Digitigrade animals don’t have “backward knees”

Today, I’d like to address one of the most common mistakes that new or young artists make when they start drawing animals: “Backward knee” syndrome.

This is one simple tip, but if you haven’t discovered it yet, it’s going to make a world of difference.

“Digitigrade” is an animal that walks on its digits, or toes. digitigrade animals include canines, felines, elephants, birds, dinosaurs and more.

Humans, on the other hand, are “plantigrade” animals, meaning that we walk on the soles of our feet rather than the toes. And therein lies the confusion.

Digitigrade animals don’t have backward knees. Rather, their feet are elongated: they are balancing on their toes, and what looks like a knee is actually the ankle. Check it out:

Now compare that to a human foot:

20 thoughts on “Digitigrade animals don’t have “backward knees”

  1. Pingback: Birds, dogs, and cats bend their ‘knees’ backwards because those are actually their ankles! | Net Sauce

  2. Pingback: factPicture | Digitgrade

  3. This is a great post. I learned with animals though, so my opinion probably doesn’t count.

    This is the same with birds, a lot of people don’t realize, and it’s even harder to show since their hip and upper leg is on the inside of their body and it’s nearly impossible to see. At least with mammals you will have vague points that resemble human anatomy.


    Another thing I want to point out is that some animals are plantigrade (not including the obvious primates) and a lot of people don’t know this and once they learn how to draw dogs and cats may incorrectly draw bears and mustelids (weasels). The more you know.

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  5. Also, another tip – ungulates (hooved animals) are like other digitigrade animals, with a catch – they walk on their nails, not even their toes! Horses have one toe with one nail that they walk on, pigs and other ungulates have two-four toes and walk on those toenails. That’s all a hoof is – a big ol’ toenail!

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