Many dog owners often ask their veterinarian whether their dog’s dewclaws should be removed. There are several situations in which removal is advantageous, and owners should consider their dog’s lifestyle when making such a decision.
Dogs are a digitigrade species, meaning that they walk on their digits. A dog’s paw has four digits that make contact with the ground and on almost every front paw and occasionally on the back ones, there is an inside digit higher up that does not make ground contact. This digit is the dewclaw, a vestigial structure that is non-functional or has some function in some breeds. Most dogs have dewclaws on their front paws only, and it is rare to find them on their back paws. However in several breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees and Briards, rear dewclaws are common and included in the breed standard. The Great Pyrenees even has a double dewclaw, an inherited trait called polydactyly, so that there are two bony digits instead of one.
Some breeds require these dewclaws because they are believed to help them in their line of work. For example, the Great Pyrenees is a livestock guardian dog and the terrain they work on is rough and uneven. The double dewclaws placed low on their rear legs act as functional digits to help them gain stability. However, in other breeds of dogs that do have a rear dewclaw, it is often hanging loose and susceptible to being torn off. This is the main reason why it is sometimes recommended to remove the rear dewclaws, especially if the dog is going to be running outdoors in the bush.
Some breeders have their puppies’ dewclaws removed at 3-5 days of age. At this age, the dewclaw is adhered very loosely so it is very easy to remove. The veterinarian will clamp at the base of the dewclaw at the joint and this is often enough to allow for manual removal. Surgical glue or sutures are then used to close the wound and prevent bleeding, although there is little bleeding associated with this procedure. If the breeder has decided to allow the dewclaws to remain, you will need to make a decision around the time of your puppy’s spay or neuter as to whether the dewclaws should be removed. Factors to consider are where your dog will be spending his/her time outdoors, if your dog has rear dewclaws and the degree of adherence of the dewclaws. Any dewclaw loosely adhered should be removed, regardless of whether the dog will be in nature or walking on city sidewalks since loose dewclaws can catch onto anything and cause significant pain.
Veterinarians prefer to remove dewclaws during the spay/neuter because the dog will already be under general anesthesia so it eliminates the risks associated with another anesthesia. If you are considering showing your dog in the ring, it is advisable to consult the breed standard of the kennel club you are associated with. Most state that removal is optional though there are a few breeds where dewclaws are required and some in which dewclaw removal is mandatory.
Many dog owners often leave the front dewclaws for the reason that they are usually held close to the paw so need not be removed. However, this does not mean that they should be forgotten. They are easily missed due to their location and it doesn’t help if the dog has long hair which covers it! Dewclaws should be trimmed during routine nail trims. This is especially important because these claws cannot be worn down due to the fact that they do not make ground contact. If left, the claw grows in a curly fashion, which may be uncomfortable or even painful because the claw may dig into the skin. It also makes trimming extremely difficult.
If your dog has dewclaws, you may wish to consult with your veterinarian as to whether they should be removed, taking into consideration your dog’s lifestyle ie. hunting, showing etc. Dewclaws not removed should be maintained during the routine nail trim to prevent overgrowth of the claw.
By Amanda Low – Pets.ca writer