Dewclaws In Dogs
What are they?
Dewclaws are like little extra toes that some dogs have on their legs. They’re higher up on the leg, usually on the inside of the front legs, and sometimes on the rear legs. Unlike a dog’s main toes, dewclaws don’t touch the ground when the dog walks or runs.
Why Dogs Have Dewclaws?
- Gripping: Dewclaws can help dogs grip objects, especially when holding onto toys or navigating rough terrain.
- Balancing: Dewclaws may provide additional stability and balance when a dog is running, turning, or making rapid movements.
- Communication: In some cases, dogs use their dewclaws to communicate with other dogs or scratch themselves for comfort.
- Hunting and climbing: Dewclaws may be useful for climbing or grabbing prey in some dog breeds with more well-developed dewclaws.
Do All Dogs Have Dewclaws?
Whether or not a dog has dewclaws is part of their unique genetic makeup, and it’s something that’s inherited from their parents.
A “double dewclaw” means a dog has two extra toes on one of its legs. It’s more common in some big dog breeds. These extra toes can help with certain tasks, but they’re not usually needed. If there’s a problem with them, a vet might suggest removing them.
Taking Care of Your Dog’s Dewclaws
Dewclaws need to be checked regularly to make sure they don’t grow too long.
If dewclaws aren’t naturally worn down, they will need regular trimming to prevent them from becoming too long, which can lead to discomfort, injury, or other issues. The frequency of trimming depends on the individual dog’s activity level and the rate of nail growth. Generally, every few weeks or as needed is a good rule of thumb for checking and trimming dewclaws.
How To Trim
To trim your dog’s dewclaw;
- Gather dog-specific nail clippers, and some treats for positive reinforcement.
- Find a calm, well-lit area, and make sure your dog is at ease.
- Carefully inspect the dewclaw for the quick, the pinkish part inside the nail.
- Trim it gradually, cutting small bits at a 45-degree angle to avoid the quick.
- Offer praise and treats after each successful trim to create a positive association.
- If you’re not sure a groomer or vet will happily show you how to do this correctly.
I find it’s easier to trim all nails with two people present. Whilst one person concentrates on trimming, the other person can hold the dog securely, calmly reassure and give a small treat after each foot is completed.
Some dewclaws are almost hidden by fur. In this case it’s a good idea to trim around the dewclaw before using nail clippers. Also, familiarise yourself with the exact location of the dewclaw beforehand to reduce stress for your dog.
What Happens If Dewclaws Are Not Trimmed?
If a dewclaw’s nail becomes too long, it can curve or curl, which can lead to a few problems:
- Discomfort: Long, curved nails can cause discomfort for your dog, particularly if they start to press against the skin or pad of the dewclaw or other toes.
- Injury: Curled nails are more likely to snag on objects or even break, potentially causing injury or bleeding.
- Altered Gait: In some cases, dogs with excessively curled nails may adjust their gait to avoid discomfort, which can affect their overall mobility.
Dog Dewclaw Injury
Dewclaws can bleed if they are injured, but the amount of bleeding varies depending on the severity of the injury. A minor injury might result in a small amount of bleeding, while a more significant injury, such as a torn or broken dewclaw, can lead to more substantial bleeding. If your dog’s dewclaw is bleeding, it’s essential to address the issue straight away by applying gentle pressure to stop the bleeding and, if necessary, using styptic powder or cornstarch. Clean the area with warm water and a mild antiseptic, dry and apply a clean cloth or bandage.
Always consult your vet if the bleeding continues or the area becomes swollen. The dog may need painkillers and/or antibiotics.
Try to prevent the dog from licking the area to avoid infection. Keep the leg bandaged or apply a collar or cone to stop contamination.
Why Are Dewclaws Removed?
A vet might recommend removing a dog’s dewclaw in these situations:
- If the dewclaw is severely injured and causes pain or infection.
- When infections keep coming back despite treatment.
- When the dewclaw grows abnormally, leading to discomfort.
- In breeds with double dewclaws on their back legs, it might be necessary due to breed standards.
The dog will be placed under general anaesthetic and a small incision is made near the base of the dewclaw. It is then carefully removed including the nail and tissue.
It is essential to keep the wound as clean as possible.
The dog may need painkillers, antibiotics and a collar to prevent licking.
A follow up visit will be required to remove stitches and check the wound is healing correctly.