How Many Toes Does a Dog Have?

by Sonya | Last Updated:   March 20, 2021

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We know that dogs have four paws – and sometimes, they are the absolute cutest parts of them, especially when you see their impressions on the ground! But, do you know many toes your dog has?

We’ve all seen the rudimentary paw drawing with a pad and three to four pads above, but is that actually how many toes a dog has?

The answer is – yes and no. It depends!

Close up of dogs feet to see how many toes a dog has

The Number of Toes in a Dog

Typically, dogs have five toes on their front paws and four toes on their rear paws, but there can be exceptions to that. Some dogs only have four toes per paw, but don’t worry. That’s not a genetic defect. Instead, it’s more likely that your dog had it removed as a puppy.

The fifth toe, which is also known as the dewclaw, is sometimes removed at birth. There are a few different reasons that a person may do this. It may look cleaner for the dog to only have four toes. Removing it could also prevent it from getting caught on things. Now that may sound like it’s unnecessary, but there is actually some sound reasoning behind this choice.

For example, in many different types of dog breeds, the fifth toe is lonely attached to the wrist part of a dog’s paw, and because of this, it doesn’t add a ton of value to a dog. It doesn’t add gripping power, and it often just gets in the way. In the worst cases, it can get snagged on things or simply become hurt when the dog is running and playing.

This is painful for the dog, and many breeders will remove it within three days of birth to prevent future injury.

Don’t worry – while it is similar to the human thumb, it doesn’t have the same biological function as the thumb, so the dog doesn’t feel like they’re missing anything! And, when it is removed at such a small age, it is less painful for the dog and they can heal very easily – more so than if it was removed at an older age.

But My Dog Has More Toes!

The typical amount of toes on a dog are four to five depending on the front or the rear feet, but did you know that some breeds genetically have more? Some breeds have one to two dewclaws on their rear feet. These can include the:

  • Great Pyrenees
  • Portuguese Sheepdog
  • Icelandic Sheepdog
  • Can Fila de Sao Miguel
  • Saint Bernard
  • Estrela Mountain Dog
  • East Siberian Laika
  • Anatolian Shepherd Dog
  • Beauceron
  • Catalonian Sheepdog
  • Briards
  • Norwegian Lundehund

All of these dogs have extra toes or extra dewclaws on their rear feet and can either be single or double extra toes.

But don’t start the removal process just yet. Even though they don’t serve a lot of purposes, they are rarely removed in these cases, unless, of course, there is a problem. Sometimes, these extra dewclaws help to provide a bigger weight-bearing surface for dogs, which is super important for bigger dogs.

For example, if you have a Norwegian Lundehund, your dog will have at least six toes on each foot. These have been developed over time to help them climb the Norwegian terrain and, unlike other breeds, their extra dewclaws actually serve a purpose!

They help strengthen their grip, and because of this, they are on each of the breed’s four feet. They even have developed extra joints in these toes – again, to help with its climbing. In addition to the six toes, they should have eight pads on their foot.

The dexterity and utility of the extra toes in the Norwegian Lundehund is a really fun look at evolution in process. While other breeds have these, they have lost usefulness over time given they don’t have a ton of use. However, in the Norwegian Lundehund, these two extra dewclaws on each foot play a huge role in the survival of the breed and have only strengthened over time.

So How Many Toes Does My Dog Have?

Well, it depends! If your dog has the standard five on the front paw and four on the back paws, that means that your dog will have a total of 18 toes – wow! That’s a lot of nails to trim.

If your dog has two extra declaws – one on each paw – then that means that your dog will have 20 toes. For those dogs with four extra declaws, your dogs will have a total of 22 toes.  Sometimes, because the nails are more apparent than the toes themselves, your dog’s toes may be referred to as claws but overall, they are referring to the same thing – the number of toes your dog has.

close up of dog nails that have grown long

Should I Get My Dog’s Dewclaws Removed?

Based on the breed, you may want to get your dogs’ dewclaws removed. It is better for the dog in the long term.

Dewclaws are toes in a dog that do not touch the ground. They can either be on the front or the rear paws, though they are most commonly on the rear foot. If you do not remove the dewclaw, then your dog may be more susceptible to pain, injury, surgery, and more.

Keeping the toe may decrease the speed at which your dog is able to run and impact its muscles. Again, because of these reasons and more, these toes are often removed.

Once upon a time, these dewclaws had a genetic purpose; however, over time, they lost their function. This is because as dogs became more domesticated, they no longer needed the additional support of this toe, and now it is more a hindrance than anything else, which is why the dewclaws are often removed.

The exceptions, of course, are larger breeds who gain value like extra grip and pad support with the additional dewclaws. Some breeds keep the additional with no negative impacts. If you have questions about whether or not you should remove your dogs’ dewclaws, you should talk with your breeder or your veterinarian, in addition to doing your own research.

All You Need to Know About Dogs Toes

The number of toes your dog has depends on the breed, typically with four to five toes per paw for a total range of 18 to 22 toes across all four feet. This is a healthy and standard range, and the actual number of toes your dog has depends on the breed and if the dog has already had its dewclaws removed by the breeder or veterinarian.

If your dog still has dewclaws and you choose to remove them, know that it is not super painful for them. It is about a 10-minute procedure, and the short-term pain and discomfort will outweigh the long-term health effects that the extra toe could cause, including, reducing leg function, muscle tearing, and more.

The size of the dog will impact how much pain they feel, as well as the size, shape, and growth pattern of the dewclaw. Whoever removed this from your dog will have to do a good job because if they don’t remove all of it, the dewclaw could potentially grow back over time.

Remember that some dogs keep their dewclaws with little impact on their health, and this is more typical in larger breeds. In fact, some retain the original function of the one or two extra dewclaws, which is pretty cool.

The number of toes in your dog depends on several different factors, so keep that in mind the next time you start counting!

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Sonya is a software engineer by day and recently earned her MBA degree, but she also loves spending her free time writing about her favourite passion, dogs! Click here to read more.