Dewclaws are basically the “thumb” of your dog, which can be located part way up their leg, not touching the ground, on the inner side of your dog's leg, and have a claw that tends to grow in a curve. Most dogs only have these structures on their front legs, but some have them on their hind legs also, and some have double dewclaws.
Some breeders or veterinarians remove these claws when a puppy is very young, only a few days old, as they are not felt to have a significant function, and can snag or become caught on things and ripped or injured later in life. Many veterinarians remove them as part of the spay or neuter procedure, so that they are removed while the dog is already under general anesthetic, eliminating the need to put the animal under anesthesia a second time for removal. Dewclaws may also be removed if an injury occurs to the dewclaw.
However, many people believe that removal of dewclaws is unnecessary and that dewclaws serve a function, and removal of dewclaws is even prohibited in some countries.
Are Dewclaws Necessary?
Some pet owners opt to remove dewclaws to prevent injuries and continued maintenance, while others leave them. There is a possibility that your dog uses their dewclaws. Dogs that are very active and fast, such as Border Collies, may have dewclaws that touch the ground when they are running or cornering at high speed, and they may provide additional stability and support. Some dogs may also engage their dewclaws when climbing or manipulating objects such as toys. Other concerns regarding dewclaw removal are that it can be painful and subjects the site to infection. However, if dewclaws are left intact, the chance of injury to the dewclaw area remains a concern, especially if the dog's dewclaw sticks out, and is subject to interference. It turns out, most dogs seem to be okay with or without them, but whether you choose to have them removed or left intact, care for remaining dewclaws or care after the removal is required.
Keep an Eye Out for Issues
Pet owners should examine their young dogs to determine whether they have dewclaws on their hind legs (many breeds do not) and whether they are present on the front legs or have already been removed. You should monitor your dog's dewclaws as they are growing to make sure they are not interfering with movement or becoming unduly caught or snagged on furniture, rugs, fabrics, or other household or yard items. If your dog has dewclaws they will need to be regularly trimmed along with their other claws. This ensures they do not grow too long, which contributes to their becoming snagged or ingrown, interfering with your dog's skin, rubbing and causing sores.
Dewclaw Removal Procedures and Aftercare
Some breeders remove dewclaws on 5-day-old puppies, using local anesthetic and sedatives. In 5-day-old puppies, surgical scissors are used to remove the claw, which is not securely attached yet and sutures may not be required. Older animals require the attachment tissue and claw be removed, and bone and muscle attachment must be cut. This requires general anesthesia for the procedure while bone and muscle tissues are cut with surgical scissors and sutures are placed. This procedure is often done at the same time as spay or neutering. The dog will also be monitored during recovery by the veterinarian to ensure no complications occur. The surgical site is bandaged, and the dog may require an e-collar to prevent them from interfering and licking the site. If you opt to remove your dog's dewclaws, you will need to ensure that the surgical site does not become infected and prevent your dog from licking or chewing the site until it heals. This will require careful monitoring and may require cleaning and re-bandaging the site until healing is complete.
Maintaining Intact Dewclaws
If your dog has intact dewclaws, be aware that dewclaws can be subject to injury, or not develop properly, and removal may be required in these instances. If dewclaws are injured from being snagged on furniture, or a chain-link fence or other hazard and become detached so they are dangling or dislocated, or if they develop in a way that they are not securely attached to the leg, they will require removal to prevent constant continued injury. Also, dewclaws that stick out too far may be subject to more interference and injury, and removal may be considered to prevent problems in the future. Intact dewclaws need to be carefully monitored to ensure they are kept short, not injured, or have not developed infections.
Care Required Either Way
So whether your dog has dewclaws or not you will either need to ensure healing after removal or monitor them to ensure ongoing health. Removal is warranted in some dogs, however, most dogs that have their dewclaws do not experience problems. In many dogs, they do not seem to serve much of a function, but some athletic and agility dogs may use their dewclaws during performance, and some dogs use them for playing and handling objects. So whatever decision you make, be sure you have all the information you need, including risks of removal or retention of dewclaws, to make an informed decision for your dog. Discuss your concerns with your veterinarian for more insight into factors that may affect your decision to remove or leave dew claws intact.