Have you ever wondered how many toes your four-legged friend has? Perhaps you’ve never paid attention to your dog’s paws. Does their front paw have a fifth toe, or is it just four toes as you may have assumed? Based on different dog breeds, the answers tend to vary. Read on to discover more about dogs and the anatomy of their toes.
Dogs typically have four main toes on each paw, which makes a total of sixteen toes. That said, many dogs have 18 toes, and some breeds can have up to 22 toes. You will often find dogs that have more than four toes, based on the dog species, genetics, malformation, or even amputation in some cases. Australian Shepherds, for instance, can have an extra toe referred to as dewclaws.
What Does It Mean When a Dog Has Extra Toes?
A dog is considered to have extra toes if it has more than the typical four claws on either the front or back paws. This rare occurrence is referred to as polydactyly.
What are Dog Dewclaws?
Nearly all dogs are born with a nail/claw on the inside of their front legs known as the dewclaw. In a handful of breeds, dewclaws may also be present on the hind paws. They are basically the big toes and thumbs of the dog anatomy; of course, they are not exactly like the human structure, but they’re quite similar.
When you take a look at your dog’s foot, you will notice that the toes that come in contact with the ground essentially correspond to the human pinky, ring, middle, and index fingers – the dewclaws are like the thumb if found in the front foot, or the big toe if present in the back one.
An important distinction to make when analyzing dewclaws is whether or not they are firmly attached to a dog’s paw. In most cases, if your dog has a front dewclaw, you’ll be able to feel the tendons that connect the nail to the foot. You’ll also notice that you can wiggle the dewclaw a bit (mostly forward and backward motion.)
There are some breeds of dog (St. Bernards, Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, Briards, etc.) that have dewclaws on all four legs, or even double dewclaws on the rear leg. Rear and double dewclaws are rare, and they tend to only be attached to the leg by skin, which means that you can move the nail more freely.
What are Dewclaws on a Dog Used for?
When a dog is standing, you may not see the function of the front dewclaw as it does not come in contact with the ground, but upon observing the dewclaw when the dog is in motion, you may see why it’s important.
Five tendons attach to the front dewclaw and play a significant role when the canine is in motion.
When dogs run, their front feet tend to bend to the extent where the front dewclaws come in contact with the ground. At high speeds (especially when making a turn), or on slippery surfaces, the dewclaws provide extra traction by preventing torque, as well as provide stabilization to the carpal (wrist) joint.
Some dogs also use their dewclaws to help them climb out of the water (if they’ve broken through the ice, for example), climb trees, or hold objects as they chew.
What Dog Breeds Have Dewclaws?
Most dogs have dewclaws on their front legs, and it is rare to find them on their front legs (except in some breeds in which they commonly occur.) That said, the dog dewclaw (both front and hind) is a peculiar feature because the wolf, from which the dog is descended, does not typically have dewclaws.
Some researchers trace the dewclaw back 40 million years to a tree-climbing cat-like animal that Is referred to as miacis, which is considered an early ancestor of modern dogs. Miacis eventually evolved into cynodictus, a ground-dwelling species, and successive generations would become dogs.
The dog front dewclaw is a highly versatile digit that must have given an edge to the earliest dogs who had them, making them more likely to survive and thrive, thus passing on this unique gene to their offspring.
What Dog Breeds Have Rear Dewclaws?
If your pooch has dewclaws on his hind legs, he likely belongs to one of the breeds that are distinguished for this trait. The same is true for dogs with double hind dewclaws. Most of the dog breeds with this unique feature tend to be large, and many of them historically have been used as working livestock dogs. Here are some of these breeds:
This is a large French dog breed that was historically used as a livestock guarding and herding canine. The Beauceron has a double set of rear dewclaws. This breed’s hind limb dewclaws are typically found quite low down on the leg and can serve to help even out the distribution of the dog’s weight, which makes it easier for them to walk over ice and snow.
This is a large dog breed that is originally descended from several historical European dogs that were used for guarding livestock in the mountainous regions of France. Great Pyrenees typically have one pair of rear leg dewclaws, although it’s not uncommon to find individuals with two sets of hind dewclaws.
This is a medium-sized dog that hails from Spain, where they were originally used as guarding and herding dogs, working with shepherds to protect sheep in the Pyrenean mountain range between France and Spain. The Catalan sheepdog has double hind dewclaws that are often fused.
This is another dog breed that originates from France and was historically used to guard and herd sheep. The Briard has double hind dewclaws which are found quite low on their legs.
Anatolian Shepherd Dog
This large dog breed has its roots in Turkey and is sometimes referred to as the Turkish mountain dog. The Anatolian shepherd dog almost always has a double pair of rear leg dewclaws.
Estrela Mountain Dog
The Estrela mountain dog, sometimes known as the Portuguese shepherd dog, originates from Portugal. They are livestock guarding dogs, as wells as watchdogs for homes and farms. They may either have single or double dewclaws.
