What To Do If Dog Hurts Dewclaw?

What is a dewclaw?

A dewclaw is an extra digit on the inner side of a dog’s front or hind legs. It sits higher up on the leg than the other toes and does not touch the ground when the dog walks. Dewclaws are essentially a dog’s thumb. On the front legs, dewclaws are located on the inside of the leg just above the paw. On the hind legs, they are often found just a few inches above the paw though this varies by breed (1).

The purpose and function of dewclaws is debated, though they are believed to be vestigial appendages from the days when dogs’ ancestors had five toes on each foot. For some dogs, particularly working breeds, dewclaws help grip bones and other items. They also provide balance for dogs as they move over various terrains (2). Regardless of their purpose, dewclaws are part of the normal anatomical structure for most dogs.


(1) https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/what-are-dog-dewclaws/

(2) https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-purpose-of-dewclaws-on-dogs-Does-your-veterinarian-ever-remove-them

Common dewclaw injuries

Dewclaws are prone to injuries as they are weakly attached and have minimal muscle and tissue surrounding them. The most common dewclaw injuries in dogs include:

Torn or ripped dewclaws – Dewclaws can easily snag on furniture, carpets, fences, and other objects, tearing the nail and skin. This causes bleeding, pain, and exposes the area to infection.

Fractured dewclaws – The dewclaw nail may crack or break off partially or completely when caught on something. This is extremely painful and the broken part may remain attached by skin.

Dislocated dewclaws – Forceful pulling and tugging can dislocate the dewclaw joint, partially detaching it from the paw. This is very painful and needs prompt veterinary treatment.

According to https://urgentvet.com/my-dog-broke-its-dewclaw/, these injuries commonly occur during rough play or physical activity when the dewclaws get snagged or caught on objects. Overgrown, misshapen dewclaws are especially prone to injuries.

Signs your dog has hurt its dewclaw

There are a few key signs that may indicate your dog has injured its dewclaw:

Limping or licking paw – If your dog is limping and excessively licking at their paw, this could signal dewclaw damage. The dewclaw is sensitive, so injury to it can cause soreness and irritation.

Swelling around dewclaw – Inflammation and swelling around the dewclaw area points to trauma. If the dewclaw itself appears puffy and enlarged, it is likely damaged.

Bleeding from nail bed – One of the most obvious signs of dewclaw injury is bleeding from the nail bed. This occurs when the nail is partially or fully torn off. Pressure should be applied to stop blood loss.

Other signs can include nail deformity, abnormal holding of paw, or visible tearing of the dewclaw. It’s important to inspect the dewclaw and paw pads for any cuts, scrapes or Embedded foreign objects. If you suspect a dewclaw injury, seek prompt veterinary care.

First aid for dewclaw injuries

If your dog has injured its dewclaw, it’s important to administer first aid right away to control bleeding and prevent further injury. Here are some tips for providing first aid for a dewclaw injury:

Stop the bleeding by applying pressure. Lightly wrap the paw in gauze or a towel and apply firm, direct pressure over the wound to control bleeding. Do not wrap the bandage too tightly as this can cut off circulation.

Immobilize the leg to prevent further injury. You can make a simple splint by placing a popsicle stick or thick cardboard on each side of the leg and wrapping it to secure it in place. Be sure not to make it too tight.

Limit activity and encourage rest. Carry your dog outside for potty breaks and prevent them from running, jumping or playing until the dewclaw is examined by a vet.

According to Acoma Animal Clinic, it’s important to call your vet right away whenever a dewclaw injury occurs, as they can determine if further treatment is needed beyond first aid.

When to see the vet

It’s important to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if their dewclaw injury is severe. According to Acoma Animal Clinic, you should see the vet right away in the following situations:

  • Bleeding doesn’t stop after applying pressure – prolonged bleeding indicates a serious injury
  • Bone is exposed – this increases the risk of infection
  • Signs of infection – redness, swelling, pus, foul odor
  • Dewclaw fully torn off – this requires surgical treatment

Your vet will thoroughly examine your dog’s injured dewclaw and diagnose the severity of the injury. They can provide the proper medical treatment to stop bleeding, prevent infection, and help the dewclaw heal correctly after trauma.

At the vet: examination and diagnosis

When you take your dog to the vet for a dewclaw injury, the vet will start by performing a thorough physical examination of the paw and dewclaw. They will look for signs of swelling, redness, bleeding, pain, and infection. The vet will also assess the extent of the injury – whether the nail is cracked, partially torn, or completely torn off. Manipulating the dewclaw can help determine if it is dislocated or the tendon is torn.

