How Do I Protect My Dogs Dew Claws?

What are dew claws?

Dew claws are the digit found on the inside of a dog’s front leg and occasionally on the back legs. They are located a short distance above the rest of the toes on the front feet and even further above the other toes on the rear feet. Dew claws are attached to the leg by loose skin and sometimes ligaments and bone as well

The purpose of dew claws is to provide balance and traction while the dog is running or climbing. They help the dog grip onto surfaces and change direction quickly. Some breeds of dogs like Briards use their dew claws to help grip while herding livestock. Overall, they serve an important function for a dog’s mobility

Why dew claws are important

Dew claws are an important part of a dog’s normal anatomy and serve several purposes. According to the AKC, dew claws help dogs grip bones, toys, and other objects between their front legs [1]. When running at high speeds, especially while turning, dew claws provide extra traction and help stabilize the carpal (wrist) joint [2]. On rough or slippery surfaces, dew claws can help dogs maintain their balance and grip while climbing.

Since dew claws are part of the normal anatomical structure for most dogs, they should only be removed for medical reasons and not for cosmetic purposes. Allowing dogs to keep their dew claws intact enables them to fully utilize this appendage for gripping, turning, and stabilizing themselves.

Risks of Dew Claw Injuries

A dog’s dew claws are susceptible to painful injuries if they tear or get caught on something. According to a study on agility dogs, digit 1 (the dew claw) was the most commonly injured digit, with 13-24% of all canine injuries being to the phalanges or dew claws ( Since dew claws are located on the inner sides of a dog’s legs, they can easily snag on surfaces like fencing, carpeting, and brush while the dog is running or playing.

When a dew claw tears, it causes bleeding and significant pain for the dog. The open wound can also become infected if not treated properly. Any debris or dirt that gets into the wound raises the infection risk. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, discharge, foul odor, and fever. As predators, dogs instinctively lick wounds to self-soothe. However, licking the injured dew claw can introduce more bacteria. Left untreated, the infection can spread into the bone, joint, or bloodstream. Thus, dew claw injuries require prompt veterinary attention and medications like antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs to prevent complications.

Preventing dew claw injuries

There are a few things you can do to help prevent dew claw injuries on your dog:

Keep nails trimmed – One of the most important things you can do is keep your dog’s dew claws trimmed regularly. Long dew claws are more prone to getting caught and ripping off. Aim to trim them every 2-4 weeks.

Use booties when exercising outside – Booties can help protect your dog’s dew claws when running or hiking on rougher terrain. The booties provide a buffer against objects that could catch the dew claws.

Avoid rough play on abrasive surfaces – Try to discourage your dog from rough play like wrestling or rolling around on concrete, asphalt or gravel. These rough surfaces increase the chances of a dew claw getting caught and injured.

Check dew claws after outdoor activities – After a hike, run or playing session outside, look over your dog’s paws including the dew claws to make sure there are no injuries.

Some dogs are also prone to ingrown dew claws, so regular trimming and monitoring is important. Taking steps to protect the dew claws can prevent painful injuries.

Signs of Dew Claw Injury

Some common signs of a dew claw injury include:

Limping – Dogs will often limp and avoid bearing weight on the affected leg when they have a dew claw injury. This happens because the dew claw is connected to the leg bone, so any injury causes pain and discomfort in the leg.

Licking – Dogs will excessively lick the injured dew claw in an attempt to clean and soothe it. Excessive licking of the paw can be a tell-tale sign of a dew claw injury.

Swelling – An injured dew claw will often become red and swollen. There may be swelling of the toe and foot pad as well.

Bleeding – Broken and torn dew claws will bleed, especially when freshly injured. You may see blood on the floor, furniture, or anywhere the dog has been.

Difficulty Walking – In addition to limping, dogs may have difficulty walking normally and tend to hold their paw up when moving around. They may not want to walk or play at all.

Dogs exhibit these signs because dew claw injuries are very painful. The dew claw is connected to a tendon in the leg, so any injury to it causes discomfort. If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it likely has a dew claw injury that requires veterinary attention. Ignoring the signs can allow the injury to worsen.

