Understanding Dog Paws — How Many Toes Do Dogs Have?

by Copper
dog claws, dog toes, dog paws anatomy, dog dewclaws, dog paws

Have you noticed how some dogs have five toes on all four limbs, while some have four?

Others may have five in the forelimbs and four in the hind limbs. So how many toes do dogs actually have? And, does this make any difference in the way your dog functions?

dog claws
Dog paws are very important to understand if you wish to learn about their health thoroughly. That fifth, extra claw that we see in some dogs is specific to the species your dog belongs to and in some cases, a malformation. Learning all you can about it will help you avoid painful experiences for your beloved pooch and improve their quality of life.

How Many Toes Do Dogs Really Have?

At first glance, it looks like there are only four dog claws. But, sometimes, they may have more than four. The first four toes or claws of your dog are lined up next to each other with their healthy nails growing out from the side of the toes. However, sometimes, you will notice an extra toe that is shorter and seems to be attached loosely to the paw.

These extra toes or dog dewclaws result from various factors including — the dog’s breed, its genetic makeup, an amputation, or a malformation. Breeds like German Shepherd, for instance, very commonly exhibit dewclaws. 

Most people believe these attachments can affect the dog’s speed or prime quality, especially if you wish to raise a show dog. So, they have them removed as early in the dog’s life as possible. But, is that really necessary? Can dogs dewclaws impact your pooch’s health? Let us find out more.

Paws for thought: Did you know that dogs can have between 16 to 22 toes. Those with dewclaws can have up to six toes in each paw.

What Are Dewclaws and Why Do Some Dogs Have Them?

dog toes

Usually known as the fifth toe, a dewclaw is an extra toe that grows on the hind limbs most often. Some breeds may even have it on the forelimbs. It does not touch the ground and seems to be a deformity at times.

In terms of evolution, these extra dog toes are no longer essential for dogs to function normally, although they used to be at one point. When in the rear, dew claws are entirely of no use. But, with front dewclaws, dogs can hold objects better and even perform some movements. In fact, front dewclaws are known to lend stability to your furball and help maintain better balance while fast running. 

dog paws anatomy
Paws for Thought: There are several reasons why a dog may have dewclaws. It could be breed-specific or the result of genetics. Pet owners need to pay attention to the location of these dewclaws. Most issues arise because of the structure and their location.

Should A Dewclaw be Removed?

Are dew claws an essential part of the dog paw anatomy, or is it wise to remove them? This depends on the dewclaws’ location and whether or not it is impairing your dog’s movement.

For some breeds, like the Great Pyrenees, these dewclaws touch the ground. Therefore, they are among the functioning dog toes that should not be removed or tampered with. Some time back, an article published on the ISPCA website provided details of a man who removed his St. Bernard puppy’s dewclaws illegally. This may have raised some questions about whether dogs dewclaws can be removed or not.

Paws for Thought: According to the Veterinary Ireland Policy Document, the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, prohibits the removal of dewclaws for cosmetic purposes. However, if the pet parent and veterinary doctor find a therapeutic reason for dewclaw removal, it may be done.
How Many Toes do Dogs HaveHow Many Toes do Dogs Have

Reasons Why You Should Consider Removing Dog Toes

So, when should you consider removing these extra dog toes?

At times, dewclaws are attached to the paw, but they may often be growing at the back of the limb or in another absurd place. These strange growths typically have only muscle and skin. They are not attached to the bone of the dog’s legs. As a result, they become vulnerable to injuries.

Even a small crack in the nail growing from these dogs toes can lead to septic or abnormalities. This causes excruciating pain to the dog, making it necessary to have them removed. If any swelling caused by injury to these extra toes on the dogs paws is left unattended, it can have severe repercussions for your dog’s health.

These extra toes also make play and movement risky for the dog. For instance, they can get caught in upholstery or clothing and tear. They can even make walking on certain types of terrain risky for the dog. The result is that your dog is not entirely playful. He develops a fear of movement and becomes lethargic.

Therefore, it is a good idea to have the dewclaws removed if:

  • The dewclaw does not serve any purpose but continues to grow
  • The dewclaw tends to get injured when the dog is playing or running.
  • Is causing some other disease to the pet.
Paws for Thought: When the dewclaw is attached to the bone, there is no need to have it removed.

How To Remove Dewclaws?

The only legal way to remove extra toes or growth from your dogs paws is through surgery. However, there are some exceptions. In case of breeds like Mastiffs and Saint Bernards, surgery is not the only solution. These dogs have specific joint issues and find it harder to walk on some surfaces. For these high maintenance breeds, the wounds open up quickly, causing weakness and pain. This also makes it hard for them to hold food items or toys. So, make sure you speak to your vet about long term solutions.

Paws for Thought: Removing dew claws at home or without professional supervision amounts to cruelty. This can lead to fines and legal charges. Make sure you consult your vet if you plan to remove the dewclaws.

Keeping Your Dog’s Toes Healthy

All you need to do is maintain their paws well and look out for any visible abnormalities. Here are some simple tips that will help you prevent issues related to dog toes:

  • If your dog is not physically active, make sure you trim the nails every fortnight to prevent injuries.
  • Try to get your dog run on rough surfaces or engage in physical activity to help the nails filed and trimmed naturally.
  • When cutting the nails of the dewclaws, be very careful as it can cause pain.
  • Do not hold the toes when trimming the nails. Instead, hold the entire paw to keep your pooch comfortable.

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