It is common knowledge that Great Danes are among the largest and most elegant of dogs.
As other facts come to light, curiosity grows about more covert features such as coat texture and whether their feet are webbed. We will focus on the second question. Do Great Danes have webbed feet?
Great Danes, like most dogs, have a small amount of tissue joining the base of each toe. The breed standard does not support webbed feet in Danes.
However, some members of the breed have medium webbing that can look more extensive than it is because of the foot’s size. Great Danes are not water dogs, but partial webbing could have served them well when they hunted boars.
Science of Foot Webbing in Dogs
All dogs have webbed feet during their embryonic development. Dogs were originally programmed to lose this webbing before birth through a process known as apoptosis.
A mutation causes dogs to retain significant webbing in their paws. Owners of certain breeds saw advantages to having a dog with webbed feet and began to select for the mutation.
However, the webbed foot mutation has popped up spontaneously on numerous occasions and in several lines of vertebrae such as birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Therefore, even individuals that represent breeds without historical ties to water or treacherous terrain can often have partially webbed feet.
Types of Dog Paws and Degrees of Webbing
If you look down at your hands and spread your fingers, you will see a thin layer of skin that joins each appendage. Dogs have the same conformation of their paws. This is not considered webbing.
Many dogs have webbing that extends halfway down each toe. Some experts qualify this as partial or medium webbing while others call it a variant of the normal structure of a dog’s paw. Purists classify a dog as having webbed feet only if the connective tissue between the toes extends to the tips.
Conformation of the Dog Foot
Canids are distinctive from felids in having non-retractable claws. Their nails are also dull yet hard. There are three major categories of dog paws.
- Cat foot – very common paw shape for dogs and written into many standards;
- Hare foot – most notable representative of this type of paw is the Greyhound; two central toes are elongated, giving the foot an oval shape
- Webbed foot – extensive webbing from the base between the toes to the toe tips; a webbed foot can also be a cat foot
Dog paws are like wolves in that they are designed to run prey down. Although speedsters are capable of explosive acceleration, dogs are built to lope or trot long distances across various terrains.
A few breeds are also powerful swimmers. Therefore, even when you say a dog has cat paws, felines have rounder toes except for the cheetah.
Alternative Paw Classes
- Snowshoe – category of cat paw; the foot is compact with an abundance of fur between the toes
- Splayed foot – a fault, indicating poor conformation or debilitating environmental conditions for the foot; paw is flat, and the toes spread out; does not support a dog’s weight efficiently
- Paper foot – flat foot with thin pads; common to Toy companion breeds
- Flat feet – paws broad and flat; a fault in most breeds except Tibetan Terrier where it is standard
- Polydactyl – likely a recessive trait but is standard in Norwegian Lundehund; six functional toes
- Fox-like foot – approximate triangular shape with small pads; breed standard for the American Foxhound
- Split toe – each toe of the paw is well-delineated; standard for the English Bulldog
Structure of Great Dane’s Paw
Despite their size and relation to sighthounds, the Great Dane has a cat foot. A Dane’s paw should be round with well-arched toes. The paws are large and strong enough to bear the dog’s weight of 100 to 200 pounds. However, the feet only look oversized when a Great Dane is a puppy.
Great Danes may have dewclaws, but most breeders remove at least the rear ones if they are present.
The AKC allows discretion on the front dewclaws. Some breeders remove them to present a clean leg. A veterinarian generally performs the procedure on puppies when they are under a week old.
The central toes refer to the second and third appendages that stand on the ground. On Danes, they are only marginally longer than the outer toes, and thus, the paw has a compact appearance. Adding to this is the tightly bunched nature of the toes. The pads are thick and hard, and the AKC calls for exceedingly short nails.
It is rare for a purebred Great Dane to have fully-webbed feet. Most have minimal webbing while several have partially-webbed paws.
Why would Great Danes have webbed feet?
Many working dogs have webbed feet even though their jobs do not include swimming. In these dogs, the webbing often only encompasses a third to half the length of the phalanges.
Some Great Danes fall into this category, and their webbed feet may have played an important role in their history.
Danes were bred as catch dogs for large games and developed in Germany specifically to hunt wild hogs.
Partial webbing probably helped these large dogs with their grip and stability while running through the woods and muddy marshes. It is unclear whether hunters propagated the trait, but it seems likely given its frequent occurrence.
Arising from designer crosses between Mastiffs and Wolfhounds, Danes inherited their paws from both breeds.
Mastiffs have round, large, but compact feet. Irish Wolfhounds are sighthounds that have cat paws and correspondingly can only run an average of about 22 miles per hour according to AKC Fast CAT data.
This video shows the compact cat foot of the Great Dane. You cannot see whether the feet are webbed, but look how prominent the arching of the toes is. The pads are so thick that you can see the claws have lifted away from the floor.
Even if a Dane has medium-webbed feet, they should also fit into the cat paw classification. The AKC does not have any specifications for webbing on the feet. Webbed feet may also be more common in working lines than in show dogs.
What is a bonafide web-footed breed?
Although when you hear the term web-footed your mind automatically springs to Labrador Retrievers. However, many breeds have fully-webbed paws.
- Poodle – history debated but Germany or France retrieved waterfowl from the water from the 1600s
- Barbet – flushed waterfowl in the French marshes in the 1500s; several regional types throughout history
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever – developed in Virginia and Maryland in the 1800s to retrieve fowl from cold bay waters
- Portuguese Water Dog – 700 BC Asia; developed in Portugal
- Newfoundland – shares ancestral lines with Labs; rescued people and retrieved fishing nets from cold waters off the coast of Newfoundland in 1000 AD and further developed in England as of the 1800s
- Dachshund – main development in Germany in the 1600s; webbed feet helped to dig and burrow after badgers
- German Short-Haired Pointer – 1600s development in Germany to point birds on land and flush and retrieve them from the water
- Water Spaniels – Irish, Spanish, and American breeds
- Otterhound – another amphibious breed that hunts on land and water; developed in the 1400s in England to hunt otters
Although the list is not comprehensive, it includes many of the prominent web-footed dogs. Most retrievers and spaniels have a prevalence of webbed paws throughout their lineage.
Webbed feet give a breed an insurmountable advantage over “normal” dogs in the department of swimming. You will witness the feet act as paddles and help propel the dog through the water.
A dog’s webbed feet also give them an edge when they move over rough or slippery terrain or when they need to dig. For example, sledding dogs have snowshoe feet to increase their surface area and grip on the snowy landscape.
Great Dane Foot Problems
If your Great Dane has medium webbing, her paws can be especially vulnerable to the sores that come from different foot ailments.
Pododermatitis refers to skin inflammation and infections that occur on the pads and the paw. It results in weeping sores or ulcers and pustules between the toes and on any webbing.
Foot infections are frequently linked to environmental and food allergies. Treatment is usually local at least initially. Your vet may prescribe medicated shampoos and local antiseptics.
If your dog has advanced symptoms, he will benefit from oral therapy (antibiotics or antifungals depending on the organism involved).
In complex syndactyly, the toes are connected by fused bone instead of a simple web of soft tissue. At best, such dogs are more susceptible to arthritis, but they may not be able to walk properly without surgery.
Fortunately, fused toes rarely occur in Great Dane. The ramifications of such a condition for a giant-breed dog would be catastrophic. Other genetic conditions associated with extreme webbing include cleft palates and shortened lower bones (tibia and fibula) of the hind legs.