What Are Dew Claws?
Dew Claws are more than just a claw; they are a toe that grow on the front, and occasionally the back legs of a dog. Dew claws are often not fully developed, and many do not have muscle or even bone attached. Dew claws are high enough on the leg that they do not touch the ground when the dog is standing. This positioning is because dogs are digitigrades, which means that they walk on their toes. Instead, this thumb-like appendage, is set higher than the rest of the “fingers.”
What Purpose Do Dew Claws Serve?
Front dew claws are often removed as they serve little to no purpose. The purpose is debated in some breeds where the dew claw makes a connection with the ground when the dog is running. Some people say that the dew claw may assist with traction in certain breeds. In these dogs, the claw is a fully attached toe and the nail is held close to the foot and wears down on its own, in the same way the other nails wear down. Dew claws that are not fully attached do not have bones and/or muscles in them, or that are sticking out serve no purpose and can often get caught. These incidents can cause the dog serious pain requiring emergency amputation. Rear dew claws serve no apparent purpose regardless of the breed.
Dew Claw Injuries and Care
For dogs who did not have their dew claws removed either around the time of birth or at the time of their spay/neuter have the risk of injuring their dew claws. This risk is especially high if they are active outdoors or in cases where the claw is not pulled in towards the foot. Often when dogs are outside and running around they have a chance of ripping their dew claws while running through the bush. These injuries can be as mild as a small tear that is barely noticeable other than your dog licking at their paw or as extreme as the dew claw hanging by a flap of skin while bleeding profusely. This type of injury is less likely to happen with indoor dogs, yet it is possible particularly if they enjoy pouncing on things as this will allow the claw to catch on furniture, carpet or bedding.
To care for a small injury where you do not feel the claw has been broken, it is important to stop the bleeding. Once the bleeding stops, you would need to wrap the foot to prevent further damage while the area heals. During this time, the bandage should be changed daily at the least and any time it gets dirty in between. The paw should be carefully washed and thoroughly dried when the bandage is changed, and antibiotic ointment should be applied to promote faster healing.
Larger injuries where the claw is hanging from an odd angle should be treated by a veterinarian. There may be options to keep the claw that will need to be set and then immobilized, however, this is often not the case, and the dew claw is usually removed while under general anesthesia.
Dog Dew Claw Removal: What Does it Entail?
Often removing dew claws is considered unnecessary, and it is starting to be frowned upon along with declawing cats, ear cropping and tail docking. For animals working in situations where they are often injured such as hunting or police work, dew claw removal is a standard practice that is unlikely to stop as the risk of injury is high.
The process of removing an adult dog’s dew claws involves the dog going under a general anesthetic so they are completely under and will feel no pain. Young puppies are not put under a general, and a local anesthetic is used instead as putting very young puppies under a general can be dangerous and is only done if needed. The toe is then sterilized, and the veterinarian removes all the skin, muscle and bone attached to the toe. This wound is then carefully stitched and wrapped, and an Elizabethan collar is put on the dog to prevent them from licking the area and the dressing that may cause infection or tearing.
This procedure is very quick and relatively simple and the dog will often return home later that day. The wound will often be sore for 2-3 days following the surgery and pain medication is usually prescribed, however, most dogs return to their normal activities within the week without reservation.
Regardless of why a dog’s dew claws are to be removed, they should be done so while the dog is either very young or at the time of their spay/neuter. For dogs prone to injury, this procedure is warranted as it is relatively quick, and there is less chance of other damage happening due to the dew claw catching while they are running.