Why Do Dogs Have Dewclaws?
What are dog dewclaws?
The dewclaw is simply the dog's thumb which can be commonly found high up the leg and typically doesn't make contact with the ground. Dewclaws are commonly found as a protrusion on the inside of the dog's front legs but can also be present in the rear legs as well. In rare cases, you may see double dewclaws on the same paw (see picture below). In this case, the dog is known as double-dewclawed. Often, one of these extra dewclaws is poorly connected and needs to be removed surgically, but in some cases they are quite sturdy and even part of the breed standard (think Great Pyrenees).
Do all dogs have dewclaws?
Depending on the breed of dog you get, he may or may not have dewclaws.
Why remove dewclaws?
You may have seen ads of breeders selling dogs stating that the "dewclaws have been removed," or you may have heard your vet mention it. Some breeders remove them when the puppies are very young, so upon purchasing the pup, they have been already removed and you may never be aware of their past presence. Rottweiler puppies are often sold with dewclaws removed.
What is the purpose of a dewclaw?
So are dewclaws useless appendages or do they have some use? The topic of whether dogs should keep their dewclaws or if they are better off removed remains for the most part a subject of controversy. We'll see both sides of the argument.
Three Reasons Why Dewclaws Are Removed
First and foremost, the decision to remove dewclaws must be done very early. If you're getting your puppy at 8 weeks it's a no-brainer since the breeder will have likely already taken care of it since dewclaw removal is done when the pup is less than 5 days old.
1. They May Embed
One of the main issues with dewclaws is the fact that in most dogs they never touch the ground. This means that, unlike the other nails on the toes that make contact with the ground, the dewclaw nails never wear down. This means the owner must trim the nail on a routine basis to keep them at a safe length. Failure to do so may result in the dewclaw growing long and curved and possibly embedding in the dog's dewclaw pad.
2. They Are Weak
Another reason why several people suggest to remove the dewclaws is because they are believed to be a weak digit that is barely attached and can easily catch on something and cause pain, and possibly infections. Dewclaws are often removed in hunting and working breeds as a precaution to prevent injuries. The belief is that the dewclaws are much easier to remove when the pup is a few days old rather than older.
3. To Adhere to Breed Standards
And finally, dewclaws may be removed because the breed standard states so. You may see breed standards calling for dewclaw removal even in dogs no longer used for work. In this case, it's more to keep a certain look and maintain a tradition.
How Dewclaws Are Removed
Dewclaws are removed when the puppy is only days old, often at the same time the tails are docked. Generally, this occurs between the ages of 3 and 5 days old and is done without anesthetic. If dewclaw removal is not done at this age, it becomes more complicated to remove them as the pup grows. The next chance is perhaps when the pup goes under to be spayed or neutered months later. The procedure involves removing the digit including skin, bone and nail, with surgical scissors. The whole procedure takes about 15 to 30 minutes per pup.
Three Reasons Why Dewclaws are Kept
Interestingly, each dewclaw is attached to five tendons, which are further attached to a muscle, according to veterinarian and rehabilitation specialist of performance-related injuries Dr. Christine Zink. This seems to suggest that dewclaws much have some sort of functionality. Let's look at some reasons why dog owners have decided to keep their dog's dewclaws as nature made them.
1. Dewclaws Prevent Torque
If your dog runs in the sport of agility or if he is a working dog, you may want to give dewclaws a second thought. Dewclaws help support Rover's lower legs, and when he makes those tight turns, it's thanks to his dewclaws that torque is prevented. Indeed, when cantering or galloping and making a swift turn, those dewclaws touch the ground and prevent the leg from twisting and getting other injuries further explains Christine Zink.
2. They Aid Grasping
You won't see Rover engaging in useless thumb twiddling or sending text messages, but rest assured that those thumbs have some purposes. You may notice how your dog uses his dewclaws to aid him in grasping objects such as toys, bones and sticks as he chews on them. You may also see Rover use his dewclaws to scratch a sudden itch or remove some foreign body stuck in his teeth. Not to mention the use of such extra appendages in climbing and engaging in several sport activities.
3. Declaw Removal Is Sometimes Illegal
In some countries, removing the dewclaws is illegal. The belief is that they're painful to remove and that they are removed mostly for cosmetic reasons rather than anything else. This is a good reason why so many dogs still have their dewclaws in countries such as Australia.
Should dewclaws be removed to adhere to breed standards?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli