How Many Toes Does a Dog Have? (incl. the 5th toe!)

How Many Toes Does a Dog Have

This is possibly one of the strangest questions I’ve been asked on Doggysaurus, but here goes… on social media, some commented “how many toes does a dog have”? Well, here’s all you need to know!

The truth is, not all dogs have the same number of toes. But, most dogs have eighteen toes in total. This is made up of five toes on each front leg (4 regular toes and the tiny fifth toe) and four regular toes on each back leg (without the small toe).

Keep reading to learn more about dogs and their fascinating toes including what those extra tiny toes are called and why they are there? I will also explain what the 5th toe on a dog is called. 

Dog toes, how many they have, any why

Let’s talk about a particularly important part of a dog’s body: the toes.

We all know dogs need them for survival. They run, play, dig, grasp, scratch themselves, and do many other day-to-day activities courtesy of their toes.

The big question is, how many toes does a dog have and why the disparity between different dogs?

Do dogs have 18 toes  ?

Most dogs (I insist most, not all dogs) have a total of eighteen toes. This is made up of five toes on each front leg, and four regular toes on each back leg. So, not all dogs have 18 toes, but more of that lower down the page. 

What is the 5th toe on a dog called?

As for the front legs, the five toes include four regular toes and that one small toe sitting a little higher from the rest. This is a fifth toe, and it has a special name…

The 5th toe on a dog is called a dewclaw. It’s the tiny toe, and its position on the dog’s leg explains how this little toe got its name. 

dogs 5th toe
This is where you will find the 5th toe on a dog’s front leg. It’s called the dewclaw as is one of up to 18 toes a dog has.

Why does my dog have a 5th toe?

There’s a theory for why your dog has a 5th toe. It goes that this this toe sits at the right spot where it can easily brush morning dew away from wet grass as a dog walks, hence the name dewclaw.

Some call these extra toes “dog thumbs” because, like the human thumb, a dewclaw is often shorter and a bit distant from the other toes.

All dogs are born with front declaws, but most dogs don’t have declaws on the back legs. In other words, some dogs have a tiny fifth toe on the back legs. But a majority don’t.

While eighteen is the total number of toes most dogs have, some dogs are more blessed than others in the toe department.  

Don’t believe me? 

A Norwegian Lundehund from Norway shocked dog lovers worldwide for holding the Guinness World Record title for the dog with the most toes. This dog had a total of 24 toes!

It’s not rare for a dog to have more than eighteen toes. It’s a breed and genes thing. 

Certain dog breeds have double dewclaws, particularly working dog breeds that trace their roots to mountainous or snowy areas where they’d walk and run on rough or slippery terrains.

The double dewclaws would grow to help the dog adjust to the environment (maintain stability and balance when moving or climbing). 

Also, most tree-climbing dog breeds have double dewclaws. 

A double dewclaw simply means a dog has two extra little toes on each leg. The scientific term for double dewclaw is polydactyly, gotten from two Greek words, “poly” (meaning many) and “dactyls” (meaning finger).

Besides the Norwegian Lundehund, other dog breeds that are genetically predisposed to have double declaws are:

  • The Great Pyrenees
  • The Saint Bernard
  • Portuguese sheepdog
  • Anatolian Shepherd Dog
  • Estrela Mountain Dog
  • Spanish Mastiffs
  • Beauceron 
  • Briard

Most dogs from these breeds have a single declaw or even double dewclaw on their back legs. So instead of having the typical four toes on each back leg, they can either have five or six.

And instead of the usual one dewclaw on each front leg, it’s common for these dog breeds to have double dewclaws on both front legs!

Why do some dogs not have dewclaws?

You’ve probably seen a dog without dewclaws, either on the front or back legs. There are many dogs out there that are dew claws-free.

One simple reason for why some dogs do not have dewclaws (specifically with missing dewclaws on the back legs) is that the dog was possibly born that way. 

toes on dogs back legs
You can also count how many toes a dog has on his back legs.

Not all dogs are born with rear dewclaws, which is perfectly fine since the dewclaws in the back legs aren’t useful. 

It’s also possible that the dewclaws were removed when the dog was still young.

Some breeders believe that the extra toes make a dog less attractive to buyers, so they get the dewclaws removed a few days after the puppy is born. 

The idea of getting rid of a dog’s dewclaws removed for beauty’s sake (particularly the front dewclaws) doesn’t sit well with almost all experts, but some breeders do it anyway.

Removing the back dewclaws isn’t that much of a problem since these extra toes serve no purpose. But the same can’t be said about the front dewclaws.

Dogs hardly use their back dewclaws, and having them there only puts them at risk of a dewclaw injury. You see, the back leg declaws are simply dangling on loose skin — they aren’t attached to any bones or muscles in your dog’s legs.  

Think of a back leg dewclaw as a tiny, inflated balloon made of skin.  They are fragile. 

It’s easy for the back leg declaws to tear apart or even get ripped off completely when a dog’s leg brushes against a hard object — say, a fence or stick when running in a wooded area.

For this reason, most vets aren’t against removing a dog’s back dewclaws.

Why a dog has front dewclaws

Unlike dewclaws in the back legs, the front dewclaws are connected to your dog’s leg muscles, tendons, and bones — just like all the other big toes.

A dog’s front dewclaws may look like they are hanging there by mistake. But they are useful. 

Sure, the front declaws are a little higher than the other toes. But whenever your dog runs, their feet bend to the front enough to make the dewclaws touch the ground.

Your dog’s front dewclaws are useful because:

  • They dig into the ground as your dog runs, providing extra balance.
  • They give your dog’s carpus (more like the feet’s wrist) stability when your dog makes a turn as they run.
  • They help your dog grip toys and other things properly
  • They help your dog climb up — for instance, if they’ve fallen in a shallow pit.

Getting rid of the front dewclaws isn’t right and will only cause your dog unnecessary pain. 

Vets only suggest removing them if there’s a serious health issue — for example, if a dog has badly injured their front dewclaw or has a cancerous tumor on this little toe. 

Removing the front dewclaws will weaken your dog’s leg muscles. The muscles that normally connect to the dewclaw will have nothing to attach to and waste away. This puts a dog at risk of arthritis, which can be avoided if the front declaws are intact.   

And as you care for your dog’s regular toes, don’t forget the dewclaws. 

These extra toes also require frequent nail trimming — especially because the dewclaw nails often grow longer than the other toes since they don’t brush against hard surfaces as much as the other toes. 

Trimming these small toes will protect your dog from painful dewclaw nail injury.

FAQs on dog toes

Why does my dog have a fifth toe?

The fifth toe is called a dewclaw. Your dog has it because it’s normal for dogs to be born with dewclaws.

Why do dogs only have 18 toes?

As explained earlier, most dogs have 18 toes because their front legs have five toes each (four regular toes and one dewclaw), and their back legs have four toes each (only regular toes, no dewclaw)

How do you count a dog’s toes?

To know how many toes your dog has, count the normal-sized toes plus the little toe hanging loosely on the side (the dewclaw).

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Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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