Remove the Dewclaw?
A lot of folks ask the question: Should I remove my dog’s dewclaws?
I’ll provide you with my take, the Vet’s take and the AKC take on when, why (or why not) and all pertinent questions about this interesting subject.
What is a dewclaw?
What is a dewclaw? It’s that little digit on your dog inner front leg that is somewhat similar to a human thumb. Although dewclaws are nowhere near as helpful to a dog as a thumb is to a human, they still have a purpose. Some people think their dogs’ dewclaws should be removed. But dewclaw removal is necessary only in cases of severe injury or disease.
All dogs have dewclaws on their front legs and some dogs are born with either 1 or 2 dewclaws on the hind legs. Rear dewclaws are considered a deviation from the standard for all dogs except for a few breeds where it is actually a part of the breed. This is true in both the Great Pyrenees and the Briard. In these cases, the dewclaws should never be removed.
It is believed by many veterinarians that the front dewclaws actually serve a purpose. The most plausible would be that it helps stabilize the carpus. (ankle/wrist joint} The rear dewclaw purpose is less clear. Speculation by supposed experts believes that dewclaws help dogs climb better or get better traction on ice or slippery surfaces. However, the general consensus is that the rear dewclaw serves little or no purpose.
My Dog Guinness
My dog Guinness, a 5-year-old Black Lab, has not had his dewclaws removed. There is only one specific reason why we did not and that was because of his age when we were able to get it done. At the time we acquired Guinness as a puppy, both my wife and I were working full time away from the house. We were physically unable to attend to him as needed.. post-surgery.. as our jobs interfered with the time that it would take. Thus Guinness went without having the procedure performed when he was very young and by the time we had time, his dewclaws developed and matured. This made the procedure more complex, more expensive and created more difficult post-surgery possible issues for Guinness himself.
We had no plan on breeding or showing him and from learned experience from previous pets that we have owned over the years, the concern others expressed “he will catch them on something causing an injury” has never come to fruition.
Vet advice on dewclaw removal
In the last 30 years, veterinarians have more and more refrained from the removal of dewclaws unless they find it necessary due to severe injury or disease. There is no valid medical reason for front dewclaw removal and even removal of well-developed rear dewclaws unless there’s a diseased dewclaw or dewclaw injury. Front dewclaws are a normal part of a dog’s anatomy. They are attached to the carpus by a separate metacarpal bone, forming an actual joint with the carpus. In the past and in a lot of cases now it was customary to show dogs with dewclaws removed. This is how many people adopted the idea that removing dewclaws was not only preferred but also necessary.
Should you decide to have your dog’s dewclaws removed be sure it is within the first 3 days since the dog’s birth. Although a simple, quick procedure, a puppy will still feel pain. Often a local anesthesia is used like lidocaine injected at the point of the wound. However, the puppy will often feel the pain of the injection and cry out. If you wait longer than the normal 3 days the nerves, tendons and blood supply develope and it takes surgery to remove the dewclaw and requires general anesthesia.
For a lot of Vets, it has become more of an ethical issue. Why remove body parts when it is unnecessary and why remove body parts when they do have a function? Many Vets exercise there right to not remove the dewclaw and see it as unnecessary mutilation even if it is within the law to do so and the AKC condones the practice. (Please note, however, the AKC does not disqualify or otherwise demerit a dog that has not had this alteration performed)
American Kennel Club memo
The AKC (American Kennel Club) suggests the removal of the dewclaw is strictly for safety and health reasons (and with tail and ear docking) and by no mean for any aesthetic purpose. I quote:
A“dewclaw” is essentially an extra claw on dogs that serves no function. These can get snagged
or torn, causing great pain. Removing the dewclaw shortly after birth protects the dog from a
more serious injury later. Tail docking and dewclaw removal are performed shortly after birth
before a puppy’s nerves have fully developed and before pain is felt.
Here is a link to that memo from the AKC.
I can see this as being reasonable as far as active hunting dogs go such as running in the brush, through fences, and in dense undergrowth, the possibility is greater when a dangling dewclaw might be an issue. As a general observation though with my own dog, I have never experienced it as a problem… and my dog is very active.
Front dewclaws are normal in dogs. Dewclaw removal is not called for unless there’s a medical problem. Get your dog used to having their dewclaws trimmed. Keep an eye on all of your dog’s nails — but pay particular attention to dewclaws, both front, and rear. Seek treatment for any injured nail.
Your dog will thrive regardless of his or her dewclaw status if you provide a loving stable home, feed your dog good food and commit to their care as long as you both.. you and the dog.. live.