Why Does my Dog Have 5 Toes on its Back Feet?

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 19, 2020
Why Does my Dog Have 5 Toes on its Back Feet?

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Have you ever wondered how many toes a dog has? Perhaps you've never noticed. Dogs have 5 toes on their front legs and 4 on their hind legs. However, there is an exception.

To learn why your dog has 5 toes on their back legs, keep reading this AnimalWised article. We will explain genetic malformation and hereditary diseases linked to this, as well as what you can do to help.

You may also be interested in: Is It Bad to Cross Breed Sibling Dogs?

Common breeds that have 5 toes

Certain breeds have a genetic malformation with 5 toes on their back feet. Don't be alarmed if your dog is affected. Dewclaws or extra toe on the back feet of dogs are due to the genetics of certain breeds that have adapted to the environment around them.

Both the Mastiff and Saint Bernard dog breeds can present this abnormality. These breeds originate from the mountains and other extreme environments, where a good tread is essential. It is believed that this extra claw could give greater support. However, this fifth toe is actually weaker. It differs from the rest as it offers less support, so there is uncertainty about its actual use.

Although in some cases there is a genetic explanation, many dog breeds that have these dewclaws, are considered to have a genuine malformation, a genetic fault in the breed. This extra toe should be removed when the dog is a puppy. That said, it should only be removed if it is recommended to you by your vet.

German Shepherds, Rottweilers and even small breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers and Poodles can have this toe on their back feet.

Problems of dewclaws

The problem with this fifth toe is that it is not attached to the paw in the same way as the other toes are. The fifth toe is only attached through skin and muscle, there is no bone. This can cause possible health problems:

  • Tearing: In the absence of a bone to attach the fifth toe, it could get ripped off in many different ways causing a lot of damage.
  • Growths: The extra toe never has contact with the ground so it can't be worn or filed down while the dog walks. This causes a growth that can continue to grow and become embedded into the skin. This is a serious problem that is painful for the dog. It can also lead to limping, and, in extreme cases, a possible amputation of the leg. If, at the time, amputation is not financially possible, you must ensure that you cut the nail regularly and keep an eye on it to avoid serious consequences.

If your dog has certain qualities that make it a possible show breed, you should keep in mind that:

  • With the exception of Mastiffs and Saint Bernards it is prohibited to register dogs with dewclaws.
  • Amputation of the toe is recommended as it has no use.
Why Does my Dog Have 5 Toes on its Back Feet? - Problems of dewclaws

What to do if your dog has 5 toes on its back feet

When your dog is still a puppy it is highly recommended to go to the vet as soon as you detect an extra toe, so it can be removed. Then future problems are avoided and it will be less traumatic for the puppy.

  • It is a simple operation.
  • It lasts approximately 10 minutes.
  • It is not a painful operation.

For dogs over 6 months old, this operation is not mandatory. If you see no obvious discomfort and decide not to operate, you must keep an eye out for any developments on the fifth toe. If the toe becomes a problem then an operation will be required at the vets, however:

  • The post-operation recovery is slower.
  • The dog will try to scratch and lick the area so it will have to wear a cone collar.
  • It may walk strangely.

Finally, we advise all owners to be especially careful, by paying attention and looking after your dog so this problem doesn't become serious and have painful consequences. Maintaining a watchful attitude and going to the veterinarian whenever needed will improve your dog's quality of life, and ultimately give you a healthy and happy dog!

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does my Dog Have 5 Toes on its Back Feet?, we recommend you visit our Hereditary diseases category.

  • Milne, Emma Goodman.The Veterinary Record; London Vol. 162, Iss. 26 (Jun 28, 2008): 868. DOI:10.1136/vr.162.26.868-a

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my dog has 5 toes, but only on the front legs, not the back ones
Administrador AnimalWised
That is entirely possible and the same applies for dewclaws whether on the front or back of the animal.
Why does my dog has 5 toes on both of its back feet? Should i be concerned?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Meri,

If you read the article, you will see that this shouldn't be an issue!
I just figured out that the puppy that i'm watching has 6 toes, is it rare? and should i go to the vet and check it out ?
Administrador AnimalWised
It is possible for your dog to have 6 toes and it is not a problem at all. It is a genetic mutation which is more common than you may think. However, you may want to ask your veterinarian at the next checkup, just top ensure they are not malformed or causing any irritation. There shouldn't be a problem, but it's always best to be on the safe side.
My 11 month old recently adopted Anatolian Shegerd dog has a toe higher up on the foot of one of his hind legs This toe has a bit of roughness like on his paw pad however it does not have a claw. Should I be concerned?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Karen,

Anatolian Shepherd's are also a breed which may have dewclaws. We go into the specifics of what these are in the article, so feel free to read and let us know if you have any follow up questions.
Karen Brown
Anatolian Shepherd dogs are breeds which can have dew claws however this is not a dew claw but a fair size toe about the circumference of a man's thumb and is quite a bit higher up one of his hind legs. People who see it think it is a growth however it looks more like a toe to me. I wish I could send you a picture of it.
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Karen,

We are sorry for the misunderstanding, we understand now. Growth abnormalities are not uncommon in any species and may be due to a genetic issue which is difficult to define. The concern is whether or not it is benign. If the growth has appeared recently, then it should be checked by a doctor to ensure it isn't something needing treatment. Even if it wasn't cancerous, it could cause other issues such as affecting their gait.

If it is benign, then it may not need to be removed at all. As long as it doesn't affect their health or well-being, it could just be an extra appendage. The person to determine this is a veterinarian, so we recommend taking it to get looked at.

If you have a smartphone, you can take a picture and uploaded it by adding it to a comment. All the best!
Many, if not most breeds no longer require removal of dew claws for show dogs. Mandatory removal has fallen out of favor, along with docking tails or ears.
Great Pyrenees are REQUIRED by the breed standard to have the double dewclaws on the hind legs. Under no circumstances should they be considered a fault and removed. They are part of who the dogs are.
Hy guys, very nice post, but i think its very important to point out that some breeds do have 5 or 6 toes, and it's completly normal for them, and you shouldn't remove it. so please speak to the vet before you do anything crazy. I'm talking about crag dogs like Norwegian Lundehund. he has 6 working fingers, and are usued to climb cliffs
Administrador AnimalWised
Thanks for the additional information Laura!
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