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wellness/first aid

Dog Paw Anatomy: Parts of a Dog’s Paw

Those paws will follow you just about anywhere, especially when there's an adventure to be had. We get a lot of questions about paw anatomy, and whether or not boots are necessary for our sidekicks. Ready to dig in?


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 to protect the joints and bones in your dog's paws. They're covered in thick skin that also helps with skid and traction on a slope or while stopping.

The claws provide traction and help a dog dig. 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.

Man skateboarding with dog


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.

Boots can help lessen paw soreness from long treks, abrasion from rough surfaces, or frost bite from ice and snow. 

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.  

close up of dog boots on a dog


Each boot is designed with features geared toward assisting in different environments. Here, we’ve broken down these key features to help make choosing the best boot for your activity a snap.

GRIP TREX™All-terrain paw wear; great for hot surfaces, backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, and everyday walks where extra protection is needed.

POLAR TREX™: Winter traction and insulation; great for protecting against cold temps, sno-melt chemicals, and snowballs while cold-weather walking, skiing, snowboarding, or snow shoeing.

For more information on choosing the dog boot that's right for your dog, check out our guide to dog boots.