Why Do Dogs Have Dewclaws?

Updated on October 13, 2016
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Dewclaw in Dog's Front Leg


D Is for Dewclaw

D is for dewclaw.
D is for dewclaw. | Source

What on Earth Are Dog Dewclaws?

What are dog 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. 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).

Depending on the breed of dog you get, he may or may not have dewclaws. 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. 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.

Double Dewclaws


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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

The Dewclaw Removal Procedure

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.

  • Preventing 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.

  • Thumb Activities

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.

  • Illegal Activity

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?

See results

© 2013 Adrienne Janet Farricelli


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    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

      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.

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      Heldi 2 years ago

      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 :)

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      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!

    • MJennifer profile image

      Marcy J. Miller 4 years ago from Arizona

      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!

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      You are right, it is a controversial subject. Just don't like to see them hurt.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      I know it's a tough topic isn't it? There seems to be different views on this, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      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.

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