This gentle giant originates from Switzerland. They are renowned for their use as mountain rescue dogs. The Saint Bernard may have single or double hind leg dewclaws.
Cao Fila de Sao Miguel
This dog has its origins in Portugal, where they’re still used to herd cattle and protect livestock in general. They have single rear dewclaws.
East Siberian Laika
This Russian breed of dog was mostly used for hunting both small and large game, as well as a sled dog to a lesser extent. The East Siberian Laika has double rear dewclaws.
The dewclaw top dog is the Norwegian Lundehund, which has at least six toes on each foot. This dog was used to retrieve live puffin birds from the crevices of cliffs. Unlike in other breeds, the extra toes occur on all feet in the Norwegian Lundehund and appear to be as a result of a unique set of genes.
This dog should have a minimum of six toes and eight pads on the front paws, with five toes resting on the ground. The rear limbs should have a minimum of six toes, four of which should be in contact with the ground. The toes also have extra joints, said to help maintain a good grip during climbing.
Why Doesn’t My Dog Have Dewclaws?
Your dog may not have dewclaws because they were removed beforehand. In countries like the USA, dewclaw removal is a pretty standard procedure, and it’s even done as a preventative measure.
Depending on the dog breed and the dog’s country of origin, this practice may be more or less common. The UK and Australia, for example, have restrictions on when dewclaw removal can be done.
In the UK, the Kennel Club doesn’t support dewclaw removal for cosmetic purposes, and no UK breed standard is required to conform to this. That said, the practice is not illegal.
Do All Dog Breeds Have Dewclaws?
Dogs almost always have dewclaws on the inside of the front limbs at birth. Front dewclaws have bone and muscle structures. They are used to provide extra traction on slippery surfaces and stabilize the carpal joint when in motion and increase grip on objects, among other uses.
Do All Dog Breeds Have Rear Dewclaws?
Although any dog can be born with rear dewclaws, in most breeds this is peculiar and considered a genetic throwback. It’s only in a handful of breeds that this feature is considered a valued trait; a feature the dog must have to conform with the breed standard.
Should Dog Dewclaws Be Removed?
Simply put, removal of front dewclaws is unnecessary (especially when you consider how important they are to dogs), unless they’re irreversibly damaged or your trusted vet recommends the procedure.
There is increasing evidence that suggests that the lack of front dewclaws could lead to health issues that could impact your dog’s long-term well-being. By trying to prevent a short-term injury, the risk of a dog developing carpal arthritis or even injuries to other joints (the shoulder, toes, and elbow) is increased.
One of the main reasons why people opt to have their dogs’ dewclaws removed is to prevent injuries. As previously mentioned, dewclaws are frequently used by dos, which is why they may occasionally get damaged.
In most cases, dewclaws become prone to damage because they’re allowed to get too long. This increases the risk of them snagging on things like a fluffy carpet. You can prevent this by regularly inspecting your pooch’s dewclaws and trimming them if needed. If you’re not a fan of doggy toenail clippers, consider using a toenail grinder. However, most healthy and active dogs naturally wear their claws down by running about.
In some cases, a dog is still prone to ripping his dewclaws even with regular trimming. This could be as a result of weak nails or dewclaw malformation. Similarly, when a dewclaw has been severely damaged, it will sometimes grow back in the wrong direction and be more likely to tear again.
The key to maintaining a dog’s dewclaw is to keep a close eye on it, trim it regularly, and watch for any signs of damage. If it ends up breaking or ripping, take proper care of it by cleaning the wound and keeping the area bandaged so that the dewclaw regrows properly.
On the other hand, rear dewclaws are vestigial in most dog breeds. They are often loose, as they have no muscle or bone, and can easily become snagged. They are usually removed to prevent injury. However, some dogs have bone in their rear dewclaws. In such cases, it’s not necessary to remove them; regular trimming should keep them from overgrowing.
At What Age Can You Remove Dewclaws on a Dog?
Breeders often remove dewclaws when the puppy is only a few days old when the digit is yet to fully attach to bone or muscle tissue. However, in cases of severe damage, dewclaws can be removed at any age.
Can You Remove Dewclaws on an Older Dog?
Dewclaw removal done on an older dog is a surgical procedure that requires general anesthesia.
How Much Does It Cost to Remove Dewclaws on a Dog?
The cost of dewclaw removal greatly varies from dog to dog and vet to vet. If there’s only a small skin incision to be made to remove a dangly little nail, the surgical fee will be minimal ($30-$40.) However, if the dewclaw has a joint and must be disarticulated from the limb, it will be more expensive.
Is It Normal for a Dog to Have 6 Toes?
It is rare for dogs to have six toes. The only breed that is known to have six fully formed toes on each foot is the Norwegian Lundehund.
Should You Trim the Fur Between Dog Toes?
Hair that grows between the pads is uncomfortable, and can even cause a dog to slip and slide in extreme cases. If your dog has hair growing between his footpads, trim it when it starts to fold under his pads, or when it begins to bunch up between his toes.