Usually, the vet will take x-rays of the paw and dewclaw. This allows them to see the bones and joints to check for any fractures or dislocations that may not be obvious from a physical exam alone. X-rays also help the vet determine if the dewclaw is still attached or completely torn off. They can also assess damage to the P3 pedal bone.

Based on the physical examination and x-ray findings, the vet will determine the severity of the dewclaw injury. A cracked or torn nail may be treated more conservatively, while a partially or fully torn dewclaw with damaged tendons or bones will require surgery. The vet will discuss treatment options and prognosis with you.

Dewclaw Injury Treatment

If your dog has injured its dewclaw, the vet will likely recommend treatment to help it heal properly. Some common dewclaw injury treatments include:

Bandaging and Splinting

Vets often bandage and splint injured dewclaws to immobilize them and protect the nail bed as it heals. This helps reduce pain and prevents further injury. Bandages may need to be changed frequently to keep the area clean.[1]

Pain Medication

Your vet may prescribe pain medication to help keep your dog comfortable as the dewclaw heals. Common medications include NSAIDs like carprofen or meloxicam. Never give your dog human painkillers.


If the dewclaw injury is infected, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat bacteria and prevent further infection. Keeping the wound clean is also important.

Dewclaw Removal

In severe dewclaw injuries, especially if the nail was partially or fully torn off, the vet may recommend complete removal of the dewclaw to prevent future injuries. This requires anesthesia and surgery.

Follow your vet’s treatment instructions closely to help your dog recover quickly and comfortably from a dewclaw injury.

Recovery and aftercare

After a dewclaw injury, it is important to properly care for the wound to promote healing and prevent infection. Here are some tips for at-home aftercare while your dog recovers:

Keep any bandages clean and dry. Change bandages as needed, using care not to disturb the injured area. Keeping bandages dry and changing them regularly will help prevent infection.

Restrict your dog’s activity as recommended by your vet. Jumping, running, and playing can disturb the healing process. Limit activity for at least 7-10 days. Your vet may recommend longer restrictions for more serious injuries.

Monitor your dog closely for signs of infection like swelling, redness, oozing, foul odor, loss of appetite or fever. Contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these signs. Proper aftercare greatly reduces infection risk.

Give any prescribed medications as directed by your vet. These may include antibiotics or pain medications to prevent infection and keep your dog comfortable.

Allow your dog to gradually return to normal activity. Once the initial healing period has passed, slowly increase supervised activity over 7-10 days. Avoid having your dog run or jump on hard surfaces during this transition period.

Schedule a recheck appointment with your vet 7-10 days after the initial injury. They will examine progress and provide instructions for ongoing care if needed.

Preventing dewclaw injuries

There are several steps you can take to help prevent dewclaw injuries in dogs:

Keep nails trimmed. Overgrown nails are a leading cause of dewclaw injuries. By keeping your dog’s nails trimmed regularly, you can help prevent the nails from catching and tearing the dewclaws. Aim to trim your dog’s nails at least every 2-4 weeks.

Use dog boots on rough terrain. When hiking, running, or walking your dog on rough surfaces like gravel or concrete, protective dog boots can prevent excess stress on the dewclaws and reduce the chance of tears and other injuries. Look for a well-fitted pair that covers the toes and dewclaws.

Avoid rough play. Vigorous play with other pets or toys that involves clawing and grabbing can put extra strain on dewclaws. Try to limit very rough play and provide softer toys to reduce the likelihood of dewclaw injuries.

When to be concerned

In most cases, minor dewclaw injuries will heal on their own with some first aid and TLC at home. However, there are certain signs that indicate a more serious injury requiring veterinary attention:

Persistent lameness or swelling – If your dog continues to limp or the area stays inflamed and painful days after the initial injury, the dewclaw may be fractured or the tendons/ligaments extensively damaged. Prolonged lameness or swelling can impede healing. See your vet for an exam and possible x-rays.

Signs of infection – Redness, heat, pus, foul odor and fever can signify infection, which can rapidly spread to the bone. Infections require prompt antibiotic treatment and sometimes surgical drainage. Left unchecked, bone infections (osteomyelitis) can be very serious.

Dewclaw fully torn off – While a broken nail will regrow, a completely torn off dewclaw needs surgical attention to stop bleeding, prevent infection, and remove any remaining tissue. The wound will need bandaging and care. Your vet can determine if the toe itself needs partial amputation.

If your dog experiences any of the above symptoms, contact your veterinarian right away. Serious dewclaw injuries may require antibiotics, surgery, or removal of the digit. Prompt treatment gives the best outcome and prevents complications like arthritis later on.

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