Why Does My Dog Have 5 Toes On Back Feet?

Normal Number of Toes for Dogs

The vast majority of dogs have 4 toes on each front paw and 5 toes on each hind paw (back foot). This puts the total number of toes for dogs at 18. Each toe is equipped with a claw and has a digital pad underneath (source). On the front paws, one of the toes is a dewclaw, which sits higher up the leg above the rest. The dewclaw does not touch the ground and is nonfunctional. On the hind paws, all 5 toes provide traction and help stabilize the dog. Having 4 toes in front and 5 in back is considered standard and normal for nearly all dog breeds.

Evolution of Dog Feet

Dogs evolved from wolf ancestors and retain many similar traits in their feet and legs. Like wolves, dogs are digitigrade walkers, meaning they stand and walk on their toes. Digitigrade walking gives dogs speed and agility to chase prey and escape predators.

Dogs have vestigial toes from their ancestors. Modern canines have four main toes with a dewclaw on the front leg and occasionally on the back leg. The dewclaw does not touch the ground and is not used for walking. It is believed to be a remnant from when dogs’ ancestors had five functional toes on each paw.

Over time, selective breeding of dogs led to differences in foot and leg anatomy across breeds. Sighthounds like Greyhounds and Whippets have light bones and long limbs for speedy hunting. In contrast, Mastiffs and Bulldogs have shorter limbs and heavier bones for strength.

While wolves have webbed feet with closely spaced toes for walking on snow, most dogs have more open feet. This allows dogs to run fast on different terrains. However, some dogs like Newfoundlands and Portuguese Water Dogs retain webbed feet for swimming.

So while dog feet have evolved differences based on breed and purpose, their digitigrade walking and dewclaws reflect their wolf ancestry. Understanding this evolutionary history gives insight into normal canine foot anatomy (https://happiestdog.com/dog-paw-anatomy-bones-evolution/).

Function of Extra Toe

Dogs with an extra toe on their hind feet often have better grip and traction. This extra digit, known as a dewclaw, provides added stability and balance, especially when the dog is running and changing directions. According to the AKC, dewclaws help dogs grasp bones and toys between their front legs.

On the hind legs, the extra toes give dogs better traction when running or turning at high speeds, as noted by PetHelpful.com. The additional toes help grip the ground, allowing the dog to maneuver better and avoid injury. For certain agile breeds like Briards or Great Pyrenees, the extra hind toes likely evolved to improve their speed and agility when herding or hiking over rough terrain.

Overall, the additional hind toes provide key physical benefits for a dog’s strength, balance, and movement. It allows them to grip better and change directions quickly – important functions for active dog breeds. While not all dogs have them, the extra digits are an evolutionary advantage for many dogs.

Breed Variations

The standard number of toes for dogs is 4 on the front paws and 5 on the hind paws. However, some breeds naturally have more or fewer toes due to selective breeding or genetic mutations.

Examples of breeds with extra toes include:

  • Labrador Retrievers often have extra toes on the hind legs called double dewclaws. This trait originated from the St. John’s water dog, an ancestor of Labs (Chewy).
  • The Portuguese Sheepdog may have up to 6 toes per paw due to a dominant polydactyly gene (PetHelpful).
  • The Norwegian Lundehund dog has 6 fully functioning toes on each paw, allowing it to grip rocky surfaces (A-Z Animals).

Some breeds prone to fewer toes include:

  • Greyhounds often lack the thumb toe on their front paws.
  • Australian Shepherds may be missing the fifth toe on their hind legs.

While variations exist, most pedigree dog breeds aim to meet the written standard for that breed, which specifies the correct number of toes.

Polydactyl Dogs

Polydactyly is the term used to describe dogs that have extra toes. This genetic mutation causes dogs to be born with more than the normal number of toes on one or more of their paws. While the average number of toes for dogs is four on the front paws and five on the hind paws, polydactyl dogs can have as many as seven toes per paw.

Polydactyly is caused by a dominant genetic mutation and is relatively uncommon. However, certain dog breeds like the Norwegian Lundehund and Great Pyrenees have a higher than average incidence of polydactyly due to selective breeding. The extra toes give these working dog breeds better traction and help them grasp rocky terrain.

While polydactyly does not typically affect dogs adversely, the extra toes should be monitored for potential problems. The nails on the extra toes will need regular trimming. In some cases, the extra toes are nonfunctional and can drag or get caught on things. Surgery may be required to remove problematic extra toes.

Overall, polydactyly is an interesting genetic mutation that gives some dogs unique, extra toes. As long as the extra digits do not impair the dog’s movement, this abnormality is simply an intriguing breed trait.

