Here’s what you need to know about your dog’s dew claws, including when (or if) you should have them removed, and recommendations from other dog owners.
A dew claw is similar to a thumb — complete with a toenail — but it grows a bit higher up on the paw than the rest of the toenails on that paw and it never comes in contact with the ground.
If your dog has dew claws (most dogs do), then you’ll want to pay extra attention to the dewclaws.
This is especially important during the puppy’s first 6 months of life, because you need to make sure that they’re growing properly and not getting in the way during your dog’s regular activities.
Does Your Dog Have Dew Claws In Front? Back? Or Both?
The majority of dogs have dew claws on their front paws. (Ours does.)
Some dogs also have dew claws on their back paws. (Ours does.)
Dew claws on the back paws is fairly rare for dogs in general, but somewhat common in certain breeds, including Great Pyrenees. Our Great Pyrenees/Black Lab mix has dew claws on both, his front and back paws, though he doesn’t have the “double dew claws” (two claws stemming from one single area) on his hind paws as is typically standard for the breed.
Why Dew Claws Might Need To Be Removed
Rest assured that most dogs with dewclaws do just fine without having to remove the dewclaws.
But sometimes the dew claws are not “properly attached”. They may also “dangle” or “hang”, or just get in the way during the normal course of playing and walking.
Not to mention the fact that dogs with dew claws who also like to dig a lot, will sometimes irritate the dew claw, or even break the dew claw bone (not all dew claws have bones). This could usually happens when reaching through a chain link fence or something similar.
If the dew claws on your dog’s front or rear paws seem to easily get caught on things, then they could easily rip off — which would be very painful for the dog. In this case, you should talk with your vet about whether or not to have the dewclaw(s) removed.
How & When To Remove Dew Claws
Most dog owners who opt to have their dog’s dewclaws removed have it done at the same time as the dog’s spay or neuter surgery. That way, there is only one time going under the anesthesia, only one period of time for recovery, only one visit to the vet (and only one office charge).
Dewclaw removal involves removing the entire toe, not just the claw, and the cost may increase if the toe is firmly attached. — About Dogs
When done at the same time as the spay/neuter, some dog owners have indicated that the recuperation period for the dewclaw removal seems to take longer and be more stressful for the dog than the spay/neuter surgery part of the surgery.
For the most part, dogs seem oblivious to the stitches that result from the spay/neuter, but they can’t seem to stop licking at the bandages which must remain on their paws for weeks from the dew claw removal.
Many breeders choose to remove dewclaws on puppies in the first week of life, because soon after birth the dewclaws are more like fingernails than appendages. At that young age, dew claws can be removed relatively easily and no stitches are required.
Our Decision Regarding Tenor’s Rear Dew Claws
With our Great Pyrenees dog, it appeared early on that his rear dew claws were sticking out too far and could get caught on things.
The vet said that each of Tenor’s dewclaws is basically formed as an “extra toe”, and it would be fairly major surgery to remove the entire toe. (Think of it as amputating a thumb.) We were encouraged to keep an eye on them for a few months, then make a decision regarding the future of Tenor’s dew claws when it came time for his neutering.
At 6 months of age, when when we made the appointment for Tenor’s neutering, we realized that he hadn’t had any problems with the dew claws catching on anything, so we decided to leave them intact. The vet assured us that he’d be just fine.
One thing to note…
Since we chose to leave Tenor’s dewclaws intact, the vet said that we’d have to pay extra attention to keeping the toenails on those dewclaws trimmed. Primarily because:
- They are higher up on his paw so they won’t get any wear in the normal course of walking.
- If they are ever allowed to get long, the quick will grow proportionately, making it more and more difficult to keep that toenail short.
More About Dog Dew Claws
Here’s an excellent photo summary describing how to trim your dog’s toenails (especially when they’re black, and it’s hard to see the “quick”), which type of nail trimmer is best, and some advice about dew claws.
Here’s the perspective of the show dog community regarding dew claws.
Check out these tips for taking care of and treating a dog’s torn toenail.
Dog breeds that commonly have dew claws, or even double dew claws.
The faster the breed, the more important the dewclaw. It can actually contact the ground and help with traction when a zooming dog is “cornering”. You probably won’t see this in a lumbering Newf, but you may in a Border Collie doing agility. Dogs also use their dewclaws as “thumbs”. My dog uses his to stabilize a bone for chewing. And studies have shown that removal of the dewclaw (particularly the attached “non-floppy” kind) can lead to increased incidence of arthritis in the carpus (wrist) because the dewclaw helps with stabilization of that joint. — Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips for Dogs