Do Dogs Dew Claws Fall Off Naturally?

What are dew claws?

Dew claws are vestigial digits or claws that are located on the feet of many mammals, including dogs. They are located higher up on the leg, above the other toes or claws on the foot. The term “dewclaw” refers to the digit itself as well as the claw that grows from that digit.

On the front legs, dew claws are typically located on the inner surface or side. On the hind legs, they are often found on the outer surface or side. Dew claws do not come into contact with the ground when the animal is standing normally.

The main purpose or function of dew claws is thought to be for providing traction and preventing torque while the animal is moving. They can provide additional stability and grip, especially when navigating rough or uneven terrain.

Some other uses for dew claws include scratching, grooming, and minor defensive maneuvers. Though not all dogs use their dew claws in these ways, they do serve these secondary purposes for some breeds and individuals.

Do dew claws fall off naturally?

Dew claws generally do not fall off naturally in adult dogs. According to PetMD, dew claws are attached by ligaments and bone, so they do not detach easily. While it is possible for dew claws to become injured and partially torn off, they rarely become completely detached on their own.

However, in some cases, puppies’ dew claws that are attached only by skin can fall off during the first few days of life. If this occurs, it is a natural process and does not require any action. Factors like the breed, genetics, and limb structure play a role in whether puppy dew claws detach.

For adult dogs, trauma, injury or poor nail health may cause dew claws to crack or tear, but they do not typically fall off completely without an inciting incident. Dew claws should be trimmed regularly to avoid overgrowth and splitting. Overall, while detachment is uncommon and not considered natural, prompt veterinary attention for any dew claw injury can prevent full removal from occurring.

Puppy dew claws

Puppy dew claws do not fall off more easily than adult dog dew claws. Dew claws are attached by bone and ligaments, so they do not naturally detach as the puppy ages. Some breeders choose to surgically remove dew claws from puppy litters when they are 3-5 days old before the bone has fully formed. According to Preventive Vet, dew claw removal at this early age is “thought to be less traumatic for the puppies” than waiting until later.1 The procedure is often done for cosmetic reasons or to prevent potential injuries in breeds that are active hunters or field dogs.

Adult Dog Dew Claws

Dew claws falling off is less common in adult dogs compared to puppies. However, dew claws can still become damaged or torn in active, working, or older dogs.

According to veterinarians, the two main reasons an adult dog’s dew claw may fall off are trauma and injury (source). Dew claws are vulnerable to catching on objects or tearing on rough surfaces. Once a dew claw is partially torn, it may continue to rip further until it falls off completely.

Older dogs with arthritis or joint issues may be at higher risk for dew claw injury as the claw cartilage weakens with age. Working or active dogs that run and play outside frequently also have increased chances of trauma to dew claws from activity.

Overall, a healthy adult dog’s dew claws falling off naturally is uncommon. Pet owners should monitor dew claws regularly and seek prompt veterinary care if they notice redness, swelling, bleeding, or the dew claw bent at an odd angle. Leaving an injured dew claw untreated increases the chances it will tear off completely.

Trauma and injury

Dew claws are vulnerable to trauma and injury, which can sometimes lead to them naturally falling off. Accidents like getting the dew claw caught in furniture or bedding, running through brush, and active play with other dogs can cause tears, breaks, and avulsions. According to this article, broken dew claws are one of the most common traumatic nail injuries for dogs.

Treatment for trauma-related dew claw injuries depends on the severity. Minor tears and breaks can often be treated at home by trimming damaged edges, cleaning the area thoroughly, and bandaging. More serious injuries like fully avulsed dew claws require emergency veterinary care. As explained in this source, vets will assess the injury, stop bleeding, provide pain relief, trim damaged tissue, and close the open wound. Amputation of damaged dew claws may be necessary in severe cases.

With proper first aid and veterinary care, injured dew claws can often heal without falling off. However, severe trauma that crushes blood vessels or damages nerves may lead to natural autoamputation. It’s important to closely monitor any dew claw injury and follow up with a veterinarian to prevent complications like infection.

