How Many Nails Does a Dog Have: Get The Facts

Looking at your dog’s paws, you probably notice two things. The pads on the bottom, whether soft and tiny or big and rough, are a subject of fascination. However, the nails are even more interesting. For each smaller pad, your dog will have a nail at the end. Most dogs also have dewclaws at the back of the ankle on their front feet. Do they all have the same number? I got curious about dogs’ nails, and naturally, I had to know more. So I dug up all the facts about dog-nails.

How many nails does a dog have? None. Dogs don’t have ‘nails,’ they have claws. The difference is that claws have blood vessels and nerves, and are attached to the bone. Nails don’t have any of those features. Most dogs have eighteen claws. 

Facts About Dog ‘Nails’

  1. Dogs and cats, among other animals, do not have nails. They have claws with nerves and blood vessels. This is why they sometimes bleed and fuss over nail trimming.
  2. Dogs claws require traction to get a grip and walk or run.
  3. The quick on a dog’s claws are more extended than cats. You can hurt them if you clip much off the tips.
  4. The quick grows as the nail grows.
  5. Doggy claws come in different colors.
  6. Walking on abrasive surfaces is enough to keep most active dog’s nails ‘trimmed.’
  7. Claws on your dog can get infections and even cancer.

What is “Normal” for Dogs’ Claws

Your canine friend may not have nails, but their claws are similar in many ways. Both are made of keratin, just like hair and fur (which are also different from each other). Claws are typically attached to the bone, which makes them both more stable and more problematic if broken. Now that you know the technical difference, I’ve used the terms ‘nail’ and ‘claw’ interchangeably in this article for simplicity sake.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of people who grow their nails out excessively, you may have noticed they sometimes curl back on themselves. Dog claws will do the same. In fact, they can end up curling around so far they cut in and embed themselves in your pup’s paw pads in some cases.

A groomer can take care of clipping claws for you, but your vet should always handle ingrown nails. Depending on how deep the nail is, your dog may need a couple of stitches, and they’ll certainly benefit from some antiseptic ointment. If there’s an infection, the vet can prescribe antibiotics to help, and even pain killers if necessary.

For most pet owners, however, regular trimming at home is essential. The Trim-Pet Dog Nail Clippers from Amazon have an ergonomic handle for a more comfortable and safer grip. Plus, their one hundred percent money-back, no-risk guarantee shows the quality of the product. You can grab a pair of outstanding clippers and a file by clicking here. 

How Many Toes & Nails Should a Dog Have

It’s typical for most dogs to have five toes on the front and four in back. That makes a total of eighteen claws counting the dewclaws, which are sometimes called ‘thumbs.’

Though it’s less common, some dogs do have dewclaws on the back feet, as well. Having extra toes is a genetic abnormality, but not a rare one. There’s typically no harm in having extra digits. Moreover, extra toes might help with traction and balance, depending on where they are.

These are not true dewclaws, but rather a form of polydactyly. Just as I use both nail and claw to refer to dog’s claws, I’m going to keep calling the rear polydactyl toe a dewclaw. It’s easier on the eyes when you read it.

Extra dewclaws are a genetic throwback most commonly found in breeds that guard flocks, such as poodles, Anatolian Shepherds, and Rottweilers. The most likely to have the extra nails are the Great Pyrenees, which are known as the polydactyl dog. GP’s sometimes even have six toes, with nails on their back feet.

Dewclaw Care & Removal

Some dog owners opt to have the ‘extra nail’ removed to prevent their dogs from catching the dewclaws on things and tearing them off painfully. This is especially common with rear leg dewclaws. Because a bone attaches some dewclaws, while others are merely skin with a quick, and nail, it can be more difficult to remove some of them.

Dogs with whole, untouched dewclaws may never catch them at all. Sadly, dogs who catch and tear a dewclaw may need it removed to prevent further injuries and infection.

