Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
There are many interesting facts about dog paws that are worthy of discovering. Dog paws come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be small and cat-like, elongated like a hare's feet or anywhere in between! Variety is the spice of life when it comes to canine paws!
It takes special paws for dogs to walk effortlessly for long distances over sleet and snow without them freezing. Dogs don't wear shoes to protect their feet as humans do, so paws are quite remarkable by comparison.
Let's face it—those paws have helped dogs walk along with humans for many centuries forming a partnership like no other. We must admit that, without dogs and their help throughout the centuries, we would not be who we are today.
Have you ever thought about your dog's paws in general? Have you ever wondered how your dog's paws help your dog run on a variety of surfaces so effortlessly?
When you take a moment and start to consider them, your dog's paws turn out to be quite an amazing part of your dog's anatomy, so let's discover more about them!
1) Dogs Generally Have a Total of 18 Toes
In general, dogs have five toes on each front paw and four toes on each back paw. Add them together and you'll get a total of 18 toes.
On the front feet, four toes make contact with the ground, while the fifth toe doesn't, considering that it's found high up on the inside portion of the wrist.
2) Dewclaws Have Several Functions
That fifth toe that's found up the dog's wrist which doesn't make contact with the ground has a name. It is known as the "dewclaw."
Some breeders remove dewclaws from puppies when they are very young. Many Rottweiler breeders remove them from a young age and therefore new puppy owners never get to see them.
However, dewclaws are far from being not useful! Each dewclaw is attached to five tendons, which are each attached to a muscle.
Dog dewclaws provide support to a dog's lower legs, so when dogs make tight, swift turns as it happens often in agility, their legs are prevented from getting twisted or injured, explains Dr. Chris Zink.
On top of this, dewclaws help dogs grasp objects such as toys, bones and sticks so they can effectively chew on them.
Did you know? Some dog breeds are equipped with declaws on their back feet (metatarsal dewclaws). Examples include several large breed dogs such as Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernards and Newfoundlands.
Having extra toes means your dog is polydactyl!
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Interestingly, dewclaws are found on the back feet of many domestic dogs but aren't typically found in wolves.
3) Some Dogs Have Double Dewclaws
Some dog breeds are equipped with extra dewclaws on their hind feet.
In the Briard dog breed, two dewclaws are required on each rear leg, and anything less than two dewclaws on each rear leg is means for disqualification in the show ring.
4) Dogs Literally Walk on Their Toes
While we humans are plantigrades, meaning that we walk on the soles of our feet, dogs are digitigrades, which literally means that they literally walk on their toes.
One big perk of being digitigrade is that, by walking on their toes, dogs are better capable of walking around stealthily, and therefore, more quietly (tip-toeing), while also attaining faster speeds.
Other animals classified as digitigrades include cats, hyenas, mongooses and several more.
5) Dogs Have Several Paw Pads (and One of Them is Heart-shaped)
Paw pads are the bottom part of your dog's paws that make contact with the ground. You will see such paw pads upon lifting up your dog's paws.
The biggest and most noticeable of all is the heart-shaped metacarpal pad. It is known as a metatarsal pad when found in the back paws.
Surrounded by the metacarpal or metatarsal pads are several smaller digital pads each associated with each toe.
Paw pads are made of tough keratinized epithelium, and it is thanks to this structure that dogs are capable of walking on hot or cold surfaces and a variety of terrains.
6) Dog Paws Emit Pheromones
Several body parts of dogs emit pheromones. Paws are one of them. This explains why dogs are often seen scratching dirt with their paws after going potty.
This behavior leaves behind identifying pheromonal scents from the paws, along with some visual signs that may attract dogs to the area.
7) They Have Sweaty Paws Too
Just like your feet sweat, doggy paws can sweat too. However, those sweat glands on your dog's feet have limited cooling abilities. Dogs ultimately don't sweat as humans do, and their panting remains their main way to cool down.
