Look at the feet of your dog. How many toenails do you see? Most dogs have four nails on each rear foot and five on their front feet. This extra nail on the upper, inner part of a dog’s foot is the dew claw. Have you thought of a different amount? Don’t be afraid, some dogs have dew claws on their hind feet or even double dew claws. Read on to find out if your dog’s dew claws are a potential problem and what you can do about it.
What are dew claws?
Dew claws are essentially the thumbs and big toes of the dog’s world. Of course, they are not directly equivalent to human structures, but they are similar. Looking at a front foot of the dog, the toes that are in contact with the ground while corresponding to our little fingers, ring finger, middle finger, and index finger. The dew claw is the “thumb”. The same applies to the rear foot of the dog, where the dew claw is the “big toe”.
An important distinction is whether the dew claws are firmly attached to the foot of a dog or not. If your dog has a single front dew claw, this is generally the case. You can wiggle the dew claw a little (usually in forward and backward motion), but you can feel the bones connecting it to the leg. Rear and double dew claws tend to be attached only by the skin and are much more flexible.
Do dew claws have a purpose?
A dew claw that is attached to a dog’s forefoot with bones has a specific purpose. When dogs run, their forefeet often bend to the point where their dew claws make contact with the ground. At high speeds (especially when turning) or on slippery surfaces, these dew claws provide additional traction and help stabilize the wrist joint. Some dogs also use their dew claws to climb trees, hold objects to chew better on them, or to climb out of water when they are broken by ice. The usefulness of dew claws, which are only attached by the skin, is less clear.
Should dew claws be removed?
Since front dew claws serve an important purpose, they should only be removed if there is a very good reason for doing so. In rare cases, a dog’s dew may be seriously injured or develop a disease (e.g. cancerous tumour) and removal under these circumstances would certainly be in the best interests of the dog. However, these problems occur so rarely that there is little point in removing healthy foreward claws to prevent them.
It is more common for veterinarians to remove loosely attached double or rear dew claws to prevent injury. The actual incidence of these types of injuries is still quite low, so the value of these operations is debatable. Usually the surgery is scheduled at the same time the dog is neutered or spayed (while under anaesthetic).
In some dog breeds, the dew claws are routinely removed to improve the appearance in the show ring. If you choose this procedure, it should be performed when a puppy is less than 5 days old and only after the area has been anaesthetised with a local anaesthetic (e.g. EMLA cream).
Remember that in other breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees, the removal of dew claws excludes them from the show ring.
Treatment of Dewclaw injuries
While dew claw injuries are relatively rare, they certainly occur. Each nail can be partially or completely pulled off, broken, split, infected or ingrown (if not cut properly). As most nail injuries are extremely painful and prone to infection (think of all the places your dog’s feet have been!), it is usually best to have them examined by a vet. He or she can remove damaged nails or cut off ingrown ones (sedate your dog if necessary) and prescribe any necessary antibiotics and painkillers.
How to care for Taukrallen
When it comes to maintenance, dew claws are no different from your dog’s other nails. Dogs that are extremely active can wear down their nails, including their dew claws, to a point where nail cuts are no longer necessary. But for most pets that are relatively sedentary, regular cuts are required to keep their nails at a healthy length. Pay special attention to the dew claw. As they do not come into contact with the ground as often as the other nails, they may need to be trimmed more often.