Why do dogs have dewclaws?

April 13, 2012

A dog’s dewclaw is used as a grasping digit for different activities. A dog’s dewclaw is useful for keeping a grasp on objects, such as a bone. A dog will also use its dewclaws to help the dog climb.

The dewclaw is another toe and nail on the dog’s leg. The dewclaw is considered a vestigial thumb that is located one to four inches above the dog’s foot on the dog’s leg. The location of the dewclaw on the front legs is on the inside of each front leg and back leg. A dog may not have any dewclaws, dewclaws only on the front legs or a dewclaw on each leg. Sometimes, dewclaws may be doubled on one or more legs. When this occurs, this is called polydactyl.

The dewclaw may have a nail on it that continues to grow. If the dewclaw comes into contact with the ground when the dog is running, the nail will be worn down. If not, the nail may need to be trimmed. The curving nail of a dewclaw may become ingrown and infected if it is allowed to grow too long.

Depending on the depth of attachment of the dewclaw on the dog’s leg, the dog may have some control of the dewclaw. Dewclaws may be firmly attached to the leg with some degree of muscle and bone attachment or dewclaws may dangle from the leg because the attachment does not involve much of either a muscle or bone attachment. A dewclaw may also have its own bony section.

Most veterinarians will not remove dewclaws because it is seen as unnecessary and painful. Because of the pain involved in the removal of dewclaws, anesthesia must be used. In the case of show dogs, some breeds must have double dewclaws or dewclaws on the front or all legs. Dogs can enter shows with their dewclaws despite any recommendation to the contrary.

When a dog owner makes a decision to keeps its dog’s dewclaws, it is considered a humane decision made in the dog’s best interests. A dog’s dewclaws are useful to the dog and even more so when the attachment is based on muscle and bone. The dewclaw can be found throughout the animal kingdom and for the dog, the dewclaw is a beneficial digit.

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