However, those sweat glands are there for a reason. When dogs are stressed, their feet may sweat but the purpose is really to allow them more traction should they need to escape.
Now you know why your dog leaves humid paw prints on the vet's examination table or on the floor when he's not feeling at ease!
8) Your Dog's Paws are Connected to Their Brain
Your dog's paws are packed with an astounding number of nerve endings that provide detailed information to your dog's brain. What kind of information is being shared exactly?
Just about anything relevant such as pressure, temperature and any tactile sensations are then translated into skillful movements, allowing dogs to make important decisions at a moment's notice.
Your dog's feet play a major role as a sensory organ of the proprioceptive system, the crucial system that allows your dog to have a sense of body awareness.
9) In the Wild Having Healthy Paws Is Crucial
As cursorial animals, in nature, any injuries to a canine's feet could have deleterious effects on their survival.
Paw pads take time to heal and an injury could strongly incapacitate them considering their need to hunt for prey and run away from predators.
Luckily, in a domesticated setting, we take care of feeding and protecting our dogs. Should they injure their paws, we can rest them and treat them allowing the necessary time to heal. And that can take some time, especially if your dog licks them!
10) Long Nails Impact Normal Weight Bearing
For a good reason, many vets cringe when they see a dog with super long nails pop up in their office.
When a dog has long nails, the nails elevate the dog's toe pads preventing them from allowing normal, weight-bearing contact with the floor. This ultimately decreases traction on hard floors making dogs more prone to slipping.
On top of this, long nails negatively impact your dog's posture and gait as they cause the toes to splay apart in an awkward fashion.
11) Furry Paws Can Cause Problems Too
Many dogs grow hairs between the toes which end up decreasing traction making them more likely to slip on tiles, linoleum and hardwood floors. Having a groomer remove the interdigital hairs can therefore help your dog regain some traction.
Does your dog slip on tiles or your hardwood floor? Here are tips to prevent your older dog from slipping.
12) Dog Paws Are Cleaner Than Their Owner's Shoes
In the study, researchers by Utrecht University evaluated paw samples obtained from 25 working service dogs and other family dogs and compared them to samples obtained from the shoe soles of their owners.
The paw and shoe samples were tested for the presence of fecal bacteria (Enterobacteriaceae) and diarrheal bacteria (Clostridium difficile).
According to the results, dog paws were proven to be cleaner than the soles of their owners' shoes.
“This makes the hygiene argument that is often used to ban assistance dogs from public locations invalid," pointed out Jasmijn Vos, a Utrecht Masters's student in a press release for Utrecht University.
13) Large Puppies Have Big Paws
Yes, puppies with big paws often go on to develop as large dogs. During puppyhood, those paws will grow incredibly fast, then they start to gradually even out, and finally slow down.
14) The Lundehund Dog Breed Has Six Toes
The paws of the Norwegian Lundehund dog breed are like no other. This dog breed has amazing paws which sports six toes. Yup, that's six toes on each foot!
What's the function of all those extra toes? Turns out, they're helpful for these dogs who need them to hunt down puffins by grasping steep vertical cliffs in their rugged and inaccessible nesting locations.
15) Dog Paws Can Smell Like Corn Chips
Ever heard of "Frito Feet?" It's the quirky nickname given to the characteristic snack food smell emanating from dog paws.
The mystery behind the smell has finally been revealed. Turns out, sometimes the skin on the dog's paws is populated by a vast array of bacteria and yeast, which take residence triggering this peculiar smell.
16) Dogs May Get Ice Balls Stuck Between Their Paws
When the hair between the dog's pads or toes grows long, they may accumulate ice balls when walking on snow.
These can become a painful ordeal. Every step the dog takes may cause the hair to be pulled which may feel painful. On top of this, as the ice balls get larger and larger, it may feel like the dog is walking on small marbles, explains veterinarian Dr. Marta Lepes.