Dew claw removal surgery

While not always necessary, some dog owners opt to have their pet’s dew claws surgically removed by a veterinarian. This is usually done when the dog is a puppy, typically around 3-5 days old. Older dogs can also have dew claw removal surgery, but it is more complicated and recovery takes longer [1].

There are a few reasons why a dog owner may choose to have their pet’s dew claws removed:

– For cosmetic purposes, especially in breeds like Great Pyrenees and St. Bernards where large dew claws are common. Some owners feel they look cleaner with removal.

– To prevent potential injury, such as tearing of dew claws from activity. Working and sporting breeds are most at risk.

– For convenience when grooming areas around dew claws.

The surgery is a quick procedure often done with a laser by veterinarians. Dogs are put under anesthesia for the amputation. Recovery usually takes only a few days and complications are rare [2].

Risks of Dew Claw Removal

While dew claw removal is a common procedure, especially in some breeds, there are potential risks and complications to be aware of. According to, the surgery does require general anesthesia which always carries some risks. Bleeding and infection are possible complications of any surgery. If too much of the bone is removed during surgery, this can cause pain or arthritis later on.

Proper aftercare and limiting activity is important following dew claw removal surgery. The American Kennel Club recommends limiting activity for 7-10 days after surgery and keeping the bandages clean and dry The recovery period allows time for the surgical site to heal properly. Failure to limit activity and keep the area clean could lead to continued bleeding, infection or other complications. Following the vet’s recovery instructions can help avoid potential risks.

Benefits of retaining dew claws

Dew claws serve important functions for dogs. According to research from ProtectiveVet, dew claws help dogs grip objects and food, assist in balance, provide traction, dig, and grasp things while climbing or descending.

Many advocates argue for retaining dew claws because they play an important role in a dog’s mobility. As explained in PetMD, dew claws provide extra support and grip, especially when turning or on slippery surfaces. The dew claws help stabilize the wrist joint and prevent torque and twisting. Some research, like the study cited in Gundog Mag, shows that removing dew claws may actually be detrimental to a dog’s structure and movement.

Overall, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that dew claws should be left intact whenever possible, as they provide tangible benefits for a dog’s agility and quality of movement. Only in cases of traumatic injury, deformity, or genetic defect are they recommended for removal.

Caring for Dew Claws

Dew claws require regular inspection and trimming to prevent overgrowth and potential injury. According to PetMD, dew claws should be inspected every 1-2 weeks and trimmed as needed, usually every 4-6 weeks. The nails can grow in a circle and dig into the dog’s skin if left untrimmed.

To trim dew claws:

  • Use sharp trimmers designed for dogs.
  • Locate the quick inside the nail and avoid cutting into it.
  • Cut off small pieces at a time.
  • Trim just until blunt, without exposing the quick.

Active dogs that run on different surfaces have a higher risk of dew claw injury, according to Walkerville Veterinary Clinic. Keep dew claws trimmed short on active dogs. Avoid activities like agility training on abrasive surfaces. Use dog boots to protect dew claws if participating in activities that carry higher risk of injury.

Check dew claws after outdoor activity for signs of wear or trauma like torn or cracked nails. Clean gently with antiseptic and apply antibiotic ointment daily until healed. See the veterinarian if the nail is damaged down to the quick or bone.

When to see a vet

If your dog’s dew claws become damaged or infected, it’s important to get veterinary attention right away. Signs of dew claw injury or infection include:

  • Swelling, redness, bleeding, or discharge around the nail or toe
  • Limping or licking excessively at the paw
  • Loss of nail or the dew claw itself
  • Signs of pain like whimpering or growling when the area is touched

An infected or severely damaged dew claw may need to be removed by a veterinarian. This is usually done under anesthesia.

It’s also a good idea to consult your vet if you are considering preventively removing your dog’s dew claws. The vet can advise you on the pros and cons, ideal age, aftercare, and alternatives like trimming.

Most vets recommend removing dew claws at 3-5 days old before the bones ossify. Removal on an older dog is more invasive and may only be recommended for medical reasons. Your vet can provide guidance on what’s best for your dog’s health and lifestyle.

Scroll to Top