Cow Metatarsal Bone – How Many Metatarsals Does a Cow Have

The cow metatarsal bone is the modified long bone on its hind limb. You will find two types of metatarsal bones in the pes segment of the cow’s hind limb.

Here, I will show you the number of cow metatarsal bones and their details anatomical facts. Again, you can make the difference between metatarsal and metacarpal bones from the cow’s limbs after completing this article.

Quick answer about cow metatarsal: there are two large metatarsals – III and IV, fuses to form the single metatarsal bone in cow’s pes. You will see the four-sided body and two extremities (proximal and distal) in the cow’s large metatarsal bone.

Again, these two extremities of the cow’s metatarsal bone possess unique osteological features that help you identify the right and left metatarsals.

Finally, you will also know the differentiating osteological features of metatarsals between cows and horses. Okay, let’s continue to see the cow or bovine metacarpal bone anatomy with a labeled diagram.

Cow metatarsal bone

Like metacarpals, you will also find two larger metatarsals and one small metatarsal bone in the cow. Here, two large metatarsals fuse and form the larger metatarsal bone in the cow’s hind limb.

So, the metatarsal bones of a cow are –

  • Two larger metatarsal bones – Metatarsal III and Metatarsal IV, and
  • Single small metatarsal bone – Small metatarsal II,

Thus, the medial part of the metatarsal bone is III, and the lateral part is metatarsal IV. Again, you will see the small metatarsal bone (II) on the medial aspect of the larger metatarsal.

In the labeled diagram, I tried to show you the different bones (tarsal, metatarsal, and phalanges) from the pes region of the cow’s hind limb. If you have no idea about the pes region or segment of the cow’s hind limb, let’s see the below–mentioned information –

The hind limb of a cow divides into 4 (four) segments –

  • First – pelvic segment or pelvic girdle – contains pelvic or hip bones (ilium, ischium, and pubis), sacrum, and first two or three caudal vertebrae,
  • The second segment – the thigh region: contain only the femur bone,
  • Third segment – leg region: has the tibia and fibula bones, and
  • Fourth segment – pes region: includes tarsals, metatarsals, and phalanges,

Now, let’s identify the various osteological features of the cow metatarsal bone with the help of a labeled diagram.

Bovine or Cattle Metatarsals (Pes Segment)
Bovine or Cattle Metatarsals (Pes Segment)

Osteological features identification from cow metatarsal

You might identify the below-mentioned osteological features from the cow metatarsal –

  • #1. A four-sided body that possesses lateral, medial, dorsal, and planter (caudal) surfaces,
  • #2. Dorsal and plantar longitudinal grooves with proximal and distal foramina,
  • #3. Articular facets for the distal row tarsals on its proximal extremity,
  • #4. Medio-planter facet on its proximal end for small metatarsal bone,
  • #5. Lateral and medial condyles at the distal extremity of the cow metatarsal,
  • #6. Lateral and medial epicondyles at the distal extremity of cow’s metatarsals,
  • #7. Intercondyloid cleft at the distal extremity, and
  • #8. Four small depressions on the planter surface (at the distal extremity) for sesamoid bones,

The labeled diagram identifies all these osteological features from the cow metatarsals.

How many metatarsals does a cow have?

Quick answer: You will find 3 metatarsal (two larger and one small) bones in each hind limb of the cow. So, there are total 6 metatarsal bones present in the two hind limbs of the cow.

But, two larger (III and IV) metatarsals fuse to form syndesmosis (one type of fibrous joint). Thus, you will see a single metatarsal bone in each limb of the cows with vertical grooves on both dorsal and plantar surfaces.

“You know the anterior or cranial surface of the animal metatarsal bone is called dorsal. Again, the posterior or caudal surface of the metatarsal bone is known as the planter surface.”

Let’s see the summary of the number of metatarsal bones in the cow limbs from Table 1 –

Cow metatarsal bonesNumbers of bonesLocation
Large metatarsal bones2 (Two); III and IVIII – Medially,
IV – Laterally,
Small metatarsal bone1 (single): IIII – Medial to III metatarsal
Numbers of Metatarsal bones in Cow

I hope you understand the numbers and location of the various metatarsal bones from the cow’s hind limbs.

