German Shepherds normally have some connecting tissue between their toes that many pet owners mistake for webbing. This isn’t webbing like you might find on a duck’s foot so much as it’s a little bit of skin that helps a shepherd separate his or her toes.
Humans actually have a small bit of tissue between each of their fingers, which serves the same purpose. Due to the size and shape of a dog’s toes, however, it might look that much more prominent than human skin might.
Depending on how closely a particular breeder follows the breed standard, any given shepherd might have more or less webbing. According to the American Kennel Club, toe webbing is not part of the classification for a German Shepherd and isn’t at all considered when people decide whether or not a particular dog meets a pedigree standard.
Companion pet owners seldom care about these classifications anyway, meaning that most people may find themselves ignoring anything between their dog’s toes. It’s a good idea to make sure that your dog’s feet don’t pick up any burrs or other material if he or she has particularly large toe webs.
Some German Shepherds grow large enough skin patches that this can actually become a problem.
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What Breeds Have Webbed Feet?
All dogs have webbed feet to some degree, because they need something to hold their toes together. Pet owners often mistake connective tissue for the kind of webbed toes that are associated with birth defects.
The kind of webbing that dogs normally have helps to hold together their toes and ensures that they can spread their feet whenever they walk. When a dog steps on something, the pads or beansies at the bottom of their feet helps to spread their weight.
The little bit of skin between each of their toes helps to hold their toes in place whenever they do this, which increases the amount of traction that the dog enjoys. That’s particularly useful if a dog happens to be walking over any sort of uneven surface.
Some breeds do end up with a substantial amount of extra tissue as a result of their small gene pools, which in turn are unfortunately often caused by inbreeding. Due to the larger genetic pool for mutts, you seldom see a mongrel with any significant toe deformations.
Even mixed-breed dogs have at least some skin between their toes, however.
Is Webbed Toes a Sign of Inbreeding in my German Shepherd?
While webbed toes can be a sign of inbreeding, some level of webbing is normal and is to be expected. Dogs need to have at least a little bit of tissue between their toes so that they can space them apart properly.
Since webbing is a trait that can express itself because of several different potential causes, breeders don’t normally look at it as proof of previous inbreeding. When dogs are inbred over several generations, however, certain recessive alleles start to express themselves and this causes a greater amount of webbing to grow.
Dogs that are inbred over a long period of time will actually start to show skin growing over the outside of the toes. They should also be checked out for any other abnormalities present in their feet, like misplaced toes.
In the most extreme cases, a surgical intervention may be necessary to correct this deformity. However, if it’s otherwise not hurting your dog you don’t want to do anything that you don’t have to.
How Do You Tell if a German Shepherd has Webbed Feet?
Speak to your dog in a nice soothing voice and tell them that you’re not going to hurt them. Once they’re receptive to the idea, you can gently start to pull the toes apart and see how much skin there is between them.
All German Shepherd dogs have at least some webbing between their toes, though no breed specification states this outright. To some extent, all dogs actually have at least some connecting tissue so you’ll just want to see if they have an excessive amount.
In general, you should be able to find a certain amount of webbing but you won’t see a whole lot. Regardless of the amount of webbing you find, you don’t want to keep pulling your dog’s toes apart for any extended period of time.
Most shepherds will have at least some connective tissue, so this shouldn’t be taken as a sign of alarm. Only a humongous amount could ever be seen as a problem.
Dog owners will want to check their dogs’ toes regularly anyway, because there’s always the possibility that one might find dirt or other debris stuck between them.
Do Wolves Have Webbed Feet?
Wolves have about as much webbing as the largest breeds of dogs. They have enough tissue to hold together their toes, but it’s usually hidden under the creases of their feet and all of the fur that’s on them.
In general, wolves have larger and more developed feet than domestic dogs do, but the ratio of tissue is just about the same. The tissue itself, however, is much thicker than that of a domestic dog so it usually appears a lot larger even when it’s not.
Unlike German Shepherds and every other breed of dog, wolves have not been exposed to the small gene pools that come with breeding and therefore have a much more varied and diverse set of genetics to draw from. As a result, you don’t normally see problems related to inbreeding because it just doesn’t happen in the wild.
That’s also why wolves, unless they’re exposed to a large amount of pollution, won’t usually show signs of any other unusual genetic mutations. Major foot abnormalities are only ever found in wolves that live in exclusion areas that have collected contaminates for whatever reason.
Conservation scientists connected with Princeton and UCLA have found that wild wolves will actually take care to clean and treat each other’s paws, further lessening the chances of any significant problems for adult members of the species.