One of the many controversial procedures in the dog world is that of dewclaw removal. It’s something by which many dog owners and breeders swear, yet many others wonder if it’s actually appropriate. Before you decide on having your dog’s dewclaws removed, you might want to stop and learn a little more about the dewclaw itself.
What is a Dewclaw
If you look at your dog’s front legs, you’ll notice an ‘extra’ claw. This claw, known as the dewclaw, is a claw that doesn’t touch the ground when your dog walks or runs – it’s a little like the ‘thumb’ of your dog’s paw, disconnected from the other ‘fingers’. The dewclaw itself is connected to your dog’s leg by a tendon, which allows it a little bit of movement – not enough for your dog to move it around, of course, but enough to suggest that it at least at one point did something for dogs.
One thing you might not know about dewclaws is that not all breeds just have dewclaws on their front legs. Some breeds, like Saint Bernard, have dewclaws on their rear legs. In fact, some dogs even double up on those dewclaws. There are many theories about why the breeds that have rear and double-rear dewclaws have them, ranging from beliefs that they were intentionally bred into dogs to make them more stable on rough terrain to assumptions that they’re just a strange leftover quirk of biology.
What’s amazing about the dewclaw, though, is how its obvious functionality changes once your dog starts moving. In fact, at that point, you can really start to get a better picture of what this claw might do for your dog.
The Dewclaw in Motion
If you look at an anatomical sketch of a dog, you’ll notice that there are actually five tendons that connect this claw to your dog’s body. Only in motion, though, can you really see how this part of the dog’s body works.
So, what does the dewclaw do in motion?
First and foremost, it provides stability for a dog when moving. It also provides your dog with a bit more grip when he or she tries to turn, helping to prevent injury when your dog is moving at speed. For some dogs, the dewclaw even comes into play when your dog is trying to get up a steep hill or out of the water, providing an extra gripping surface as your dog moves.
On a practical level, this means that dogs who have their dewclaws removed are more prone to specific types of wear and tear in their ligaments. This, in turn, means that the dogs are more prone to injury both in their legs and in their spine. Dogs without dewclaws are forced to physically compensated for the lack of their extra digit, something that can put them at risk for developing issues like arthritis as they age.
Why Remove the Dewclaw?
Given the importance of the dewclaw, many questions why breeders would ever push for its removal at all. In fact, dewclaw removal is almost entirely unheard of outside North America, so it might seem like it’s a uniquely odd choice that is only made due to peculiar North American traditions. In truth, though, there’s more behind the removal of dewclaws than just tradition.
Dewclaws are removed by both breeders and owners. Breeders typically remove the dewclaw on puppies when they’re very young, while dog owners might do so much later in life. There are always specific reasons why this act is done, with a lot of conversation happening between vets, breeders, and owners before the choices are made. As controversial as it may be, the reasons for removal generally fall into a few basic categories.
One of the primary reasons that dewclaws are removed is because breeders and owners don’t understand the function of the dewclaw. Since the dewclaw doesn’t touch the ground, they reason, it must not actually do anything for the dog. Since it doesn’t do anything, the logic goes, it’s fine to remove the claw. This has actually led to the removal of dewclaws to be part of some breeds’ standards, which means that the claws have to be removed for dogs to participate in shows.
While tradition isn’t always the biggest reason why dewclaws are removed, it is still one of the reasons. Some breeders have simply always removed dewclaws, so they continue to do so now. This works together with breed standards to create a self-perpetuating loop.
Some breeders and owners remove the dewclaw because it is hard to trim, particularly if the owners don’t know how to use dog nail clippers in the first place. They’re afraid that the nail could get overgrown or infected, which could cause health issues for their dogs. Others think that the dewclaw could get ripped out too easily, which could cause major issues for the dog down the road. This leads to the removal of the dewclaw as a preventative health measure.
How to Avoid Dewclaw Injuries
If your main issue with your dog’s dewclaws is a fear of injury, it’s a good idea to make sure that you keep his or her nails cut short, and a dog nail grinder is your friend here. You likely already keep your dog’s other toenails cut down so that he or she doesn’t get hurt while running around, so you just need to apply the same standard of care to the dog’s dewclaws. The biggest issue here is, of course, that it’s much harder to keep a dog’s dewclaws cut short.
Most dogs do a lot of the work of trimming their nails on their own. Dog nails wear down as dogs move across hard surfaces, something that doesn’t apply to dewclaws since they do not touch the ground. If you leave the dewclaw alone, though, it will eventually start to curve back into your dog’s body and could become infected. This, in turn, could become a serious health problem.
So, what do you do? First and foremost, you trim it regularly so that it doesn’t develop along quickly. You’ll also want to make sure that you keep a careful eye on the nail’s growth so that you can cut it before it becomes a problem.
Simply put, it’s entirely possible to maintain your dog’s dewclaws properly so that you don’t have to worry about dewclaw injuries. Most vets will be happy to tell you that they rarely see injuries in dogs that have properly maintained dewclaws, so don’t feel like your work will be for nothing. Taking a little bit of time to put in the work will help you to keep your dog healthy and happy without removing his or her dewclaw.
Should You Remove a Dog’s Dewclaw?
At the end of the day, it’s up to the individual owner or breeder to determine what to do about a dog’s dewclaws. While there’s not really any health reason to remove a dewclaw, you might need to do so if your dog is a show dog. Even with that said, it’s important that you remember that any choice to remove a dog’s dewclaws is strictly for an aesthetic reason and not for health reasons. Dogs are more than happy to keep this part of their bodies, and those who have the dewclaw removed could experience mobility issues later in their lives.
No, you probably won’t hurt your dog if you have his or his dewclaws removed. You definitely won’t hurt him or her by keeping them in place, though. Ultimately, this is a decision only you can make for your dog.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the purpose of a dewclaw on a dog?
There are probably a few different purposes of the dewclaw, depending on a dog’s breed. Research, for example, has shown that dewclaws probably play a role in decreasing stress on your dog’s ligaments when he or she is turning at high speeds and that the dewclaw might even help with providing traction while dogs run. In some breeds, the dewclaws may also play a role in helping them get out of the water, up trees, or even up steep hills. The fact that the dewclaws are connected to several ligaments is probably indicative that they definitely have something to do with your dog’s ability to move at high speeds.
2. Is removing dewclaws cruel?
It’s tough to say if removing dewclaws is cruel. On one hand, removing your dog’s dewclaws really doesn’t serve any purpose. On the other hand, it’s tough to say that your dog is necessarily going to miss his or her dewclaws. Some dogs can definitely develop mobility problems as they get older if they don’t have their dewclaws, but this is far from universal. Instead, it might be safer to say that while it’s not necessarily cruel to have dewclaws removed, it definitely doesn’t serve any reasonable purpose.
3. What breeds of dogs have dewclaws?
All dogs have dewclaws. The dewclaw is that fifth nail that does not touch the ground when your dog is standing still. There are some breeds that might have dewclaws on their rear legs or who might even have double dewclaws there, but every breed of dog has dewclaws on its front legs.
4. Do dewclaws bother dogs?
No, dewclaws don’t bother dogs. They can bother them if they become ingrown, of course, but regular maintenance can help with this. As long as you pay the same amount of attention to your dog’s dewclaws as you do to their other claws, these extra claws won’t bother your dog and they will probably help to keep him or her mobile for a little while longer.