While many animals have feet that we may consider at least somewhat similar to humans, hooves seem like the complete opposite. Animals with hooves belong to a group called ungulates. Hooves help animals hold up their body weight, dissipate impact energy when the foot hits the ground, protecting the tissue and bone in the foot, and providing traction. In this article we will take a look at 10 animals that have hooves, including interesting facts about them.
10 Animals with Hooves
Hooves are basically just modified toenails that grow in layers around the toe. Just like your nails, hooves grow continuously. Animals in the wild naturally wear them down just by walking around and going about their normal business. However captive animals, such as those on a farm, often don’t have to work as hard to survive and don’t wear down their hooves naturally. Thus, hoof care and trimming is a big part of taking care of farm animals.
Even-toed Ungulates: these species have an even number of toes on each foot, such as 2 or 4. The largest ground of even-toed ungulates are those that have two toes called ruminants. Common examples of ruminants are deer, bison, cattle, goats and sheep.
Odd-toed Ungulates: these species have an odd number of toes on each foot, such as 1 or 3. Common examples of these odd-toed animals are rhinoceroses, horses and tapirs.
1. Cattle / Cows
Cows, and most livestock animals, have hooves that are divided into two. This two-toed hoof shape is also known as a “cloven” shaped hoof. Having the hoof split into two provides the surface area needed to hold the weight of the cow when walking, and lets the two parts act independently of each other.
Farm cows, especially dairy cows, can become lame from hooves that have grown too long, uneven, or split. These cows must have their hooves trimmed by humans to an optimal length to ensure their health and productivity.
Pigs are another species with cloven-shaped (two-toed) hooves. This provides them with more stability when walking. Sometimes pigs can have fused hooves, however, this makes it harder for heavier or larger pigs to walk on.
If you have a pet pig, you’ll want to trim their hooves regularly or take them to a vet to have them trimmed. Overgrown hooves can cause wounds and make it difficult to walk. Typically, pigs walking around on hard-standing surfaces wear down their hooves naturally, so they don’t need trimming.
Elk are large majestic creatures known for the male’s antlers that can grow up to 4 feet long. Although wild animals, they also have cloven-shaped hooves with rounded toes. This hoof shape makes their tracks look like elongated hearts.
An unfortunate problem facing elk is TAHD, treponeme associated hoof disease. This is a bacterial infection that can cause disfigured hooves and lameness. It is thought the bacteria may spread in moist soil.
Deer are well known for being fast and their ability to leap. Due to the structure of keratin in their hooves, they are actually stronger and more resistant to cracking than bone. This hoof strength is what allows them to run and jump with such force while moving all that body weight around.
Although deer hooves are cloven, they also have an added structure called dew claws located behind and above their split hooves. The two dew claws on each foot provide deers with a wider platform to move around when they travel through mud or snow. They will also use their hooves as defense mechanisms to strike predators with a powerful kick.
Horses have one hoof on each foot. This means all of the horses weight is borne by one toe, rather than split between two toes like deer or elk. Their hooves grow around 0.25 inches per month to a length of 3 to 4 inches, so technically, a horse regrows a new hoof every year.
You have probably seen or heard of horse-shoes, but why do they need them? Most horses today are kept for farming, sport, ranching, pulling carriages or other entertainment. These activities are much different from how they would normally live in the wild, and puts excess strain on their hooves. Metal ring-shaped “shoes” are nailed into the outer rim of the hoof (the horse has no pain receptors here) to reinforce the hoof and give it extra strength and protection from being worn down and cracked.
Zebras are part of the same scientific family as horses, and also have one toe on each foot surrounded by a hoof. Their hooves are extremely durable, and they have powerful, thin hind legs that help them outrun predators in the wild. These animals are known to run over 40 miles per hour. Another interesting fact, is their characteristic black stripes are like fingerprints where every individual has unique patterns they could be identified by.
Rhinos are odd-toed ungulates, with three toes and each toe encased with a hoof. These huge animal average around 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. That is a lot of weight to lug around, and puts a lot of pressure on each foot.
Their three toes create a pad that more evenly spreads this pressure across the foot, with the highest pressure in the center. These padded soles also cushion their legs and offer shock absorbent when they walk.
Giraffes, with their long legs and neck, are known for being the tallest mammal worldwide, growing up to 19 feet tall. Their hooves are also very large at around 12 inches in diameter. The large surface area holds up their weight and prevents them from sinking into loose sand.
Interestingly these animals don’t walk similar to most four-legged species. They swing their legs on the same side almost at the same time, making them walk in a swaying, sideways motion. However, when they run, they don’t use this motion.
9. Bison / Buffao
Bison are the largest land mammals native to North America. Similar to cattle, they have two toes on each foot. A male bison can grow 6 feet tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. These animals live mainly on the Great Plains, where they graze on sedges and grasses, and sometimes berries.
As the bison grazes, they introduce air into the soil with their hooves, which helps plants grow. They also disperse native seeds that stick to their hooves, making them important for maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
Goat hooves are cloven with a curved shape that adds additional strength and balance. To help them climb, their cushy sole offers traction for sloped surfaces and will deform inward to absorb any terrain irregularities. These animals also have other adaptations for the wild, including a 4 chambered stomach that lets them digest rough food and eyes on the side of their head so they can see farther behind them when predators come near.