What Is a Dewclaw?

Your veterinarian can show you how to properly clip nails, including dewclaws.
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The word "dewclaw" refers to the barely noticeable toes that dogs have on the interior portions of their legs. Surgical removal of these toes is commonplace for puppies of many breeds, and for a variety of different reasons, notably both aesthetics and injury prevention. Some people oppose the surgery, however, due to factors such as the possibility of pain during the surgical recovery period. If you have any concerns about your dog's dewclaws, consult with your veterinarian.

Dewclaw Location

Dewclaws describe the little thumblike toes situated on the inner region of dogs' legs, by the wrist joints. They look something like tiny lumps. Location-wise, they're comparable to thumbs on human hands. Most dogs have dewclaws on their front limbs only. Other dogs feature them on their back limbs, too. Dewclaps in the back are situated right on top of the ankle joints. As puppies get bigger, their dewclaws travel higher up their limbs. When they're physically mature, the dewclaws are sometimes over an inch in distance from the rest of their toes.

Nail Clipping and Dewclaws

Trimming dewclaws is crucial in protecting your dog from serious injury. When you clip your dog's toenails be sure to clip its dewclaws, too. Since these toes rarely make contact with the floor, they often get extremely long. Dewclaws curl as they grow and will embed into skin, legs and dewclaw pads if they get too long. Dogs can tear or rip them off when they are too long, catching on living room rugs and long electrical wires indoors, as well as outdoors when playing and exercising. Dewclaw injuries are especially common in terriers -- dogs that naturally dig.

Purposes of Dewclaws

Most dogs use their dewclaws to hold objects between their paws for chewing bones and other treats. Dewclaws provide certain breeds, such as the basenji and Catahoula leopard dog, gripping power for climbing trees, while dewclaws give the Great Pyrenees balance on rugged mountain terrain while herding sheep, and create a snowshoe effect in deep snowpack.

Dewclaw Removal Surgery

Dewclaw removal is frequently associated with show dogs. If a dog has to meet a specified breed standard, removal surgery may be necessary. However, the presence of dewclaws is a must for show dogs of certain breeds, too, specifically the Great Pyrenees, briards and the Beauceron. While many people are proponents of the surgery, some are firmly against it. Some breeders believe surgically removing the dewclaws weaken the pasterns, creating excessive pressure in the wrist joints and possibly contributing to the development of carpal arthritis.

Name Origin

The name "dewclaw" has an interesting, yet brief background. When dogs walk outdoors in the morning, their dewclaws lightly graze the damp grass, hence the name "dewclaw."