How Many Toes Does a Dog Have

One of the most intriguing aspects of animals is their anatomy, whether it is Harpy Eagle, Penguins, Leopards, etc. They also stand as living proofs of evolution. These fascinating features bear a connection to their unique qualities and shortcomings.

The case is no different with dogs. If you have ever been curious about their features and asked yourself, ‘how many toes does a dog have?’, you have reached the right place.

How many toes does a dog have?

How many toes does a dog have
How many toes does a dog have

The generalized idea is that the major portion of the feet of dogs comprises four toes. This is the part that sits on the ground when the dog is still, as their heels stay above the ground. Upon investigating these four toes, you will come to discover that these are assembled quite close to each other.

The standard case for dogs is to own another toe that does not touch the ground and is placed further up the limb. This is called a declaw. In particular instances, there’s a double declaw, as in the existence of two additional toes except for one.

This feature, namely Polydactyly, indicates the presence of more than the usual number of digits. Here, poly and dactyl are respectively referred to as ‘many’ and ‘digits’. Polydactyly in dogs can be present based on multiple factors.

Why do dogs have 4 toes?

How many toes does a dog have
Why do dogs have 4 toes

With mammals living on land, the norm is to possess five toes on each limb. We have 5 toes as a shared characteristic with primates, bears, bats along with many amphibians and reptiles. Then why do dogs have only four?

The case with pace

The ancestors of dogs, such as foxes and wolves, are required to run at a fast pace and cover long distances, to catch food, and to reach safety from their enemies. Dogs in the wild have similar responsibilities, which are crucial in their survival.

For these animals to execute the tasks associated with survival, by the doing of mother nature, they mutated to possess particular features. Shortened digits, extended limbs, and a lesser number of toes count among those features. The term assigned for such animals is “cursorial animals”.

Their tarsals (ankle), metatarsals (sole), carpals (dog’s wrist), metacarpals (palm) remain above the ground. All these features come together to make the recipe for fast running.

Weight matters

By the grace of evolution, humans have five fingers and five toes. We have special functionality for this extra digit. We use it to manipulate things. But dogs do not need to do that. Striding fast and striding fast is their designated task for their survival by mother nature.

How much do you reckon an additional digit weight? A few ounces? No more than that. But these extra few ounces can be consequential when an animal is to be dragged along for the ride.

Hence, they have only four toes.

Do dogs have 4 or 5 toes?

By now you are probably lost and wondering, ‘so, how many toes does a dog actually have?’, we understand and value your confusion. It is less complicated than you might think.

Identifying the dewclaw or fifth toe

Fetch your canine friend if you happen to have one. Now, place your hand or foot across their front limbs. In a standard case, there will be four digits of both the dog’s limbs that will sit on the ground alongside your long, middle, ring and pinky fingers.

And on either of the feet, one small toe will sit on top of the limb a little further upwards compared to the rest of the toes. This fifth toe is the case of a dewclaw.


Why does my dog have 6 toes?

If your dog has 6 toes or double dewclaw, then there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Take special care of the dewclaws and consult a veterinarian.

The most workable reason for which your dog has 6 toes or polydactyly can be genetic variation. A scientific paper published in the year 2008, in the scientific journal, Genetics explained how the mutation of a single gene (LMBR1) results in polydactyly.

What is a double dewclaw?

What is a double dewclaw
What is a double dewclaw

Double dewclaws are two extra toes growing at the edge of the foot, which have their specific bone structure and are connected to the rest of the skeleton. This is very rare. Dogs with double dewclaws can have up to 6 toes on one foot.


In the case of the Great Pyrenees, all of their toes make contact with the ground and thus these toes do not become the reason for any injury. The Norwegian Lundehund is another good example of polydactyly.

On the islands of the west coast of Norway, farmers bred them to hunt a kind of bird, namely Puffin. The extra toes helped them adapt to having to run around snowcovered, steep, and rough Nordic cliffs and pathways.

In such breeds, it is expected of the dogs to be born with double rear dewclaws by virtue of their functionality, and hence its surgical removal is unnecessary.

Why does my dog have a fifth toe?

Why does my dog have a fifth toe
Why does my dog have a fifth toe

If we have to understand why your dog has a dewclaw or an extra toe, we have to look back approximately 14 million years. The ancient ancestors of the dogs of this age were the miacis, a cat-like animal, that climbed trees.

Through mutations, miacis evolved to become cinodictus. These animals dwelled on the ground. Their sequential generations were social hunters and mutated to not possess the fifth toe anymore. Dogs came in consequence to these successive generations.

Your dog having the fifth toe is nothing more than a mere reminder of its ancestral configuration.

Should dewclaws be removed?

Dewclaws, otherwise insignificant to the anatomy of dogs, are not utterly useless. If the dewclaws are attached to the skeleton, they can prove useful.

Even if they are not, surgery, in this case, is not advised by most vets. Because such surgeries can be physically and emotionally painful for dogs as the surgeon would have to cut off bones, nerves, and tendons.

The only reason one would wish to cut it off is when the dewclaw comprises only skin and can easily get torn while the dog is being active. This can cause infection and other complications. It can be prevented by regularly grooming the nails.

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