How Many Fingers do Dogs Have?

Have you ever counted the number of fingers your dogs have? Do they have the same number of fingers in their front and back legs?

In theory, dogs have four digits on each foot. However, most of them also have the fifth fingers on their front feet, and sometimes on their hind feet too, which are called the dewclaws.

Confused enough? Don’t worry, as you’ve come to the right place.

In this post, we will discuss all you need to know about how many fingers do dogs have, what are dewclaws, and other related questions.

Without further ado, let us begin.

How Many Fingers do Dogs Have?

As mentioned, most dogs have five fingers on their front paws, and four on their hind feet. The fifth finger on their front feet, however, is positioned rather differently than the four others, up the wrist and further behind. Also, it’s typically smaller and underdeveloped from the rest of its fingers.

Due to its unique shape and position, this fifth finger is called a dewclaw.

Also, some breeds also have dewclaws on their hind feet, just like their wolf “ancestors”. In wolves, these hind dewclaws are useful for hunting, providing them extra agility and stability while running. However, in dogs, hind dewclaws are typically underdeveloped, and in most cases will either be useless or may even negatively affect the dog’s mobility.

Moreover, most breeds with dewclaws on their hind feet are large or even giant in size. Pyrenean Mastiff, Spanish Mastiff, San Bernardo, Basque Shepherd, Norwegian Lundehund, and The Great Pyrenees among others, are just some examples of large breeds with hind dewclaws.

To summarize, most dogs have five fingers on their front feet, and four to five fingers on their hind feet, depending on breed.

Do Dewclaws Have a Purpose?

Front dewclaws are positioned up the dog’s wrist, so they won’t touch the ground as the dog walks. So, on the surface, it might look like that they don’t have any purpose at all, but actually, they’ll contribute to the dog’s speed and stability while walking/running.

These dewclaws on the front feet consist of five tendons, which actually have a pretty significant role in the dog’s movement. When the dog runs fast and especially on slippery terrains, the dewclaws will provide additional tractions that will stabilize the dog’s lower carpus joints. When the dog is making their turns, especially during fast movements, the front dewclaw will typically touch the ground, providing extra stability to the dog’s lower limb.

Another crucial function of the front dewclaws can be observed when the dog is about to jump. During the preparation of a jump, the dewclaws will briefly touch the ground, which will stabilize the dog’s carpal joints before the jump.

In some cases, dewclaws will also help the dog when climbing, and also when holding things with both front paws.

Should Dewclaws be Removed?

While removal of dewclaws is pretty common, you should carefully weigh the different factors before making this permanent decision.

Below we’ll discuss some factors to consider before you decide whether to remove your dog’s dewclaws:

  • For aesthetic purposes

For some breeds, the dewclaws can indeed affect the dog’s appraisal during shows or pageants. So, if you plan for your dog to join a pageant, you can remove the dewclaws, but it should be done when the puppy is very young (typically under five days of age).

  • Prevent injuries

Dewclaws don’t have any bones and only consist of skin and muscles. So, when the dewclaws are directly impacted, it can injure the dog severely. However, it’s a very rare case, so if health and safety are your concern, you don’t really need to remove the dewclaws.

  • Improve mobility

In some cases, the dewclaws can cause pain for the dog as they walk or run, especially for hind dewclaws. In these cases, removal is indeed recommended.

Treating Dewclaw Injuries

As mentioned, dewclaw injuries are very rare, but it’s still possible.

To treat the injuries, we must first observe the severity of the case. If it’s only caused by overgrown or ingrown toenails, then you can carefully trim the nails, and in most cases, surgery will not be needed.

If the dewclaw’s nail is torn off, however, you may need to carefully remove the sagging nail before trimming above the torn part (make sure you aren’t cutting too deep). Carefully clean the wound with warm water and apply an antiseptic spray to prevent infections. Then, you should apply styptic powder to the wound to stop the bleeding.

If bleeding persists and/or the condition doesn’t improve, take your dog to the nearest veterinarian immediately.

Andy Erikson

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