Regardless, you should keep an eye on them and make sure to trim them carefully with dog nail clippers or a grinder to keep the claw from growing into the skin. The nails grow just like your dog’s other toes, but since they never touch the ground, there’s no natural wear on them to keep the dewclaws short.

While dog nail clippers, grinders, and files all work admirably if you use caution and good sense, I have a favorite alternative. The DiggerDog Nail File Stress-Free Alternative to clippers and files takes the hassle out of claw care. Your pet can dig for a treat while filing his or her own nails — no more worries for you or your pooch. You can get more details when you click here

The Purpose of Dog’s Nails

Whether your dog has eighteen, twenty, or some less common number of claws, they all serve a purpose. The toes and nails on the base of the foot serve to give your dog balance and traction when running or walking. That’s why they slip and slide so much on slick flooring.

Naturally, dogs who dig use their claws to pull up dirt. There are plenty of types that were bred to chase small prey like rabbits. When the victim goes to ground in a burrow, a dog will dig its way inside to get at them. This is useful for hunting and working dogs, though it can be a pain if you’re a gardener who loves their flower beds.

Dog Nail Colors

Unless you’ve been panting their claws, which you probably shouldn’t do, dog nails are either very pale or dark. The color of your dogs’ nails is determined by the hair and skin color around it. A dark foot has dark nails, a light foot has light nails, and a piebald or patterned dog will have multicolored nails.

The only real differences in canine nail color are their genetic history and ease of nail clipping. As in humans, darker dogs come from areas nearer to the equator somewhere back on their family tree, thousands of years ago. The dark pigment, aka melanin, protects them against the sun. Paler pups lived further north or south.

A very pale dog nail is easier to trim. You can generally see the quick inside as a pink area. This promotes simple, single cut trimming for you and your dog. The risk of accidentally hitting nerves and blood vessels is lower.

Doggy Dewclaw Secrets

You may assume the extra nails on dewclaws have no purpose, but that’s far from true. On the front feet, they allow a dog to get a better grip on things, like food, toys, and prey. Moreover, dogs who run at high speeds can bend their legs so far the dewclaw does contact the ground. It gives them extra traction and helps them make sharper, more stable turns on the fly.

In certain species, like Catahoula Leopard Dogs, dewclaws are often used to aid in climbing trees. Having extra traction and grip on the bark is useful, especially for dogs who are hunting prey that climbs or nests in trees. They use the extra toe so effectively they can often climb as well as cats.

Broken Nails & Other Doggy Claw Problems

Some dog owners find it odd that they don’t seem to trim the back claws as often as the front. There’s a good reason for this. The way canines move is to blame for uneven wear on your pups’ nails. Pushing off and digging in with the hind legs is common and causes more wear on their back feet.

If you notice your dog limping, or licking at their feet, an overgrown toenail could be the cause. Alternately, broken claws are the most frequent cause of the discomfort. If you can pull off a loose piece quickly with your fingers, it’s often fine to do so. Similarly, as long as the quick isn’t exposed, trimming a busted nail down may help provide some relief.

Unfortunately, because there’s live tissue inside a dog’s claws, your pup can get cancer in their nails. It’s not common, but if your canine companion has cancer in their toe, it can spread. Dogs with infections, cancers in their feet, or bleeding broken claws should see a vet. When in doubt, always seek a professional out for advice and treatment. While it’s unlikely that your pup has claw cancer, it’s never worth risking their life and health on your best guess.


Final Thoughts

It turns out that dog nails are a much more broad subject than I’d thought previously. While most dogs have just eighteen claws and they use them for traction, that’s not all they can do. Digging, climbing, and even grasping things with a dewclaw is all within your pet’s wheelhouse.

Always keep an eye on your dog’s feet. Claw problems aren’t the only thing that can go wrong. Split paws, dried out pads, and bacterial infections are also common pup problems.

Keep your dogs’ nails trimmed, but not too short. If you have to ask a dog groomer for help, do that instead of letting their nails overgrow.


Recent Posts