This problem can be prevented easily by cutting the hair between the paws.
17) Toe Melanomas in Dogs Are Worrisome
Toe melanomas can be a painful and concerning ordeal in dogs. They are mostly seen in dogs over the age of 10 and represent almost 25 percent of toe tumors in dogs.
Affected dogs are often seen limping, and exhibit swelling of the toe and loss of the toenail. Dogs with nailbed melanomas (subungual melanomas) may also develop a mass.
So keep an eye on your dog's toes and toe nails and report to your vet immediately if something seems amiss!
18) Some Dog Have Snowshoe Feet
Snowshoe feet in dogs consist of compact, oval feet boasting well-arched toes and fur between them.
These feet offer several advantages compared to traditional dog feet when it comes to navigating snow.
Indeed, it can be said that just like snowshoes crafted for humans, snowshoe feet in dogs allow them to distribute their weight across a greater surface area, which ultimately prevents them from sinking into the snow.
Snowshoe feet are found in Alaskan malamutes, Finnish Lapphunds, Tibetan terriers and Samoyeds.
19) Paw Pads "Flatten Out" With Time
If you look at your dog's paw pads very closely, you may notice several small protuberances. These are known as "conical papillae."
At a closer glance, you may also notice how the central areas of your dog's paw pads tend to be smoother compared to the edges.
This is due to a dog's history of walking on rough surfaces. Basically, the more your dog walks on rough surfaces such as concrete, the more the conical papillae flatten out due to abrasion, while the conical papillae on the edges retain their normal shape.
Of course, the older your dog, the more worn out his paw pads will be due to a longer history of walking on hard surfaces. So yes, your dog's feet flatten and elongate with age.
20) Carpal Pads Are a Dog's Braking Device
Carpal pads, also known as stopper pads, are paw pads that are found on the dog's wrist area exclusively on the dog's front legs.
According to veterinarian Dr. Chris Zink, the function of the carpal pad along with the dewclaw is to provide traction when the dog canters and the front leg touches the ground.
On top of this, should the dog turn or stop suddenly, both structures would work as a team as a braking device, and both can help as well to prevent the dog from sliding when walking on steep, slippery slopes.
21) The Toughest Skin of the Dog's Body Is Found on the Paws
The skin on a dog's paw pads is extra thick and unique, in the way that similar skin cannot be found in any other area of the dog's body.
A dog's paw pads are made of insulating fat and connective tissue making them the perfect version of Mother Nature's insoles.
Indeed, according to the book, Peak Performance, Coaching the Canine Athlete by Canine Sports Productions, the skin on the dog's foot pads is the thickest skin on your dog's body.
22) Dog Paws Can Suffer From Heat
If it is too hot, avoid walking your dog on hot pavement. Rather, if you really must walk your dog, look for grassy surfaces since these are much cooler.
How hot is too hot though? "If the pavement is too hot for your bare foot, it is too hot for your dog’s paws too. Keep in mind that cement and tarmac are much hotter than the ambient temperature.
For example, if the ambient temperature is 91 degrees, the concrete will be 124 degrees and the tarmac will be over 140 degrees," explains veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.
23) They Can Suffer From Cold
Frostbite in dogs mostly affects areas that aren't covered much in fur and that are more likely to be exposed to cold wind such as the ear tips, the tail, the scrotum and the paw pads.
While paw pads are made of tough padding made of layers of insulating fat and connective tissue, they are not invincible.
When a dog's toes are impacted by frostbite, they'll appear pale or grayish and will feel cold and hard to the touch. As the toes thaw, they may eventually turn reddish.
If you ever suspect your dog has cold paws due to frostbite, see your vet.
24) Dog Paws Pads Are Made to Touch the Ground
Dogs are naturally inclined to keep their feet down on the ground with their paw pads making contact with the floor.