Cow metatarsal bone anatomy

First, I will describe the anatomical facts from the cow’s large metatarsal bones. Like cow metacarpal bones, you will also find the body and two expanded extremities (proximal and distal) in the metatarsal bones.

Let’s see the anatomical facts of the body of cow metatarsals (large metatarsal) –

The body of the bovine (ox or cow) metatarsal bones is also known as the shaft. You will see the transversely compressed shaft in the cow’s metatarsal bone.

The shaft or body of the metatarsal bone shows distinct 4 (four) surfaces – dorsal, plantar, lateral, and medial. Again, this metatarsal bone (the single bone that is made by the fusion of III and IV metatarsals) shows 4 borders.

But, you will not find any distinct osteological features in the 4 (four) borders of the cow’s metatarsal bones. However, the lateral and medial surfaces of the bovine or ox metatarsal bone have no unique features.

These surfaces of the ox metatarsal bone are smooth. On the other hand, the dorsal and plantar surfaces of the ox or bovine metatarsal bone possess vertical (longitudinal) grooves.

Here, the dorsal longitudinal groove on the dorsal surface of the metatarsal bone is deep and wide. You will find larger distal and smaller proximal foramina on this dorsal longitudinal groove of a metatarsal bone.

But, the groove on the plantar surface of the cow metatarsals is variable (deep or shallow). Here, the distal foramen on this groove is also larger. You will find the smaller proximal foramen that sometimes does not perforate the metatarsal shaft.

Now, let’s see the osteological features of the proximal and distal extremities of the cow metatarsal bones.

Cow Metatarsal Bones Anatomy
Cow Metatarsal Bones Anatomy

Extremities of cow metatarsal

The proximal extremity of a cow metatarsal bone possess two (2) articular surfaces –

  • Lateral articular surfaces for the second and third fused tarsal bones, and
  • Medial articular surfaces for the first tarsal bone,

Here, the lateral articular surface on the proximal extremity of the ox or bovine metatarsal bones is larger. The medial articular surface on the proximal extremity of the metatarsal is small.

The arrangement of the tarsal bones (especially the distal row tarsals) will provide a clear concept of the articulation between tarsals and metatarsals.

Now, the medio-planter angle of the proximal extremity of the metatarsal bone bears a small facet. This facet articulates with the head of a small metatarsal bone.

You will also find the medial tuberosity on the dorso medial aspect of the cow metatarsal bone. This tuberosity is also known as the metatarsal tuberosity of the cow.

The distal extremity of the metatarsal bone has the following important osteological features –

  • You will find the lateral and medial condyles at the distal extremity of metatarsals,
  • Each of these condyles has 2 (two) articular surfaces which divide with the ridges,
  • A well-defined intercondyloid cleft separates the lateral condyle from the medial condyle,

In the planter aspect (just above the condyles), you will find 4 (four) small depressions. These depressions are designed for accommodation to the proximal sesamoid bone.

How many sesamoid bones are in the cow’s hind limb?

You will find 7 sesamoid bones in each hind limb of the cow. How? Okay, let’s see how there are 7 (seven) sesamoid bones in each hind limb of a cow from Table 2 –

Sesamoid bones in cowNumbers (only in Hind limb)Total
Proximal row sesamoids4; 2 for each digit
1 patella (for each hind limb)
Distal row sesamoids2; 1 for each digit2
Total sesamoid7 (Seven)
Sesamoid bones in the hind limb of a cow

So, in the two hind limbs of the cow, you will find 14 (fourteen) sesamoid bones. Again, each fore limb contains 6 (six) sesamoid bones; thus, two fore limbs possess 12 (twelve) sesamoid bones.

