When looking at a dog’s or cat’s paws from the front, you may notice one claw on the inside edge of the paw that sits slightly higher than the others. This claw may be slightly smaller than your pet’s other claws and usually does not reach the ground when your pet is standing.
This small, raised claw is called a spur.
The structure of a dog’s or cat’s paw is similar to that of a human hand, and the dewclaw is the canine or feline equivalent of the human thumbnail. The spur and its associated first toe look different from the other toes because the first toe (or thumb) is shorter than the other toes and is not used for weight bearing. In fact, some dogs lack dewclaws entirely, especially on the hind legs.
Are dewclaws in dogs normal?
Most dogs are born with dewclaws on their front legs. These front spurs contain the same bone structures as the human thumb and play an important role in stability when a dog runs, turns at high speed, or climbs. Front dewclaws also help a dog hold chew toys or other objects between its front legs.
Rear spurs, however, are less common in dogs. Some breeds, such as the Pyrenees and the Saint Bernard, almost always have rear dewclaws. In other breeds, back spurs are uncommon. When hind spurs are present, they may lack the bony attachment seen in front spurs and be attached only by a flap of skin or small tendon.
Dewclaw removal in dogs: pros and cons
Dewclaws, especially when connected by only a small flap of skin, may be more prone to injury than other toes. Also, because these claws don’t reach the ground, they often grow faster than your dog’s other claws and are more likely to overgrow or ingrown. For this reason, some breeders and pet owners prefer to surgically remove a dog’s dewclaws.
Breeders can have their dewclaws removed by a vet at a very young age. If your purebred dog does not have front spurs, it is likely that they have been surgically removed. Dewclaw removal is typically performed within the first few days of life.
If your older puppy or adult dog has dewclaws, you may be wondering if they should be removed. There is no single right or wrong answer to this question, and the best answer depends on your particular situation.
Dislodged dewclaws (dewclaws without a bony attachment) can be especially prone to injury, especially in a dog running through thick brush or brush. Also, these dislodged dewclaws can usually be removed relatively easily. Your dog will need to be put under anesthesia for the procedure, but this can easily be combined with spay/neuter surgery or another anesthetic episode. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to consider removing detached dewclaws from your dog, especially if your dog is likely to lead a very active lifestyle. Removing a detached spur is certainly not necessary, but it can reduce the risk of future injury.
However, in the case of spurs with a bony attachment, surgical removal carries a higher risk of side effects. This surgery is comparable to amputating a person’s thumb, which means it is aggressive surgery with limited benefits. This procedure is more painful than removal of a detached spur and is associated with an increased risk of post-surgical complications. For this reason, most vets recommend against removing attached spurs.
If you have questions about removing the spur, talk to your vet. They can help you assess your pet’s specific risk factors and the potential benefits of dewclaw removal.
Do cats have dewclaws?
Cats usually have dewclaws on all four legs. They use their spurs a lot, especially when climbing.
A cat’s dewclaws should never be removed because they play an important role in her ability to engage in normal feline activities.
Caring for your pet’s dewclaws
While the spurs are structurally identical to your pet’s other claws, they do not normally touch the ground when your pet walks. The lack of friction to wear them down tends to mean that the dewclaws can grow faster than your pet’s other claws.
While all pets should receive regular nail trims about once a month, it’s a good idea to check your pet’s dewclaws a little more frequently. Dewclaws that are too large are at greater risk of snagging on grass, carpet, or a rug. They can also become so large that they curl up and grow into your pet’s skin. By regularly checking and trimming your pet’s dewclaws, you can prevent problems associated with overgrowth of dewclaws.
Identification of dew problems
Ingrown spurs and torn spurs can serve as a significant source of discomfort for affected pets. Common signs of these conditions include limping, licking the affected paw, and visible splotches of saliva.
An ingrown spur is easy to identify if your pet allows you to examine the area. Your pet’s nail will grow in a spiral pattern, with the tip embedded in the skin or pad of your pet’s paw. If your pet has an ingrown spur, it’s time to seek veterinary attention. Your vet will trim the affected claw and remove any remaining bits of skin from your pet. In most cases, your vet will also prescribe pain relievers and antibiotics.
A torn spur can occur if your pet’s toenail gets caught on something, such as plants, carpeting, or bedding. The claw may break along its length or the entire claw may detach from the nail bed. A torn nail often causes bleeding during its early stages, but this bleeding can resolve relatively quickly. However, even if it’s not bleeding, a torn nail is painful and requires veterinary attention. Your vet will clip the nail (to minimize discomfort) and prescribe pain relievers and antibiotics. They may also apply a bandage to your dog’s paw and/or recommend an e-collar (cone) to prevent your dog from licking the paw and causing further inflammation.
Dewclaws serve important functions, especially in cats and on the front legs of dogs. However, detached spurs on rear canines can be prone to injury, leading some owners to consider removing the spurs. If you are considering canine spur removal, speak with your veterinarian about the anticipated risks and benefits associated with this procedure. By working together with your vet, you can make the best decision for your dog’s overall health.