Do All Dogs Have Dewclaws

What are Dewclaws?

Dewclaws are vestigial thumbs located on the front and sometimes rear legs of dogs (source). They are found on the inner surface of the leg above the other four toes. Though they don’t touch the ground during normal walking, dewclaws help provide support and balance for dogs by giving added stability when turning, jumping, and climbing (source).

Front dewclaws assist dogs when they need to pivot or change direction quickly by providing traction and preventing torque on leg joints. Rear dewclaws give hind legs extra support when a dog is engaged in activities where their hind legs have greater weight-bearing responsibilities like jumping, climbing, or digging (source).

Do All Dogs Have Dewclaws?

Most dogs have dewclaws on their front legs. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), almost all dogs are born with dewclaws on the front legs [1]. However, rear dewclaws are less common.

While front dewclaws are normal, not all dogs have rear dewclaws. As Quora notes, it is normal for some breeds like Great Pyrenees to have rear dewclaws, but not all dogs have them [2]. According to the Morris Animal Inn, rear dewclaws are rare in dogs today, though they are sometimes seen in certain breeds [3]. These breeds include Briards, Great Pyrenees, and Norwegian Elkhounds among others.

So in summary, while front dewclaws are common in dogs, not all dogs have rear dewclaws. Certain breeds are predisposed to having them, but they are less common overall.

Front Dewclaws

Nearly all dogs have front dewclaws, which are located on the inside of the front legs above the feet. They are considered vestigial appendages and were present in the ancestors of dogs

According to the AKC, front dewclaws play a minor role in a dog’s life today but may have had some uses in the dog’s wild past. They likely provided some extra help for dogs in gripping and running.

Since virtually all dogs are born with front dewclaws, they are not purposefully bred for or against. Only on rare occasions are front dewclaws absent at birth due to a genetic mutation. Even breeds defined by the AKC breed standard as customarily having their front dewclaws removed, like Briards and Beaucerons, are born with them.

Rear Dewclaws

Not all dogs have dewclaws on their rear legs. Rear dewclaws are located on the back legs of some dogs, higher up above the paw. They are less common than front dewclaws, only present in certain breeds.

Some breeds that are likely to have rear dewclaws include:

Unlike front dewclaws, rear dewclaws are sometimes removed, especially in breeds where they are only present occasionally. However, rear dewclaws can serve a purpose and should not necessarily be removed.

Dewclaw Removal

Dewclaw removal is the process of surgically removing a dog’s dewclaws. Dewclaws are the extra toes on the inside of the paw and up the leg that never touch the ground. Front dewclaws are commonly removed, while rear dewclaws are less frequently removed.

There are pros and cons to dewclaw removal in dogs. Some of the pros include:
– Reducing risk of injury if the dewclaw gets caught on something. They don’t serve much purpose and can easily snag (source).
– Preventing painful ingrown dewclaws if they are not properly trimmed.
– Aesthetic reasons – some people prefer the clean look without dewclaws.

However, there are also some cons to dewclaw removal:

– It is an unnecessary cosmetic surgery if the dog is not at high risk of injury.
– It is a surgical procedure requiring anesthesia and recovery. (source)

– The dewclaws may play a purpose in tendon and muscle structure that is not fully understood.
– May be more traumatic and painful if done in older dogs rather than puppies.

Dewclaw removal is typically done when puppies are 3-5 days old. It is considered least traumatic at this young age. Removal in older dogs is more invasive and involves greater risks of complications from surgery and anesthesia (source).

Caring for Dewclaws

Dewclaws require regular care and attention to prevent injury or complications. Trimming overgrown dewclaws is important, as they can easily snag and tear. Use sharp trimmers and cut below the quick, taking care not to cut into it. Dewclaws should be trimmed as often as regular nails, usually every 2-3 weeks.

Preventing dewclaw injury involves keeping them trimmed to avoid snagging and inspecting them regularly for signs of problems. Use bitter apple spray on the dewclaws to deter excessive licking and chewing. Protect dewclaws during playtime by avoiding rough surfaces and keeping watch for catching or tearing.

Signs of dewclaw problems include inflammation, redness, swelling, limping, licking, biting, and discharge. Seek veterinary care for injuries like torn or broken dewclaws which require prompt treatment. Left untreated, dewclaw injuries can lead to significant pain, infection and future nail abnormalities.

With proper care and attention, dewclaw complications can be avoided. Trimming them regularly, protecting them from snagging, and checking for injury are key to keeping dewclaws healthy.

Evolutionary Purpose

There are a few theories on why dogs have dewclaws, with the most prominent being the vestigial digit theory. Dewclaws are believed to be remnants of a fifth digit on dogs’ legs – similar to a human thumb. Over time, as the ancestors of dogs evolved into quadrupeds, their need for grasping diminished and the fifth digit became less useful. However, the dewclaws remained as vestigial appendages. According to the vestigial digit theory, dewclaws serve little to no purpose in the modern domestic dog’s day-to-day life.

Some experts argue against this, believing dewclaws still serve important functions for dogs like grip traction and balance. Certain dog breeds known for speed and agility like Border Collies are thought to use their dewclaws to pivot and turn quickly while running at high speeds [1]. So while they may be vestigial, dewclaws likely still have some minor utility.

Unique Uses

Dewclaws have some unique uses for dogs. According to the AKC, dewclaws help dogs grip bones, toys, and other items between their front legs when eating or playing 1. This gives them additional grasping ability using their front paws.

For certain active dog breeds, dewclaws also provide extra traction and stabilization when turning at high speeds. As noted on PetMD, they help stabilize the carpal (wrist) joint and can give dogs more traction on slippery surfaces 2. So especially for agile, sporty breeds, front dewclaws can serve an important purpose for grip and movement.

Dewclaw Injuries

Dewclaw injuries are unfortunately common in dogs. The dewclaws are more easily snagged and torn than other nails since they do not touch the ground. Some common causes of dewclaw injuries include:

Getting the dewclaw caught in carpeting, furniture or bedding – this can rip the nail right out of the skin

Catching the dewclaw on a chain link fence or other materials while running or jumping

Getting stepped on or caught between two hard surfaces

Warning signs of a dewclaw injury include limping, bleeding, excessive licking, swelling or redness around the nail. The dewclaw may be partially or fully torn off. Treatment depends on the severity of injury. For minor tears, you can trim the nail and clean the area. Use styptic powder or cornstarch to stop bleeding. Bandage lightly to avoid additional injury. Give pain medication if prescribed by your vet. Monitor for signs of infection like pus or foul odor. For complete avulsions or severe tears, surgical removal of the remaining nail may be needed.

No matter the severity, contact your vet if you notice a dewclaw injury. Proper treatment can prevent further complications like infection or permanent damage.

Key Takeaways

In summary, most but not all dogs have dewclaws. Dewclaws are those vestigial digits typically located on the inner surface of a dog’s leg just above the paw. While front dewclaws are quite common in dogs, rear dewclaws are less so. Dewclaws often have bone, muscle, nerves and blood vessels, though some may simply be just skin and nail. They likely evolved for grasping, though today they don’t serve much purpose beyond unique identification. Some breeds have floppy dewclaws that should be trimmed. Overall, dewclaw care involves occasional inspection and trimming if needed.

The key points to remember are:

  • Most but not all dogs have front dewclaws, fewer have rear dewclaws
  • Dewclaws may have bone, muscle, nerves and blood vessels or just be skin and nail
  • They likely evolved for grasping but today serve little purpose beyond identification
  • Some breeds have floppy dewclaws that require trimming
  • Dewclaw care involves inspection and trimming if needed
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