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wellness/first aid

Dog Paw Anatomy

This month, we're covering all things paws and boots, so to "kick off" the month, we thought we'd start with the basic anatomy of a dog paw.

The dog paw has five basic parts: (A) the claw, (B) digital pads , (C) metacarpal (on the front paws) and  metatarsal (on the rear paws) pad, (D) dew claw, (E) carpal pad.

Diagram of Ruffwear employee Marv with different parts pointed out.


The metacarpal, metatarsal, and digital pads function as the load-bearing, shock-absorbing pads. The carpal pad, which is covered in thick skin, also helps with skid and traction on a slope or while stopping.

The claws create traction and help a dog dig and tear at prey. The purpose of the dew claw remains a mystery, though it is believed to have been more useful historically in dog breeds.

Not all dogs have dew claws. For most, they can be on the front legs. Less commonly, some dogs will have them on the rear legs. 

dog foot from side with arrow pointing to dew claw.


A dog's paws work hard, and sometimes the elements can wear them down. This wear can be abrasion after long walks or runs on rough surfaces, leaving their normally rough and tough paw pads worn down and smooth. Other times, it might be look like tender paw pads that are sore from extended walking on hard or rocky terrain. 

Dogs have an incredible ability to adapt to these conditions when worked up to them over time. Starting with short hikes and walks on rough terrain and slowly increasing that duration helps their paw pads develop tougher, calloused skin that's less prone to abrasion.

Another way to give your dog's paw pads a boost is with dog boots.

Since those paws will follow you just about anywhere, Ruffwear designs dog boots to offer paw protection even when the trail ahead is hot, rocky, or covered in snow and ice.

Our boots have the trail-ready build and performance you’d expect to find on your own feet, but designed specifically with your trail buddy’s paws in mind.