Treating Minor Dew Claw Injuries

For minor dew claw injuries that do not require immediate veterinary attention, there are some at-home steps you can take to care for your dog’s injured nail and help it heal. However, if the injury looks severe, if the nail is hanging by a thread, or if your dog seems to be in significant pain, it’s best to go straight to the vet.

To treat a minor dew claw injury at home:

  • Clean the area very gently with a damp cloth or gauze pad. You want to remove any dirt or debris, but be cautious not to cause further damage or pain. A gentle antiseptic cleanser may be used.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment like polysporin to help prevent infection. Keep the area clean and change bandages daily.
  • Bandage the paw to protect the injured nail. Use self-adhesive wrap bandages designed for pet paws. Check this source for tips on proper bandaging technique.
  • Give your dog an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like baby aspirin to help with pain and swelling. Check with your vet on proper dosage for your dog’s size.

Monitor the dew claw closely over the next several days. If the injury worsens or fails to improve within 2-3 days, take your dog to the vet. Leaving an infected or severely injured dew claw untreated can lead to greater complications.

When to see the veterinarian

You should take your dog to see the veterinarian if there is significant swelling, lameness, or bleeding from the injured dew claw. According to UrgentVet, contact your primary veterinarian if your dog’s dewclaw has been injured or torn when their office is open. If the injury occurs after hours, you may need to visit an emergency vet hospital.

Signs of infection like redness, heat, pus, or a foul odor also warrant an urgent veterinary visit. According to Acoma Animal Clinic, sometimes injury to the dewclaw is a simple broken nail that can be treated at home. But if the nail is partially or fully torn off, you should see your vet right away.

Veterinary treatment options

If your dog has a serious dew claw injury, your veterinarian may recommend the following treatments:

X-rays to check for fractures of the toe or other injuries. X-rays allow your vet to fully assess the damage and determine the best course of treatment (

Sedation or anesthesia may be used to keep your dog still for examination and treatment of the injured paw (

Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection. Common antibiotics used include amoxicillin or cephalexin (

Pain medication such as NSAIDs help control pain and inflammation. Examples are carprofen, meloxicam or deracoxib.

Splinting or bandaging may be applied to immobilize and protect the injured toe during healing.

Surgery may be necessary to remove damaged tissue or entirely remove the dew claw if the injury is severe.

Recovery and aftercare

Proper aftercare is critical for your dog to heal well after a dew claw injury. You’ll need to restrict your dog’s activity to allow the dew claw time to mend.

Try to keep your dog calm and quiet for several weeks after the injury. Take potty breaks on a leash and avoid strenuous play or exercise that could cause further damage. Follow any instructions from your veterinarian about acceptable levels of activity.

Keep the dew claw clean and protected with a bandage or sock. Change bandages frequently to keep the area clean. Check for signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge or odor. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics or recommend soaking the paw in an epsom salt solution to prevent infection.

Follow up with your veterinarian as directed for bandage changes, medication refills or exams to check healing progress. Alert them if you notice any concerns with recovery. Strictly comply with any medication or care instructions from your vet.

With several weeks of reduced activity and good aftercare, your dog has an excellent chance of making a full recovery from a dew claw injury. Be vigilant about their activity level and care to ensure proper healing.

Preventing future dew claw injuries

There are several steps you can take to help prevent future dew claw injuries in your dog:

Regular trimming and grooming of the dew claws is essential. Keeping the nails trimmed short will help avoid tears and other injuries. Aim to trim your dog’s dew claws every 2-4 weeks, depending on how quickly their nails grow. Only trim a small amount at a time to avoid hitting the quick. If needed, seek professional grooming services to maintain short dew claws.

Using dog booties or socks can also protect the dew claws during activities. The footwear helps shield the nails from getting caught or scraped on rough surfaces. Booties are especially useful during hiking, running, or other outdoor adventures.

Avoid letting your dog run and play on abrasive or rocky ground. Try to stick to softer grasses in yards or dog parks. Rural dogs that roam over rough terrain are at higher risk for torn dew claws.

Monitor the length and health of your dog’s dew claws. Look for any signs of cracking, bleeding, redness or swelling, which could indicate injury. Keeping a close eye out allows you to take preventative and treatment measures right away.

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