All About Your Dog’s Dewclaws

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Dewclaws, also known as a dog’s thumb, refers to a vestigial digit found on the foot of most mammals, reptiles, and birds. It normally grows high on the animal’s leg in digitigrade species (digitigrade refers to an animal that walks on its toes, not touching the ground with its heels, like a dog, cat, or rodent). Dewclaws are most commonly known in canines, and these are often removed in puppies. There are some debates, however, on whether the removal of dewclaws is necessary.

Understanding the Basics

· Dewclaws in Dogs. Almost all dogs have dewclaws on the inside part of their front legs, and sometimes, also on their hind legs. Unlike front dewclaws, rear dewclaws usually have little bone and muscle structure. There are times that some pooches even possess more than one dewclaw on the same paw. At least one of these dewclaws is normally poorly connected to the leg, and is often removed surgically.

· “Double-dewclawed”. If a dog has additional dewclaws aside from the usual one that’s normally found on each front leg, the dog is then regarded as “double-dewclawed”.

· Does it have a meaningful function? There are some arguments as to whether a dewclaw aids dogs in gaining traction when they run since, in some breeds, the dewclaw makes contact while they’re running and the dewclaw nail wears down in the same way that their other toenails do, due to contact with the ground. Nevertheless, in some breeds, the dewclaws never touch the ground, and in this case, the nail of the dewclaw doesn’t wear away. In order to keep the dewclaw nails to a safe length, owners must trim them down regularly.

· Are dewclaws lifeless appendages? No, dewclaws are surely not dead. As a matter of fact, these digits are used in lightly gripping bones and other objects that pooches hold with their paws. But in some breeds, dewclaws may not seem to be joined to their legs at all, except by just a flap of skin. In this case, these dogs have dewclaws that aren’t useful for gripping since their claws can be easily turned or folded.

· Should it be surgically removed? Because dewclaws are weak digits which are barely attached to a dog’s leg, some people argue that it should be removed.  For them, the dewclaws can rip off the pooch’s leg or easily catch on something hazardous, and then break; causing extreme pain and putting the animal at risk of infection. Nevertheless, because there are those who also believe that the pain of eliminating a dewclaw is already far greater than any other possible risk, many countries have made dewclaw removal illegal. There is, however, an exemption for hunting breeds which sometimes tear their dewclaws while running over grown vegetation.

More often than not, dewclaws are left intact nowadays. However, it’s important to inspect these “extra toes” regularly and keep the nails clipped short to avoid painful overgrowth, since they don’t wear down by walking like your dog’s regular toenails do. In fact, if left un-clipped, dewclaw nails tend to grow in a curve, embedding themselves into the dewclaw pad.

Does your dog have dewclaws? Are they just in the front or on all four of his legs? What special care do you give these extra toenails?

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  1. We have an Anatolian Shepherd, with dew caws. They are floppy. She keeps her nails trimmed all by her self. I have never had to trim them.

  2. Have always wondered why dog’s have dew claws, now i completey understand. I have a Shitzu-Maltz mix, almost , 11 yrs old, his name is Oreo. Thank you for your Wonderful information concerning this subject! I found it because of an article on the internet about Animal Abuse Registery bei being pu put into place in one State! Hopefully this w will get other States to Push to g get this Law Passed Also !!!!!

  3. i have two rescue shih tzu’s . one 5 got as puppy , one 8 plus just got her from shelter before she was supposed to be put to sleep . she has problems but is so sweet and loving and good . we are very happy with her . our 5 yr old one has curled dew claws on back paws , i had not ever seen it until latest groomer cut her hair short and found it it looks like a curled up snail but does not seem to bother her, i am afraid to cut it , and so was she . no other groomer ever mentioned it . so should i get it cut off, out or trimmed ? ? i don’t know if i will find this site again so please send your thoughts to my email address . thanks

    • Hi my rescue dog also has dew claws and my aunts did too. If they are so long that they are imbedded or are VERY close to being imbedded, then I’d advise you to see a vetrinarian. Otherwise if you think you can, look up how to clip nails and be wary, only cut small intervals so as not to hit a quick. Also in the future you can buy an electric dog nail filer. My dogs dont love it but they will sit through it and I have NEVER hit a quick with it! (some are pricey so make sure to look around I got mine at a little retail store for 20$.)

  4. My 17 year old Pomeranian has both his front dewclaws, and was born without the back ones. I keep them clipped if they get too long. He continues to use them for holding items and grooming his face, and when he was younger he did use them for traction. A relative’s 15 year old Schipperke has no dewclaws (they were cut off) and has crippling arthritis, she is barely able to get around while my dog can still go up and down the stairs on his own just fine. Chris Zink, DVM, PhD has suggested that the removal of dewclaws is a contributor to arthritis in dogs as when the dewclaw is removed a tendon is cut that prevents excessive torque.

  5. I rescued a Lab/Chow mix two years ago and she has literally kept my legs torn up with these claws. What would normally be a scratch on others, ends up as wounds on my legs. No sooner do I get them healed up, here she comes again, and I have another set of wounds to tend to. Would LOVE to have them removed but to me it is like “declawing a cat” and I am HIGHLY against that. So I just nurse my wounds and continue to love her.

  6. My 18 lb Yorkie had single dew claws on the front paws. The dew claw on his right paw was deformed and ended up with a benign cyst growing where a normal nail should have been. His veterinarian removed the cyst and the deformed dew claw during a teeth cleaning since he would already be under anesthesia. His other dew claw remains normal and intact. It grows super fast and tends to curl when it gets too long. I trim and file it when I do his other nails.

  7. My dog is double dewclawed which I think is endearing and makes her somewhat unique. The back ones are weird because they are only attached by the skin and so can be easily moved around in weird angles without it bothering my dog. They can be fun to play with and wiggle and I just find them to be such an adorable phenomenon. The back dew claw nails tend to grow out and curve so it’s important to keep them trimmed (unfortunately my dog gets upset when we trim her nails, but it must be done). Weirdly enough we haven’t had any problems with her back dew claws but it’s her front ones that often get badly broken or torn.

  8. I have a mini schnauzer with dew claws and one without, I’ve noticed that when they’re groomed no one ever trims his dew claws even when I make a request to have it done. I’ve since just done then myself but always wondered why different groomers even from different states never trimmed his dew claws. He uses them with toys and chewing on “bones”.

  9. I’ve had 3 dogs two chihuahua mixes and a lab mix. They all had normal dew claws and never had problems with them. The lab had very short claws because he always ran and dug. He looked like a cartoon character when he dug because half the time both of his paws were off the ground. My family has mostly mixes and they seem not to have very few health problems.

  10. My little Chihuahua mix has 2 dewclaws on each back foot! And so did his momma. I kept them intact & always keep them trimmed. He has gotten it caught on a blanket twice.

  11. My last dog (Westie) had no dew claws at all…got her from an in law via a divorce but he can’t remember if he had them removed as a pup. The Ridgback i had before that had all four paws, connected dew claws and i left them. Kept them clipped and with all his running through the brush chasing coyotes and rabbit he never had any problems with them. My two new pound dogs, one Schnauzer/dachshund mix has the front ones connected, which i’ll leave, but the poodle/terrier mix doesn’t have any