Dogs will therefore make a conscious effort to avoid dragging the top of their paws on the ground while they are walking. Medically, this conscious effort is referred to as a "conscious proprioception response."
This natural predisposition is tested by veterinary neurologists as part of their neurological exam. These specialists will lift the paw and turn the paw upside down so that top of the paw touches the ground and they will then watch the dog's response.
In an ideal situation, the dog should promptly return the paw to its normal position. This is proof of a well-functioning nervous system.
If there is a delay, or worse, the dog leaves the paw upside down, this is proof of a lack of proprioception signaling a potential proof of damage to the dog's nervous system.
25) Greyhounds Are Prone to Getting "Corns"
Corns may be a common appearance on human feet, but they're rather rare in dogs – unless that dog in question happens to be a Greyhound (or some other type of sighthound).
As in humans, corns on a Greyhound's feet are overgrowths consisting of excess keratinized skin that is located on the tissue of the foot.
These growths can sometimes be painful, impacting the affected dog's ability to bear weight. They are commonly found on the toes which bear most of the dog's weight (third and fourth toes), although they can also be found on the center pads.
Greyhound owners should routinely inspect the paw pads of their dogs especially if they demonstrate signs of difficulty walking.
26) Special Webbing Between the Toes
While all dogs have some degree of "webbing" between one toe and another, it's also true though that certain breeds with a history of working in water have more webbing in their paws than others.
27) Dogs Don't Like Their Paws Being Handled
While your dog's feet appear very tough compared to yours, they are also loaded with lots of nerve endings.
This is not surprising considering that dogs need to feel what's under their feet. Indeed, a dog's paw pads are lined up with special overly sensitive sensory receptors known as "Pacinian corpuscles," which allow dogs to detect minimal mechanical and vibratory pressure.
Even the top of a dog's paws is highly sensitive with nerve endings that fire off upon sensing pressure sending a warning to the brain.
With so much going on at a sensory level, let's put ourselves in our dog's "paws" and start understanding better why many have this ingrained dislike of having their paws handled.
28) Some Dogs Have Cat Feet
Cat feet are just what it sounds like—dogs that have paws that closely resemble the paws of a cat.
A dog with cat feet, therefore, boasts a paw that is neat, compact and round and has high-arched toes.
With short third digital bones, these paws help increase a dog's endurance because they require significantly less energy to lift off the ground. On top of this, cat feet allow a good grip upon walking on rough terrains.
Catlike paws are found in Dobermans and Akitas.
29) Some Dogs Have Hare Feet
Hare feet are found in dogs who were bred for speed. They are characterized by two centered toes that are longer than the outside and inside toes giving these dogs' feet the appearance of being longer.
You'll find hare-like feet in many sighthounds such as the greyhound, whippet and Borzoi.
30) Other Dogs Have Fox Feet
Fox-like feet are found in a specific breed: the American Foxhound. According to the standard, the feet are "close, firm, foxlike feet have full, hard pads, well-arched toes and strong nails."
It must be a great advantage for these dogs to be blessed with feet that are strikingly similar in shape to the feet of the animals they hunt down!
Discover More Facts About Your Canine Companion
If you enjoyed these 30 fascinating facts about dog paws, then you'll likely love discovering more about your dog. Here are more facts to quench your thirst for knowledge.
- 30 Mind-Blowing Facts About Dog Noses
- 30 Fascinating Facts About Dog Ears
- 30 Surprising Facts About Dog Eyes
- 30 Fascinating Facts About Dog Tails
- Clinical Anatomy and Physiology Laboratory Manual for Veterinary Technicians By Thomas P. Colville, Joanna M. Bassert
- With A Flick of the Wrist by Chris Zink, DVM, PhD (as seen in Dogs In Canada – September 2003)
- Paolo Ciucci, Vittorio Lucchini, Luigi Boitani, and Ettore Randi. Dewclaws in wolves as evidence of admixed ancestry with dogs. Canadian Journal of Zoology
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli