Due to the cheetah’s specialization in speed, it has developed many morphological and physiological adaptations. For aerodynamics, it has a small head, lightweight and thinly-boned skull, flat face, and a reduced length of muzzle that allows the large eyes to be positioned for maximum binocular vision, enlarged nostrils, and extensive air-filled sinuses. Its body is tight and light with long slender feet and legs and specialized muscles, which act, simultaneously, for strong acceleration and allow greater oscillation of the limbs.
The cheetah spoor has the rounded print of a cat but shows definite, dog-like claw marks at the front. The claw marks distinguish it from other cat spoors while the rounded shape distinguishes it from the lengthened, oval spoor of a dog or hyaena spoor. The front print of an adult cheetah spoor measures 110×85 mm and the hind 95×75 mm, inclusive of the claw markings.
The cheetah is the only cat with short, blunt, skinless claw sheaths, making the claws semi-retractable, thus providing added traction like a sprinter’s cleats. Cheetahs are designed for short, explosive sprints and are famed as the fastest animals on earth over short distances. The tibia and fibula are firmly bound by fibrous tissue which allows very little rotation around the underside leg, thus providing the necessary stability at maximum speeds, but at the same time hindering the ability to climb.
Contrary to widely held belief, the Cheetah’s claws are partially retractile, the modifications in the Cheetah’s lower limbs result in somewhat diminished retractile function. The paws are small and compact, and reduced webbing between digits means the toes can be splayed more widely. Furthermore, the absence of a protective sheath into which the claws can retract means that the claws protrude even when retracted, serving a function similar to running spikes to increase grip while pursuing prey.
If the entire forepaw, like the other claws, lost this function because of locomotory adaptation. Cheetahs also have very firm footpads, with longitudinal ridges that act like the tread on car tires running along with the footpads.
Therefore their claws are adjusted for reaching high speeds which limits their ability to climb a tree. However, cheetahs do climb smaller trees but can’t climb high trees like leopards.