Dewclaws – should we remove them?

“Do the Dew” …should we or shouldn’t we? M. Christine Zink DVM certainly gives food for thought in her articles, but she’s not talking about that well known bright yellow soft drink, instead she’s talking about dewclaws and the fairly common practice of removing these. Dr. Zink exposes us to her concern about the long term ramifications that may occur from foreleg dewclaw removal, the possibility of injury or disease (carpal arthritis).

Quite frankly I’ve always removed the dewclaws from puppies in my litters, and I haven’t really given much thought to the practice. I’d always been told that the dewclaw served no purpose, and that when working in the field, the dewclaw could be a source of injury if caught on a branch or bramble. So, I simply had them (the dewclaw that is) lopped off at my earliest convenience within a day or so of the puppy’s birth. I do remember being told that it wasn’t a good idea for an amateur like me to nip those claws off myself, as if done wrong, one could damage the tendons in the dog’s foreleg causing lameness or a limp, so I always asked my vet to perform this simple procedure.  Well, those tendons attached to the dewclaw that I just mention, that’s what lead me to share these articles with you today, articles by Dr. Zink that offer a different opinion about the function of the dewclaw and how injury or disease might result from their removal.

M. Christine Zink DVM, PhD, DACVSMR of Johns Hopkins University “When a dog runs, however, the entire foot from the carpus to the toes contacts the ground. If the dog then turns, it can dig the dewclaw (the equivalent of our thumb) into the ground to stabilize the leg and reduce torque on the rest of the leg.”

dewclaw
Anatomical diagram viewing the medial side of a dog’s front leg demonstrating the 5 tendons that attach to the dewclaw.  From Miller’s Guide to the Dissection of the Dog

Wikipedia:  Dewclaws and Locomotion

“Based on stop-action photographs, veterinarian M. Christine Zink of Johns Hopkins University believes that the entire front foot, including the dewclaws, contacts the ground while running. During running, the dewclaw digs into the ground preventing twisting or torque on the rest of the leg. Several tendons connect the front dewclaw to muscles in the lower leg, further demonstrating the front dewclaws’ functionality. There are indications that dogs without dewclaws have more foot injuries and are more prone to arthritis. Zink recommends “for working dogs it is best for the dewclaws not to be amputated. If the dewclaw does suffer a traumatic injury, the problem can be dealt with at that time, including amputation if needed.”[1]

To gain a full understanding of Zink’s position regarding the dewclaw’s purpose and any injury that may result from their removal read through links I’ve provided to her articles. Click the bold type link to open and read each in full. You’ll also find I’ve included a few excerpts if you’re looking for a quick Reader’s Digest version.

Dewclaw Explanation

“I have seen many dogs now, especially field trial/hunt test and agility dogs, that have had chronic carpal arthritis… Of the over 30 dogs I have seen with carpal arthritis, only one had dewclaws.”
“…there are 5 tendons attached to the dewclaw… at the other end of a tendon is a muscle, and that means that if you cut off the dew claws, there are 5 muscle bundles that will become atrophied from disuse.”
“Those muscles indicate that the dewclaws have a function… to prevent torque on the leg. Each time the foot lands on the ground, particularly when the dog is cantering or galloping the dewclaw is in touch with the ground. If the dog then needs to turn, the dewclaw digs into the ground to support the lower leg and prevent torque. If the dog doesn’t have a dewclaw, the leg twists. A life time of that and the result can be carpal arthritis, or perhaps injuries to other joints, such as the elbow, shoulder and toes.”
“As to the possibility of injuries to dew claws. Most veterinarians will say that such injuries actually are not very common at all.”

I also found this video that may be of interest to you. It illustrates how dogs use their dewclaws on ice.

 

I haven’t decided whether to make any change to my practice of removing dewclaws. Whether to “do the dew” or not is still in question for me, and I’m not here to give you my advice, or to assert that you change what you do, what I did want was to simply share this information with you and then to ask whether you have any thoughts, questions or practices that you’d like share about dewclaw removal through the comment section?

I did find this funny tidbit on Physchology Today in an article written by Stanley Coren“There is an interesting bit of folklore that keeps some people from removing the dewclaws of their dogs. In the southern states in America there is a common belief that dogs that are born with dewclaws on their hind feet (which is somewhat rare) have a natural immunity to the venomous effects of snake bites as long as the dewclaws remain intact. Once, when I was in South Carolina, an old man brought out a favorite hound of his and showed me the dewclaws on her back legs. He explained to me, “She’s been snakebit more’en one time, but she’s still here ‘cause them dewclaws sucked up the poison.”

well…there are rattlesnakes here in AZ and we are in the south so…

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

27 thoughts on “Dewclaws – should we remove them?”

  1. This may be totally different than dewclaws but I had surgery on the base of my thumb, removed the triangle shaped bone beteeen the wrist and thumb to relieve pain from arthritis. It did remove the pain but my whole hand has been affected, numb spots, doesn’t work as good as my other still arthritic hand. I’m seriously wondering if dewclaw removal is a good idea on m next litter.