From the distal end of the bovine metatarsal to the distal phalanx, you will find two (2) types of sesamoid bones –

  • Proximal row sesamoid bones – 4 in number, and 2 for each digit, and
  • Distal row sesamoid bones – 2 in number, and 1 for each digit,

You will see the proximal row sesamoid bone in between the distal end of a metatarsal and the proximal end of the first phalanx. Again, the distal row of the sesamoid bone locates between the distal end of the second phalanx and the proximal end of the third phalanx.

The same arrangement is also found in the distal end of the metacarpal bone to the third phalanx. Thus, you will find in total 26 (twenty-six) sesamoid bones in a cow.

Small metatarsal bones in ox (bovine)

This is an elongated piece of bone that attaches to the medio-planter angle of the larger metatarsal bone. The small metatarsal bone is very modified and possesses no particular osteological features.

You will find a small head on the proximal end of this small metatarsal bone with a small articular facet. Again, the distal extremity of the cow’s small metatarsal bone becomes thin and pointed.

This small metatarsal bone doesn’t reach the distal end of the larger metatarsal.

Difference between cow metacarpal and metatarsal bone

You have a good piece of knowledge of the anatomical features of cow metacarpal bone. Now, it is easy to differentiate the cow’s metatarsal bones from the metacarpals.

You may also memorize the main osteological features of the cow metacarpal bone from the below-mentioned article –

The main difference between cow metatarsal and metacarpal bone find on their body and proximal extremity. Table 3 will provide the summary of the differentiation between the metacarpal and metatarsal bone’s osteological features –

FeaturesCow metatarsal boneCow metacarpal bone
LengthLong then metacarpalSmall
CompressionTransverselyDorso – palmar
Surfaces4 surfaces2 surfaces
Vertical grooveDorsal – deep and wide
Planter – variable
Dorsal – less deep
Palmar – less deep
Articular surface (proximal)Lateral – smaller
Medial – larger
Lateral – larger
Medial – smaller
Small metatarsalOn medio-planter angleOn posterior-lateral aspect
Difference Between the Metacarpal and Metatarsal of a Cow

How to differentiate cow metacarpal bone from metatarsal?

You may differentiate the cow’s metacarpal bone from the metatarsal in the following ways (based on the mentioned features) –

So, the length of the cow metatarsal bones is more than these of the metacarpal (in the same cow). It is about one-seventh longer than the metacarpal bone in the bovine or ox.

The cow’s metacarpal bones are compressed dorso palmar aspect; thus, you will find only two surfaces (dorsal and palmar). But, the bovine metatarsal bone is compressed transversely and forms four distinct surfaces.

The dorsal vertical groove on the cow’s metacarpal bone is less deep and wide compared to the metatarsal. Again, the caudal vertical groove is variable in the metatarsal but easily identifiable compared to the metacarpal bones.

You will also find a great variation in the articular surfaces on the proximal extremity of both metatarsal and metacarpal bones. In the case of the metacarpal, you will find the larger articular surface on the medial aspect due to the arrangement of the distal row of carpal bones.

Again, the proximal end of the cow’s metatarsal will show a larger articular surface on its lateral aspect. Again, the facet for the small metacarpal or metatarsal bones is variable in metacarpal and metatarsal bones.

How many metacarpals and metatarsals do horses have?

You will find only 1 (one) large metacarpal and 2 (two) small metacarpals in the fore limb of a horse. Thus, you will find in total 2 (two) larger metacarpals and 4 (four) small metacarpals in the horse.

Here, the large metacarpal is III, and the small metacarpals are II, and IV. The larger metacarpal III is also known as the splint bone in horses.

Thus, you will find only 1 developed metacarpal bone in the horse’s hind limb (One). And two small metacarpals that locate medial and lateral aspects of the larger metacarpal bone.

You will also find only one large metatarsal (III) and two small metacarpals (II and IV) in each hind limb of the horse.

  • Total number of metacarpal bones in horse – 6 (2 larger and 4 smaller), and
  • Total number of metatarsal bones in horse – 6 (2 larger and 4 smaller),

You will find a great overview of every single bone (including the metacarpal and metatarsal) of horses in the below-mentioned article –

How to differentiate the horse metatarsal from the cow metatarsal bone?

