Do You Trim The Dew Claw On A Dog?

What are Dew Claws?

A dew claw is a digit located on the inside of a dog’s front leg and occasionally on the back legs. It sits above the rest of the dog’s paws on the leg. Dew claws typically only have one bony section, unlike the rest of a dog’s claws which have three sections. Dew claws on the rear legs are often referred to as wolf claws.

Though all dogs are born with dew claws, some breeds have them removed when very young. They are often removed for cosmetic reasons but also to avoid the claw getting caught on things. Dew claws usually serve little purpose for dogs these days, but they do still have nerves and blood supply so removing them is a surgical procedure needing anaesthetic.

Experts disagree on the function of dew claws. Some believe they helped dogs grip on uneven ground and provided balance. Other experts think they are vestigial appendages serving no current purpose. Regardless of function, removing rear dew claws is fairly straightforward but removing the claws on the front legs carries more risks.

Pros of Trimming Dew Claws

Trimming a dog’s dew claws offers some potential benefits, especially for active dogs or breeds that are prone to injury. Regular trimming can help prevent tearing or injury to the dew claw. Since dew claws are located higher up on the paw, they don’t touch the ground and don’t get worn down naturally. Allowing them to grow too long can cause the nail to catch on objects or tear. Trimming them regularly keeps the nails short and blunt.

In addition to injury prevention, trimming improves the overall appearance of the paw by keeping the dew claws even with the other nails. Overgrown dew claws can look unkempt. Owners who show their dogs may trim dew claws for a tidier look.

Cons of Trimming Dew Claws

While trimming dew claws does have benefits, there are also some potential downsides to consider:

Risk of Infection/Injury – Trimming too short can cause pain, bleeding, and leave the area open to infection. Even with proper technique, accidents can happen (Walkerville Vet).

Loss of Function – The dew claws do serve a purpose, providing traction and helping dogs grip. Removing them takes away this natural function (Quora).

Unnecessary if Kept Trimmed – If the dew claws are maintained regularly at a proper length, removal may be unnecessary. Just keeping them neatly trimmed can prevent most issues (Gun Dog).

Breed Specific Considerations

Certain breeds are more prone to dew claw injuries and may benefit more from regular trimming (Source). For example, breeds like Beaucerons and Great Pyrenees tend to have loose dew claws that can easily snag and tear. Similarly, dogs with double dew claws like St. Bernards and Catalan Sheepdogs require extra vigilance.

Some show dog breeds are required to have intact dew claws for breed standards, like the Norwegian Lundehund. For these dogs, dew claw removal is typically avoided unless medically necessary. However, even show dogs need occasional dew claw trims for health (Source). Breeders and handlers should regularly inspect and trim overgrown dew claws to prevent trauma.

In summary, certain breeds prone to dew claw injury benefit most from proactive trimming. But even breeds that typically keep intact dew claws need occasional trims for health.

When to Trim Dew Claws

There are a few key times when it’s especially important to trim your dog’s dew claws:

As a puppy: Trimming dew claws should start when your puppy is 3-5 days old, according to veterinarians. The dew claws will grow quickly at this young age, so it’s essential to trim them regularly as a pup to prevent injury, overgrowth, and tearing later on.[1]

During regular nail trims: Make dew claw trimming part of your dog’s regular grooming routine, just like trimming the nails. Aim to trim the dew claws every 2-3 weeks along with their nails to keep everything neat and prevent overgrowth.[2]

Before hunting/field work: For dogs who work outdoors and in fields, such as hunting dogs, herding dogs, and terriers, trim the dew claws right before they go out to prevent painful snagging and injuries. The dew claws can catch on underbrush in the field, so keeping them well-trimmed is essential.[2]

Trimming Techniques

When trimming a dog’s dew claws, it’s important to use the proper technique to avoid pain and bleeding. Here are some tips:

Use a good pair of dog nail clippers that allow you to get close to the end of the nail. Human nail clippers often won’t work as well. Look for clippers designed specifically for dogs.

Make a straight, clean cut across the nail. Don’t clip at an angle, as this can cause splintering. Position the clippers perpendicular to the nail and snip directly across.

