/11)|
Even if a cat track shows nails, it is my experience that these nail marks are different in quality than a dog's nails. A cat's nails are sharper than a dog's and the marks left are more like a slice than the blunt marks from a dog nail. Never look at a single track. Read an entire trail.
A final word on this subject: I have had numerous occasions where a person did not recognize the dots in front of a toe as claw marks. Sometimes these marks can be awfully close to the toe and hard to see. The person with the "cat" track is convinced their are no claw marks and is frustrated when I contradict him/her.
2. Dog tracks are symmetrical, cat tracks are not. As I mentioned in my last post, a cat track is similar to a human hand (not counting the thumb) with a longer pointer finger and a smaller pinkie. A dog will have a track that is very symmetrical and can essentially be folded in half. Here are two photos, one a domestic dog and the other a mountain lion. Each has had wires placed on the top of them to show the alignment of the individual toes (I cannot seem to post photos side by side, so they will be stacked one after the other).
|Domestic dog track (Great Falls, Montana)|
Bilateral symmetry means that the right side looks like the left side. You can see that by looking at the center wire. Next, look at the wires that run horizontal. These wires are nearly parallel.
|Mountain lion track (Montana, 2/11)|
3. Shape of the heel pad. As I mentioned in my last post, this is not really the "heel" but rather the ball of the foot. But most authors refer to this as the heel pad so I will do as well. The leading edge of the heel pad is bi-lobed or double humped, whereas a dog will only have a single lobe or hump. The trailing edge of the pad is tri-lobed in the mountain lion but some dogs can show this as well. This was a great track that we are preparing for a plaster casting.
|Mountain lion track before casting|
|Domestic dog track (Great Falls,Montana 2/11)|
4. Where are those toes pointing? We are going to take out our super special tracking wires (Gotta give Jay credit for those wires! So simple, but so effective) again but this time we will use them to show the direction the toes were pointing at the time the track was made. First, the mountain lion:
|Mountain lion track showing forward|
facing toes (Montana, 2/11)
|Domestic dog track showing splayed toes (Montana, 2/11)|
We learned more. But that is enough to digest in a single post.