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Should Dewclaws Be Removed from Dogs?

by Geoff Works |

Dewclaws are considered by most as the thumbs and big toes of dogs. While they’re not as functional as human thumbs, they still play a part in your dog’s activities.

This blog will talk about this commonly overlooked body part and why people sometimes elect to remove them. But first, we’ll begin with defining what dewclaws are.

What Are Dewclaws?

If you look at a dog’s feet, you’ll see that there are five toenails at the end. The main four toenails directly touch the ground when they walk, while the fifth is elevated and doesn’t contact the ground at all. This non-bearing part of the foot of your dog is the dewclaw. But what are dewclaws for?

Dewclaws aid your dog in grasping objects like bones or food. But even without dewclaws, your dog could still hold these objects. But having that extra toe helps with their grip.

However, more than securing different objects, dewclaws help stabilize the ankles of your dog. This is especially true for agile dogs like Border Collies, Russell Terrier, and Australian Shepherds.

Dewclaws help these breeds make quick and tight turns when they run. It can also decrease the development of arthritis in the ankle. But given these benefits, why do some dog owners choose to remove dewclaws? To understand this, we’ll first need to differentiate between front dewclaws and rear dewclaws.

Front Dewclaws

Front dewclaws are the ones that help with the grip and traction of dogs. These dewclaws are more vital in everyday life of your canine companion.

Rear Dewclaws

Rear dewclaws are less useful but are not usually a cause for alarm. Some dogs are born with a single rear dewclaw, although it isn’t unusual to develop two or double rear dewclaws. This is commonly seen in breeds like Briards and Great Pyrenees.

Should Dewclaws Be Removed from Dogs?

The short answer is no. As mentioned earlier, front dewclaws help your dog during tight turns. Some dogs even use them to climb trees when chasing small animals or reaching for toys or insects.

What’s more, dewclaws are attached to the ankle by a metacarpal bone, with both parts forming a joint. This attachment means front dewclaws have their muscles, tendons, and blood supply. Considering the anatomy and mobility purpose of the part, most veterinarians and pet owners do not elect to remove front dewclaws.

Rear dewclaws are treated the same, but they’re not as significant. For instance, some aren’t directly connected to the bone and are only attached to the skin. As such, their purpose is less clear.

When to Remove Dewclaws

Again, front dewclaws are more important than rear dewclaws. But the removal of both is still necessary under certain conditions.

Front Dewclaw Removal

Since front dewclaws help with traction and tight turns, there are instances it can get severely injured. The front dewclaws can bleed a lot if they get injured since they have quicks like the other nails on your dog’s feet. Quicks are the tender flesh beneath the nail that has its own blood supply.

The nail will be removed when the dewclaw is completely torn, but the remaining part is still connected to the leg. Your dog will be put under general anesthesia for the surgery. Don’t worry since the dewclaw will grow back.

If the dewclaws are only broken, they can be trimmed instead. Your vet will bandage the area and provide medications against pain and infection. Your dog can also develop a cancerous tumor in its dewclaw, which needs complete removal to prevent cancer from spreading.

Rear Dewclaw Removal

Rear dewclaw removal is often performed to prevent injuries, especially when it’s loosely attached to the ankle. Removing the rear dewclaws of your dog should be done when your puppy is less than three days old. This procedure is sometimes done to enhance the appearance of dogs, while some make it a routine procedure for specific dog breeds.

Surgery and Recovery from Dewclaw Removal

If a puppy is born with a floppy rear dewclaw, some vets will recommend its removal. This is to prevent injuries as they can easily be ripped or torn compared to dewclaws that have been properly developed.

Surgery for removing rear dewclaws is relatively easy. It’s usually done when the puppy is brought in to be spayed or neutered, as they’ll only need single general anesthesia for both procedures.

Your fur baby will need to have bandages on its rear legs for seven to 10 days. They’ll also need to wear a pet cone or a flexible fabric covering the leg to prevent your puppy from licking and removing the sutures.

You’ll also want to give your dog plenty of glucose and protein so its wound can recover faster. Limit their activity to prevent reopening and infecting the incision area.

Maintaining Dewclaw Health

If your dog is physically active, it can wear down all its nails without the need for a regular trim. However, if they’re sedentary and only spend their days inside the house, you’ll need to keep their nails short.

Dogs don’t seem to mind getting their dewclaws trimmed compared to their other nails. The problem is that most owners tend to forget this part. The dewclaws can grow long and curl into the base of the nail, causing it to puncture and infect the lower limbs of your dog.

When trimming dewclaws, remember to avoid cutting the internal nail area, as the quick resides. If you’re unsure, have your vet perform the trimming and observe how it’s done.

Furthermore, get your dog comfortable with nail trimming as early as you can. It’ll be easier for both of you once your dog is fully accustomed to having their nails cut and trimmed.

Key Takeaways on Dewclaw Removal

To conclude, front dewclaws are more important than rear dewclaws. If your dog has no emergency or debilitating condition regarding their dewclaws, removing them isn’t needed unless your veterinarian recommends it. The best thing you can do is regularly trim your dog's dewclaws so they won’t get infected.

Visit the Lick Sleeve blog to learn more about how you can take care of your dog better.

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