Paw Pad Structure

The pads on a dog’s paws consist of fatty tissue and connective tissue that form cushioning pads under the paw (source). These pads provide shock absorption and protect the bones, tendons, and blood vessels underneath when the dog is walking or running on different surfaces. The main pads are called the metacarpal or metatarsal pads and digital pads, with usually 4 digital pads on the front feet and 5 on the rear feet. The pads have a rough, tire-tread-like texture to help provide traction. Blood vessels throughout the pads help regulate temperature. While the pads are quite resilient, they can become dry, cracked, or injured if neglected. Keeping the pads protected and conditioned is an important part of caring for a dog’s paws.

Nail Structure

Dog toenails are composed of a hard outer shell called the nail plate or claw. Underneath the hard shell is the quick, which contains nerves and blood vessels that supply nutrients to the nail (Source).

The nail originates in the nail bed where it attaches to the toe bones. As the nail grows outwards from the nail bed, layers of keratin protein are added to the underside of the nail plate forming the claw. The claws grow continuously and must be trimmed regularly to avoid overgrowth.

The quick in dog nails extends about halfway down the nail on average. It’s important not to trim the nails too short to avoid hitting the quick, which would cause bleeding and pain. The quick recedes as the nail is trimmed over time, allowing for shorter nail length (Source).

Grooming Tips

Regular grooming of your dog’s paws and nails is important to keep them healthy and clean. Here are some tips:

Trim your dog’s nails about once a month or when you hear them clicking on the floor as they walk. Use sharp trimmers designed for dogs and don’t cut too far back where you see the quick (veins), as this will cause bleeding and pain. Go slowly and give your dog treats during the process.[1]

Clean your dog’s paws after going outside, especially in winter when there may be salt or chemicals on the ground. Use a damp washcloth or unscented baby wipe to gently wipe between the paw pads and around the toenails. This prevents debris buildup and keeps their paws healthy.

Brush the hair between your dog’s paw pads gently using a slicker brush or your fingers. This removes dirt and debris trapped in the fur. Be careful not to poke their paw pads with the brush.

Inspect your dog’s paws regularly for any cuts, injuries or foreign objects lodged between their toes. Seek veterinary care if you notice persistent licking, limping or other signs of paw discomfort.

Common Paw Injuries

Dogs can suffer various injuries to their paws that require treatment. Some of the most common paw injuries include:


Cuts and lacerations on a dog’s paw pads or skin often occur from sharp objects outdoors like broken glass, metal debris, sticks, or thorns. Deep cuts should be treated by a veterinarian, but mild superficial cuts can be cleaned with saline or antiseptic wash and protected with gauze and wrapping (Petassure). Signs of cuts include limping, bleeding, or excessive licking of the paw.


Dogs can get burn injuries on their paws from hot surfaces like pavement or sand. Chemical burns can also occur from caustic substances. Burns should be flushed immediately with cool water and treated with antibiotic ointment. Blistering or severe burns require veterinary care. Signs include limping, licking the paw, and visible injury to the skin (Westfield Vet Hospital).


In cold weather, dogs can develop frostbite on their paw pads and skin from contact with snow and ice. Frostbite injuries look similar to burns and cause redness, swelling, and blisters. To treat mild cases, gently warm the paws with a towel and apply antibiotic ointment. Severe frostbite requires medical attention to prevent tissue damage (The Spruce Pets).


Pressure sores and ulcers can develop on a dog’s paw pads from trauma, injury, or excessive walking on hard surfaces. Ulcers appear as an open sore or lesion on the pad. Cleaning and protecting the wound is important to prevent infection. Severe or non-healing ulcers may need surgical repair and antibiotics from a vet.

When to See the Vet

While minor paw injuries can often be treated at home, it’s important to contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms that may indicate a more serious medical issue:

  • Limping – If your dog is suddenly limping, favoring a paw, or not putting weight on a leg due to paw discomfort, it’s best to have them seen by the vet. Limping can signify an orthopedic injury, torn toe pad, foreign object lodged in the paw, broken nail, or other issue that requires medical attention.
  • Swelling – Significant swelling between toes or around the paw pad is abnormal and may suggest an infection or inflammation that needs veterinary care. Mild swelling can sometimes accompany minor injuries, but more severe or increasing swelling warrants a vet visit.
  • Licking Paws – While occasional licking of irritated paws is normal, excessive licking or chewing at their paws is likely a sign of discomfort or pain. Determining the cause often requires an exam by the vet.

Don’t delay in having your dog seen if you notice limping, swelling, or abnormal licking. Waiting could allow the problem to worsen. It’s better to have the vet evaluate it promptly so your dog can get the right treatment.

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