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  2. Are you saying dew claws on the hind legs are rare??? I wish!
    Removing them is illegal in my country since last year and many breeders are not happy about it. The claws often are just some skin with a nail hanging from it and often not even bone in it.
    But dew claws on the front legs have tendons, as you say and those are there because those are working toes.
    Removing the dew claws from the front legs is something never done in Europe. I use my thumbs. Of course dogs use theirs.

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  3. I have 2 std wire dachshunds that do field trials and one shows in conformation. One with and one without dew claws. At first liked idea of no dew claws as one less nail to be trimmed. Also had a std smooth who lost one due to an accident and was akin to losing a limb. After reading this will keep dews!

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  4. While speaking with a very prominent and successful working cocker spaniel breeder in the UK, I asked him if he’d ever had issues working his dogs in the field. He said the only few claw issue he’s had was on the step at the house by fluke accident.
    My cocker’s dew claws will have mud on them after a good agility run. My philosophy is, “if you’re born with it, there’s a reason for it.”

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  5. About Dewclaw neglect. Sadly, I have had to remove a dogs Dewclaw nail (as I was a Dog Groomer) that had been neglected as it was growing and twisting back into the dogs skin on it’s leg, it was awful to see. This dog was long haired and terribly matted too….so, the owner probably had no idea about this Dewclaw even existing.

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  6. showing dogs without dew claws might become a bigger problem under FCI – recently showed in Denmark and they already clearly stated in their show rules that dogs without dew claws with be eliminated

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  7. If your dog is not impacted in their daily functioning why on earth would you want to cut a body part off the dog? Your earlobes have no function to your body either, so would you cut that off your infant baby at 2 days old?? It’s barbaric and totally unnecessary. Nature and evolution have developed dogs how they are for a purpose, if they’re not supposed to be on the dogs body they won’t be!

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      1. The tonsils serve very important functions in the imune system and are not supposed to be removed. Modern medicine no longer removes tonsils unless absolutly needed. The apendix is also a major player in the immunesystem and in restoring probiotic levels, Wisdom teeth played an important role in older generations when tooth loss due to poor dental care was a problem. Maybe research the science before deaming an arguement with our Merit.

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      2. the Appendix takes up antigens from the contents of the intestines and plays an important role the immune system, it is no longer routinely removed. The tonsils are a first line of defense in preventing sore throat infections and lung infections. They are no longer routinely removed. Wisdom teeth are good in big mouths.

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  8. One of my dogs has dewclaws – on all four paws. They aren’t your usual dewclaws, they are very lose and hanging and some small and I’m worried they will catch and tear off – I’m a dog groomer and I’ve seen it happen with other dogs with ones like these before, they’ve ran threw long grass it’s got caught and ripped off.
    They to me always seamed to serve no purpose because of how they just hang/flap there and I don’t think these ones do touch the ground when he’s running – like this article says – because of where they are and how his nails grow on them, however I don’t want to cause my dog arthritis or other problems.
    Any advice on this? I was going to get them removed when I get him neutered but now a little worried after reading this article as I don’t want to cause more harm than good…

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    1. Your earlobes don’t do anything other than just hang on you, but would you cut them off your child just because one day, they *might* get their ear torn by another kid while playing? If your dog was born with it, it’s not infected, or a serious risk to health leave it alone!

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    2. If they are floppy, it means that they do not have bony attachment to the carpus, and thus I would imagine that the risk of arthritis due to removal would be highly reduced. I’d remove them.

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  9. Where or not you remove dew claws is up to the owner BUT the videos of dogs trying to retrieve something on ice and being caught in a water hole near weak ice is terrible. IMO no owner should expose their dog to such conditions. Most dogs just drown out of exhaustion. How would you save your dog? If conditions get like this, I and my partners leave our dogs in their kennel. It’s not worth losing a dog over a duck or goose.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that though Tom, I admit that video made me as uneasy as you, however it did expose another view of dewclaw use that I felt readers might want to see so I powered through my own personal objections.

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  10. I’ve competed in dog agility with four canine partners, all different breeds, for 20 years. Even before I knew about Chris Zink, I was completely aware of how my dogs use their dew claws when running and particularly when turning. Was able to see that clearly with my agility dogs when they’d end a run with mud or grass in the claw. I never had to trim most of my dogs’ dew claws because they always wore down from all of their activity, just like they wore down most of their other toenails.

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  11. A friend and I were discussing the very same thing last year. I always removed Dew claws but when tail docking became a ban here in GB I also stopped removing Dew Claws. What she and I did notice was when the dogs were using their paws to clean their eyes the claw removed the hair from around their eyes, or this is what my friend and I have thought. I have never had a min Pin with bare eyes and can only think this is what has caused it. Only left them on as was told that FCI judges prefer them there. The Pins are very cat like when washing their face. Lick their paws and wipe. Shows mostly on my B/T dogs

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