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.
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.
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 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.
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.