Differences Between a Lion Paw and a Bear Claw

Updated July 20, 2017

Lion claws and bear paws have at least one thing in common --- you don't want to get too close to either one! Lions and bears are both top predators in their respective ranges, far bigger and stronger than any of their competitors. Both are surprisingly fast; lions can run over 35 miles per hour, while bears can top 40 miles per hour, faster than any human. Bear and lion paws give their owners both speed and lethality, but they have evolved in different ways.

Paw Shape

Lions are felines, while bears are closely related to dogs. A lion paw is very similar to a cat paw, with a rounded footpad and four round toes. The lion walks on its toes, so the size of the toes is large relative to the size of the whole paw.

A bear's paw is more square in shape, rather than circular, with a much larger palm relative to the toes. Bears are flat-footed, or plantigrade, with the palm of the paw bearing the animal's weight; therefore, a larger area of the paw makes contact with the ground. Their paws face inward as they walk, unlike the lion's straight-toed gait.

Bear Claws

Both lions and bears have long, deadly claws, but their claws differ greatly and are one of the main distinctions between the two paws.

Bears are omnivorous, and in some parts of the year their diet consists mainly of vegetable matter. Therefore, the bear's claws are more general-purpose tools. They are thick and more blunt than cats' claws. Bear claws are good for catching and killing prey, but bears also use their claws for digging in the ground, for climbing trees, for stripping bark and for excavating their dens. Grizzly bears in particular have longer claws on their front feet, for digging. Bear claws are nonretractable, like a dog's claws. The claw marks are often visible on bear tracks.

Lion Claws

The lion's claws are specialised hunting tools. Unlike bear claws, lion claws are razor-sharp and hooked to facilitate grabbing and killing prey. When they get blunt, the lion can sharpen them by scraping away the outer shell to reveal a fresh, sharp point underneath --- just as a domestic cat does.

The lion's claws are not visible on its tracks because, like other cats, the lion has retractable claws. This protects the claws and keeps them sharp, and keeps the lion's playmates from being hurt.


Bears have 20 toes, five on each foot. Lions, like most cats, have only 18 toes: five on each hind foot and four on each front foot. Lions and other cats have a vestigial fifth toe, or dewclaw, midway up their front limbs. Lions use their dewclaw as a toothpick.

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About the Author

Allen Cruthers has worked as a freelance writer since 2002. He got his start as a travel writer for "Let's Go" and has since written on topics ranging from business management to bioethics. Cruthers received his Bachelor of Arts in history from Harvard University.