Be careful not to cut the quick, which is the blood vessel inside the nail. Cutting the quick will cause bleeding and pain. The quick recedes as you get closer to the end of the nail, so cut small amounts at a time until you see a grey/white center appear – this means you’re at the right length.

If bleeding occurs from cutting the quick, use a styptic powder or pencil to stop the bleeding. Avoid cutting any more nails until the bleeding fully stops.

Go slowly and carefully to avoid cutting too much. It’s better to trim a little at a time, working your way to the proper length over multiple sessions if needed. Rushing increases the chances of hitting the quick.

Give your dog treats and praise during the process to create a positive association with nail trims.


Proper aftercare is important following a dew claw trim to avoid complications like bleeding or infection. According to WikiHow, you should stop any bleeding by covering the wound with clean gauze and applying pressure for a few minutes ( It’s advisable to have styptic powder or bandages on hand to control bleeding if needed.

The Cahill Animal Hospital also recommends keeping the trimmed nail clean and dry for 24 hours after the trim to prevent infection ( Monitor the trimmed nail over the next few days for any signs of redness, swelling or discharge which could indicate infection. Keeping the nail wrapped and dry will help prevent bacteria from entering the wound. Avoid letting your dog lick or bite at the trimmed nail, as this can introduce infection.

Overall, proper at-home care like using styptic powder for bleeding, keeping the trimmed nail clean/dry, and monitoring for signs of infection can help avoid complications after a dew claw trim.

Risks of Not Trimming

Overgrown and untrimmed dew claws can become a significant health risk for dogs. As the nail grows, it can curl back into the paw pad or twist to the side, becoming embedded in the flesh. This causes pain and irritation in the surrounding skin. Embedded dew claws are prone to catching on fabrics, furniture, and carpeting, tearing away from the paw as the dog moves about. This can be extremely painful and cause bleeding and infection in the nail bed.

As dew claws grow longer, they exert pressure on the toe and paw with every step the dog takes. This leads to soreness and limping. Long dew claws impede the natural gait and mobility of a dog. The constant discomfort of overgrown dew claws will make walking, running, and playing quite painful for the animal. Even simple daily movements become a challenge.

Left untrimmed, dew claws invariably progress to a state that poses a real health risk and compromises a dog’s quality of life. Regular monitoring and trimming is essential to keep dew claws at a safe length and prevent the onset of bigger problems. According to the American Kennel Club, dew claws should be inspected every 1-2 weeks and trimmed as needed. Preventative trimming from an early age protects the health of dogs in the long run. (Sources:,

Alternatives to Trimming

While trimming a dog’s dew claws is common practice, there are some alternative methods to keeping the nails maintained without trimming:

Frequent walks on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt can help wear down a dog’s nails naturally. The friction from these hard surfaces will grind the nails down over time, reducing the need for trimming. However, this may not fully maintain overgrown dew claws, so should be combined with other techniques.[1]

Using a Dremel tool with a sandpaper or grinding attachment can grind down nails gently without the risk of cutting the quick. With training and positive reinforcement, many dogs become comfortable with the sensations and sounds of the tool. Dremeling can shape and shorten nails safely and gradually.[2]

Chemical cauterization products can also be applied to soften the nail and stop growth. However, these products must be used carefully to avoid chemical burns, and do not remove length, only slow additional growth.

Making a Decision

When deciding whether or not to trim your dog’s dew claws, it’s important to consider your individual dog’s breed, lifestyle, and health.

Consult with your veterinarian if you are unsure about trimming. They can examine your dog and provide professional advice based on his or her specific needs.

Take into account your dog’s breed predispositions and what activities they regularly participate in. For example, herding or sporting breeds that run and play outside frequently may benefit from having their dew claws trimmed to avoid rips or tears.

However, if your dog is less active or an indoor companion breed, leaving the dew claws may be perfectly fine.

You’ll also want to weigh the potential pros and cons of trimming or leaving the dew claws. Trimming may prevent injury in some cases but also carries risks if done improperly.[1] Leaving them untrimmed means avoiding those risks but may increase chances of tears.

With your veterinarian’s guidance and an understanding of your dog’s lifestyle and needs, you can make an informed decision that’s best for their health and comfort.

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