You may easily differentiate the horse metatarsals from the cow metatarsals on the basis of their osteological features. There is only one developed large metatarsal bone in each hind limb of the horse.

Again, you will not find any longitudinal (verticle) groove on the dorsal or plantar aspects of the horse metatarsal bone. Finally, there is a great variation on the proximal end of the horse and cow metatarsal bones.

Compared to the cow, you will find only one distal condyle on the distal extremity of the horse’s metatarsal bone. Let’s find the main differentiating osteological features between horse and cow’s metatarsals from Table 4 –

FeaturesHorse metatarsal boneCow metatarsal bones
Large metatarsalOne in each limbTwo fused bones in each limb
Small metatarsalsTwo (2)One (1)
Location of small metatarsalsMedial and lateral to large metatarsalsA medio-plantar aspect of the large metatarsal
Verticle grooveAbsentPresent (dorsal and planter)
Distal condyleSingleTwo
Intercondyloid cleftAbsentPresent
Difference Between Horse and Cow Metatarsal Bones

Bovine metatarsal bone labeled diagram

Now, I will show you every single osteological feature from the bovine metatarsal bones with the labeled diagram. Here, I will show you the bones from pes, including the tarsals, metatarsals, and phalanges (digits) from the cow’s hind limb.

The labeled diagram shows the fused two large metatarsal bones from the cow that form a single bone. The labeled diagram identifies a small metatarsal bone from the medial aspect of this large metatarsal bone.

The deep and wide longitudinal groove from the dorsal surface of the large metatarsal bone is also identified. You will also see other features like depression from the planter aspects, distal condyles, and intercondyloid cleft from the labeled diagram.

The digits that form the fetlock joint with the distal part of the cow metatarsal are also shown in the diagram. You may find more labeled diagrams on the cow metatarsals on social media of anatomy learners.

Frequently asked questions on cow metatarsals

Now, I will enlist the most frequently asked questions on the cow metatarsal bone that are asked by anatomy learners. But, it is suggested to read the full guide to get a basic idea of the osteological features of cow metatarsal.

Okay, let’s see the commonly asked questions on cow or bovine metatarsals with their concise answers –

What are the metatarsals in animals or cattle?

Metatarsals are the miniature long bone in some animals like dogs and cats and modified long bones in cattle. They (metatarsals) locate between the tarsals and proximal phalanx of the animals or cattle’s hind limbs.

The metatarsal bone of cattle or animals contributes to the hock joint proximally. Again, they form the fetlock joint distally with the proximal end of the first phalanx.

What metacarpal bones do cows have?

Cows have both large and small modified metacarpals. You will find 4 larger but 2 developed (when 2 bone fuses) and 2 small metacarpal bones in a cow.

The developed 2 larger metacarpals of a cow have a well-developed body (possess 2 surfaces – dorsal and palmar), and two extremities.

Do cows have metatarsals?

Yes, cows have well-developed metatarsal bone. In each hind limb of a cow, you will find one well-developed larger metatarsal bone and one small metatarsal.

Osteologically, the dorsal and ventral surfaces of cow metatarsals differ from metacarpals.

How many metacarpals are in a cow?

There are two (2) well-developed large metacarpals and 2 small modified metacarpals in a cow skeleton. But, the formation of the large metacarpals in the cow is somewhat different than these of the horses.

What is the function of the metatarsus in a cow?

Metatarsus support and bear the body of the cow’s body. They (metatarsus) form joints with the tarsus proximally and phalanges distally.

Several muscles and tendons attach and insert on the various portions of the metatarsus of a cow. Again, the dorsal and plantar verticle groove of the cow’s metatarsus contains various vessels and nerves.


The cow metatarsal bone is somewhat different than the metacarpal. The main characteristic features of the cow metatarsals are the presence of four surfaces and two distinct extremities.

All the osteological features identified in the provided labeled diagram of cow metatarsal bone might help you to understand its basic structure. You will now differentiate cow metatarsals from other different animals.