Dogs with extra toes (Polydactyly) | Daily News

Dogs with extra toes (Polydactyly)

What is Polydactyly?

Though owners think polydactyly (poly meaning many, and dactyl meaning digits) dog gives fortune this condition can be quite common in dogs at present. Both the fore and hind limbs can be affected. Most of the time the extra toe is not jointed to the skeleton and it is mostly soft tissue with some bone. It only becomes a problem if it catches on things causing injury. Polydactyly is a rare occurrence where your dog is born with an extra toe or toes. It’s not considered a problem unless it catches on things. Most breeds of dogs have four main toes and one dew claw on the front limbs, with four toes on the back. The polydactyly digit is usually located up higher on the leg from the other toes.

Types There are two types of polydactyly in dogs, those that are bred intentionally to exhibit this trait while in others it is the result of a rare autosomal recessive genetic condition that results in the extra toes. Most of the Rottweiler dogs present in Sri Lanka have polydactyly due to inbreeding for a long period. Therefore before you buy a dog this is one character that you must look for.

The Norwegian Lundehund is a small dog that is a true polydactyly with six toes (instead of the usual four) with all of them fully formed, jointed and muscled; this dog is adapted to climb narrow cliff paths where it originally hunted the Puffin birds. With breeds of dogs that work on snow or uneven ground it is considered an advantage to have extra toes.


In both dogs and cats, limb formation occurs from the 23rd day of gestation and mutations of certain genes or the way the genes are expressed are often a cause of this unusual condition. Polydactyly in your dog is often considered to be caused by a genetic variation.


Usually this condition is noticeable from birth, often the paws with the extra toes give the new puppy a ‘big foot’ look. If you have chosen a pup with this condition, unless your new friend has trouble walking or is limping, then there is nothing to worry about.


It is only considered a problem if the nail on that toe is not clipped often enough and starts being caught on things when your dog moves. If this happens, your dog can either be injured by being caught and stopped suddenly, or the toe suffers tearing from the limb causing muscular damage.


You can have your pet checked by a veterinarian who may suggest an x-ray to see how the extra toe or toes are attached. Most people consider their pets with extra toes as ‘special’.


Often the dewclaw is attached by bone or sometimes it may only be attached via skin. Keeping the extra toes trimmed or the toenail trimmed regularly will keep it from causing any rubbing or sores to the rest of the leg and foot, and it will keep it from being caught on anything. These polydactyl toes can be removed surgically. Most of the vet clinics in Sri Lanka have facilities to do this surgery. It is advisable to do the surgery at two weeks of age.


“Be careful” that most of the dog breeders those who know this character as an inbreeding expression has surgically removed the extra toes of their parent dogs. Therefore by looking at parents you can’t noticed the bad character. Also if the breeder is too smart they have done the surgery to puppies as early as 2 weeks before they sell them at the age of 1-2 months.

Advice to dog breeders

Though people believe the dog having extra toes is extraordinary dog that is not the truth. The puppies bearing polydactyly indirectly express that mother and father that you have used to breed are closely related. May be without your knowledge you have bought a wrong pair. These puppies give a wrong message that you are a cunning breeder. You can’t sell these puppies to their normal price because they may get other kinds of inbreeding diseases in their later life. Therefore it is advisable to change one of the parents most probably the male. You can try with another male which may be gives you the same results due to inbreeding situation of dogs in Sri Lanka at present. Then you have to think of importing a breeder dog.

(The writer is a Veterinary Surgeon and holds a BVSc,
MSC in Poultry Science and Technology,
Masters in Public Administration and Management)

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