Are Hooves Giant Fingernails?

Posted by Stacey Venzel

What are exactly are hooves made of?

Similar to horns, hooves are made of keratin, the same component that makes up hair and fingernails as well as a turtle's shell.

Like fingernails, hooves never stop growing, often calling for hoof trimming. Their growth rate is affected by many factors, including diet, terrain, genetics, and breed. Improper hoof management can result in infections, such as foundering and laminitis in horses.

So are hooves giant fingernails? Essentially, yes.

READ MOREDo You Know What Horns Are Made Of?

hoof trimming

Hoofed animals are called ungulates. They are classified as either odd-toed or even-toed. Horses are an example of odd-toed ungulates, having just one hoof per foot.

Most other farm animals have two main hooves--similar to toenails--per foot. These include cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and camelids. Even-toed hooves are called cloven hooves.


In the wild, ungulates tend to traverse rough terrain, from deserts to mountains. Hooves offer them protection from the elements and aid in their balance, helping animals like mountain goats climb up steep, rocky cliff faces. Hoof prints are unique among species, with slight deviations in the curvature and width separating cloven hooves.

The layout of the keratin sheets composing each hoof evolved in a manner to prevent injury, such as perforation. A horse hoof, for example, is layered horizontally instead of vertically.

What other animals can you think of with hooves? Tell us in the comments below!

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Are Hooves Giant Fingernails?