What is a Cloven Hoof?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cloven hoof is a hoof which is split into two distinct segments. Deer, cattle, and goats all have cloven hooves, among other mammals, and animals with cloven hooves are generally found in the order Artiodactyla. In biology, cloven hooves can help to distinguish an animal, and they are also considered important for religious reasons because some religions involve cloven hooves in their dietary restrictions.

Goats have cloven hooves.
Goats have cloven hooves.

The shape of a cloven hoof involves two toes which are clearly split and surrounded by hard hoof material. The toes may also be capable of some limited independent movement, and they are subject to the same diseases of the hoof that single-hooved animals have. In addition, an animal with cloven hooves may also have horns; the only animals with true horns also have cloven hooves. Many animals in this order are also ruminants, meaning that they have specially adapted digestive systems to make it easier to extract nutrition from plant material.

Pigs have cloven hooves.
Pigs have cloven hooves.

In some religious faiths, people can only eat meat from animals with cloven hooves; some religious may also specify that these animals must also be ruminants. This is why observers of the Jewish faith eat beef, but not pork, because while both animals have cloven hooves, pigs are not ruminants. Many Christians are familiar with the section of the Bible which covers clean and unclean animals, in which the cloven hoof is an important distinguishing feature. The cloven hoof has also been associated in some cultures with the devil; Satan is often depicted with cloven hooves in Christian religious art and writing, for example.

The cloven hooves of a giraffe support its unique skeletal structure.
The cloven hooves of a giraffe support its unique skeletal structure.

The tracks left by a cloven hoof are quite distinctive. In regions with wild populations of ungulates like deer, the small double pockmarks of cloven hooves in the soil are quite common, and they are used for trailing these animals in their natural environment. The tallest member of Artiodactyla is the giraffe, which sports a special set of cloven hooves designed to support the giraffe's unique skeletal structure.

Deer have cloven hooves.
Deer have cloven hooves.

Care for livestock and animals with cloven hooves is important. The hooves must be regularly trimmed to prevent excessive growth, and they should ideally be cleaned, especially in the cleft, to make sure that the hoof stays healthy and dry. Hooved animals in general also need to be kept on dry, clean bedding, as their hooves can become severely infected if they are exposed to moisture, mold, and bacteria. Many of these animals are trained to lift their feet for examination and handling so that their owners can be assured that they are in good health.

Cattle have a cloven hoof.
Cattle have a cloven hoof.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My husband worked on a cattle farm for a few years so he is familiar with the care some cattle need with their cloven hooves.

We also have horses, and though they do not have cloven hooves, their feet need regular care and maintenance.

Their hooves need to be trimmed every few months, and during the riding season, we keep shoes on their feet.

They are used to having their feet looked at and examined when this is being done. One thing I always found interesting is that everyone of my dogs loves to chew on the part of the hooves that are trimmed off.

I think they would probably like to chew on the cloven hooves of cows just as much as horses if given the chance.

I know they like to chew on the cloven hooves of deer because I have had dogs find them in the woods and drag them home before.


I have a friend who follows some strict dietary guidelines. She does not eat 'unclean' meat such as pork. She does eat meat of animals that have a cloven hoof such as beef and deer.

I know there are some other restrictions she follows, but that is one of the main ones I am familiar with.

Giving up bacon would be kind of hard for me since this is a food I love to eat. I like just about any kind of meat, but this is one I love for breakfast or on just about any kind of sandwich.

Her family has followed these dietary guidelines for years, so this is something that is very easy for her to do.


We live in the country, and have several acres of timber, a creek and a pond on our property. My husband is a hunter, and he is always looking for deer tracks when he is outside.

He can identify the tracks of many animals, but the cloven hoof of deer is easy to spot. Many times you can see where they have bedded down in the grass for the night, and I often see their tracks along the creek where they stop for water.

The tracks of a cloven hoof animal are really easy to spot when it has snowed. This gives you a really good picture of what their feet look like.


I live in a cabin by a lake, and deer run wild here. They leave their unique hoof prints in the sand by the lake after they come to take a drink of water.

I don't hunt, but if I did, it would be really easy to tell which way they went. Because of their cloven hooves, their prints look nothing like those of other wild animals here. They are about the same size as some of the big bird footprints, but they are easy to distinguish.

The faster they run, the more they scatter the sand, and the longer the hoof prints appear. The slower, more gentle prints leave a better detailed impression of the design of the cloven hoof.


I have never liked goats, because when I was a child, one stepped on my foot and rammed my hand up against a fence with its head. I remember looking down at his cloven hoof on top of my little toes and being filled with hatred and fear at the same time.

It's strange how childhood occurrences can color your perception of things. I now associate cloven hooves with evil. I don't like to be around any animals who have them, even if that is their only resemblance to goats.


@orangey03 – That is pretty sad that the owner doesn't bury his cattle. I would be concerned about the carcasses having some sort of disease that could spread!

I have only seen cloven hooves attached to their owners, thankfully. I also live by a cow pasture, and from time to time, a cow will escape and go trodding through my garden.

Even if the cow has already been recaptured by the time I get up, I know it has been there, because I can see the distinctive hoof marks in the rows of dirt. I can also see that a very heavy animal has made them, because the marks are sunken down in the soil.


This is pretty sad, but I live next to 50 acres of cattle, and I often end up with cloven hooves in my yard. The animals themselves are not attached.

The guy who owns the cattle doesn't bury his animals when they die. He just carts them further out in the pasture and dumps them to decay.

I have four dogs, and they always find the carcasses. After the rest of the animal is gone, the cloven hooves remain. I have had one of these in my yard for over a year, and it serves as a chew toy.

Though I'm not happy about it, I don't want to touch it, so I leave it alone. I figure that since all the flesh is gone, it can't harbor bacteria.

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