Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
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.
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
Andrew on July 11, 2020:
My Rottweiler never had his dew claws removed as a puppy , a decision that I now regret daily . He is now nearly 3 years old and has managed to bend them sideways more than 3 times already causing him a lot of pain & forcing me a very expensive trip to the Vet $200 for medication. My last Rottweiler that I owned over 20 years ago had his dew claws removed & tail docked as a puppy I never had any trouble with my last dog & he never had to go through any pain or discomfort By being forced to keep them just because some animal liberationist wanted to force there opinions on the majority of the population just to appease there own conscience. My dog has had to endure this now over 3 times so next week I will be taking him to my
Vet to do what should have been when he was a puppy , have his dew claws removed. Anybody that thinks they are saving their animal a lot of pain should rethink things ,in fact I now think my dog has gone through far more pain than having them removed as a pup in the first place
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 04, 2020:
Your choice should be made on various factors. For example, do you have serious plans for his agility in the future? any plans to change sport in the future (like Treibball, flyball?) Do you have to do any other procedures so you can combine them with this procedure? Like a dental cleaning, spay/neuter? Your best bet is to discuss with your vet.
Brenden on May 01, 2018:
I have a BC who is doing agility. As he is still learning, he knocks into bar constantly resulting in swelling of his dewclaw. I’m contemplating to remove it to prevent injury but I’m not sure whether should I proceed as there’s conflicting views.
Any advise is appreciated
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 22, 2015:
Hello Heldi, no need to apologize, I couldn't even tell English is not your mother language! There are some dogs who have dewclaws in such a way as making them more prone to injury. There was this dog in agility that when we were teaching him to jump an obstacle, his protruding dewclaws were touching the obstacle and causing them the bleed. The issue some countries have where this practice is banned is when they're removed for cosmetic reasons.
Heldi on September 22, 2015:
When my dog was neutered vet also removed dewclaws from his rear legs. I suggested it because once when he was playing and running with other dogs, he accidentally stumbled with one of the dewclaws from rear leg on bench. It was painful so to avoid any future accidents I decided it is better to remove it. I see it like this, when dogs are running they are much more careful and know where their front legs will end up, while the rear legs just follow the body and they can really hurt those dewclaws that are sticking out. I hope you get the picture, English is not my mother tongue, so I apologize :)
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 05, 2013:
Thanks for stopping by MJennifer! I am also a big proponent of not removing healthy body parts and indeed have written many hubs against docking tails and cropping ears. The dewclaws have been fortunately been understood better these years, thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Marcy J. Miller from Arizona on May 05, 2013:
This was fascinating, Adrienne! When I was young, it was the conventional wisdom that dewclaws should always, unquestioningly, be removed. It was a welcome surprise to me a few years ago when my vet said that's no longer routinely done unless the claws are floppy and prone to getting snagged. I'm not a big proponent of removing healthy body parts unless there's a specific, valid reason to do so (such as spay and neuter). Interesting!
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on February 15, 2013:
You are right, it is a controversial subject. Just don't like to see them hurt.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 05, 2013:
I know it's a tough topic isn't it? There seems to be different views on this, thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Michelle Liew from Singapore on February 05, 2013:
Whoa, a tough one to think about there. I would say it depends on whether the dewclaw is hampering or assisting him. If it hampers and causes problems, as it in some cases might, remove it.....if it doesn't and in fact helps, let it stay.