Dog Paw Anatomy 101: Everything You Need To Know 

dog paw anatomy

Dog lovers rejoice! In this article, we’ll be exploring the intricate and fascinating world of dog paw anatomy. From the pads and claws to the bones and muscles, we’ll cover it all. So whether you’re a first-time dog owner or just curious about these furry little creatures, read on for an in-depth look at what makes a dog’s paw tick!

The pads on a dog’s paw serve several purposes. They provide cushioning and support, protect the delicate skin and nails, and help the animal grip surfaces. The number and size of the pads vary depending on the breed, but all dogs have five main pads on the bottom of each paw.

The largest pad is called the metacarpal (front) or metatarsal (hind) pad and is located in the middle of the paw. It’s covered in thick, tough skin and is responsible for most of the dog’s weight-bearing. The four smaller pads (the proximal phalanges pads) are located on the undersides of the toes and help with grip and balance.

Just like human nails, dog nails grow continuously and need to be trimmed on a regular basis. If left untrimmed, nails can curl and grow into the paw pads, leading to pain and infection. The claws themselves are made of keratin, the same material that human fingernails are composed of. They serve as an important tool for digging, climbing, and self-defense.

The bones in a dog’s paw are relatively small and fragile. The majority of the weight is borne by the metatarsals, which are the long bones that connect the toes to the body. The phalanges are the small bones that make up the toes themselves. Because of their size and fragility, the bones in a dog’s paw are susceptible to fractures. This happened to my greyhound Teddy, who put his foot in a hole whilst on one of his zoomie adventures and he had to be bandaged for ages. He was not impressed!

What are axolotls?
What are axolotls?
anatomy of dog feet bones
Bones in your dogs’s feet

The muscles in a dog’s paw are responsible for movement and gripping. The tendons and muscles of the dog’s paw are intricate and ruptures of the cruciate ligament are common. Other muscles in the leg and foot include the gastrocnemius (calf muscle), tibialis anterior (front leg muscle), and peroneus longus (outer leg tendon). These muscles and tendons work together to allow the dog to walk, run, and jump.

Image Credit: MSD Vet Manual

The blood vessels in a dog’s paw play an important role in keeping the tissue healthy and well-nourished. The arteries bring oxygen-rich blood to the paw, and the veins carry carbon dioxide and other waste products away.

The skin on a dog’s paw is thin and delicate, and it doesn’t have much in the way of natural oils or sweat glands. This makes the paws vulnerable to drying out and cracking. It’s important to keep dog paws moisturized and free of debris to prevent them from becoming irritated.

As you can see, there’s a lot more to a dog’s paw than meets the eye! By understanding the anatomy of the paw, we can better appreciate all that these amazing creatures can do. So next time you’re out walking your dog, take a closer look at those furry little feet and marvel at the engineering masterpiece that is the canine paw!

What does a healthy dog paw look like?

Dog paws are made of keratin, collagen, muscles, adipose tissue, ligaments, bones, and tendons.

As mentioned above, the paws are sensitive and have pink or black skin covering soft fatty pads. If the dog plays and walks daily, the pads will have slightly rough and rugged skin. Conversely, the skin will be smoother and soft in old dogs who don’t like to walk much. You have to take extra care of senior dogs because a rough surface will easily tear their thinner paw skin.

Types of dog paw shape

Dogs have three types of paw shapes; hare feet, webbed feet, and cat feet.

Hare feet

Hare feet can be seen in fast-running breeds like Greyhounds and Samoyeds. These dogs have two long central toes that help them reach high speed for a short distance.

Greyhounds have hare feet
Greyhounds have hare feet
Samoyeds have hare feet
Samoyeds have hare feet

Webbed Feet

Webbed feet have extra skin between toes, which helps them swim, dig, and hunt. Newfoundland, Dachshunds, and Portuguese water dogs have webbed feet.

Newfoundlands have webbed feet
Newfoundlands have webbed feet
Dachshunds have webbed feet
Dachshunds have webbed feet

Cat Feet

Cat feet are the smallest and most compact feet shape. They are rounded and provide better balance and stability. Dogs like Akita and Doberman Pinscher have cat feet.

Akitas have cat feet
Akitas have cat feet
Doberman Pinschers surprisingly have cat feet!
Doberman Pinschers surprisingly have cat feet!

Normal smell of a dog’s paw

Dog feet usually have an unpleasant and strange odor as there are a number of bacteria and fungi on their skin. Sometimes the bacteria and fungi emit some sort of yeasty odour that also smells like corn chips. Which is not a thing to worry about if it it does not last for a long time ( if you want more info on yeast infections read our guide from the vets). Moreover, they sweat through their paws which also activate a nasty smell after a running and playing session.

Detailed Anatomy of a Dog Paw

Dog paws help them run, walk, stand, and jump while they bear all their weight, ground shocks, and pressure. A dog’s front paws have five digits or fingers, and the hind feet have four digits with claws on each end. Every finger has individual pads for cushioning filled with fatty tissue covered with a layer of skin, with a big central heart-shaped pad that absorbs the most impacts.

  1. Claws
  2. Digital Pads
  3. Metacarpal (front paw) and Metatarsal (rear paw) Pads
  4. Dew Claw
  5. Carpal Pad
paw infographic - ruffle snuffle
paw infographic – ruffle snuffle


Claws are made from keratin, just like human nails. Often the nails and claws are considered similar, but they are not. Nails are made from dead keratin called cuticles, while dog claws are made from keratin that grows right from the bones. They are alive and have all the nerves and blood vessels to feel things.

Claws are generally used for tearing and digging. They also provide the necessary ground grip to the dog.

Because the claws are alive, we recommend consulting a professional for nail trimming because a wrong cut can be pretty painful for the dog.

Digital Pads

Digital pads are the individual pads for each claw. They are soft fatty tissues covered with pink or black skin. The pads are there to support some of the dog’s body weight and comfort the joints.

Metacarpal and Metatarsal Pads

Metacarpal and Metatarsal are heart-shaped pads located in the center of all four claws. The front one is called Metacarpal or palmar pad, and the hind ones are called metatarsal or plantar pads.

The pads support most of the body weight. It keeps the feet comfortable on rough terrain and protects the paws from damage against the rocks and other pointy objects.


Dewclaw is a mysterious part of a dog paw; it is an extra claw located on the lower side of the front leg. Some breeds like Briards and Great Pyrenees have dewclaws on all four legs.

It has no specific purpose, but some dogs use it to have a firmer grip while holding something with their paws.

Dewclaw injuries are common and some can be treated at home. If you’re concerned, read this article that I wrote along with some expert veterinary advice about what to do if your dog’s dewclaw is injured or broken.

Carpal Pad

The Carpal pad is located over the dewclaw. The small pad serves as a break for running dogs and helps them maintain balance on slippery surfaces. 

Lastly, the paws are sensitive, and its health is essential to keep the dog healthy. So, reduce walking on abrasive, rough surfaces and avoid sharp objects, especially after a bath.

Because the paws are soft and a sharp pointy object will easily penetrate through the pad, which can cause erosions and ulceration on paw pads. Moreover, the hot ground dries out the paws and can cause blisters and burns, which can lead to dry and cracked paw pads.

Wrapping up

A dog’s paws play an important role in their everyday life. From providing grip and balance to cushioning the dog’s weight and protecting them from sharp objects, they are essential for a dog’s wellbeing. So, make sure to keep an eye on your pup’s paw health and hygiene! 

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