Why Do Dogs Have Dewclaws Removed

What are Dewclaws?

Dewclaws are vestigial appendages located on the front and sometimes rear legs of dogs1. They are essentially remnant thumbs and are not attached to the rest of the dog’s bones by tendons and muscle. They are attached by skin only.

On the front legs, dewclaws are found on the inside of the legs, positioned analogously to the human thumb. They are typically located an inch or so above the paw2. Some breeds also have rear dewclaws located a few inches up the back of the hind legs.

Though they don’t serve much purpose for domesticated dogs today, dewclaws are believed to be remnants from a time when dogs’ ancestors used their front legs to grasp and hold prey3.

History of Dewclaw Removal

The practice of removing dewclaws has been around for centuries, dating back to when dogs were originally domesticated from wolves. According to the American Kennel Club, the dewclaw is considered to be a vestigial digit with “no workload,” essentially making it a useless appendage that could potentially cause injury. Therefore, when dogs were initially bred for specific working roles like herding, hunting, and pulling sleds, the dewclaws were deemed unnecessary and removed to prevent injury while the dog was working.

The rationale in early years was that dewclaws could get snagged and then ripped off completely. By proactively removing it in puppyhood, any potential traumatic injuries down the road could be prevented. The intent was to protect the dogs. This became a common practice and embedded in breed standards for certain breeds over time, like the Saint Bernard and Briard, who continued to have their dewclaws removed out of tradition.

In more recent decades, views on routine dewclaw removal have changed as more dogs transition from pure working roles to being companions. Now, they are often left intact unless injury is likely for a particular breed or individual dog. The debate continues around whether the protective or aesthetic benefits still justify prophylactic removal. Ultimately, the trend has moved towards only removing dewclaws if they pose a clear injury risk.

Reasons for Removal

Some dog owners choose to have their dog’s dewclaws removed for cosmetic or perceived health reasons. Aesthetically, some people feel the dewclaws look unattractive or find dewclaws get in the way when trimming the dog’s nails. Some breed standards call for removal of dewclaws on show dogs for a certain look in the breed. For example, the American Kennel Club breed standard for the Labrador Retriever specifies removal of dewclaws (“Dewclaws on forelegs may be removed, but are normally left on” says the standard.)

Another reason dog owners cite for dewclaw removal is to prevent potential injury. Because dewclaws can loosely hang and catch on objects, some believe removing them reduces risk of torn or injured dewclaws. However, research does not clearly show evidence that dewclaws are prone to such injuries in most breeds.

Some owners feel removal may benefit joint health by preventing conditions like arthritis later in life. However, there is no clear evidence showing routine removal of dewclaws in puppies prevents joint issues. More research would be needed to demonstrate a clear preventative benefit.

Overall, the perceived benefits of dewclaw removal for health or cosmetic reasons should be carefully weighed against the potential downsides. Dewclaws may play an important functional role for some breeds. Removing them solely for aesthetic reasons or without evidence of medical need remains controversial. Most veterinary organizations do not recommend routine removal.

Reasons Against Removal

Some veterinarians and dog owners argue there are good reasons to keep dewclaws intact. Here are some of the main arguments against removal:

Provides stability and grip. According to The Whole Dog Journal, the dewclaw provides extra gripping power and traction when dogs jump or run, especially in uneven terrain. If removed, dogs lose this extra digit for stability.

Part of the dog’s anatomy. The dewclaw is an actual digit with bone and muscle structure, not just extra skin as some think. Removing it is amputation. As argued by The Whole Dog Journal, the dewclaw should be kept intact as part of the dog’s natural anatomy unless there is a compelling medical reason for its removal.

Risks of surgery. There are always risks with anesthesia and surgery, including infection, bleeding, and reactions to medication. While dewclaw removal is generally a simple procedure, any surgery poses some dangers not worth taking unless absolutely necessary.

Breed Differences

Some dog breeds are born with dewclaws on their front and hind legs, while other breeds only have them on their front legs. According to the AKC, breeds that are known for having rear dewclaws include the Great Pyrenees, Briard, Beauceron, and Icelandic Sheepdog. The Norwegian Lundehund also has rear dewclaws, likely an adaptation for their rock-climbing abilities.

Certain breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees and Briard, require dewclaws to remain intact for breed standard in dog shows, according to the AKC (source). Removal of dewclaws would be penalized in the show ring for these breeds. However, other breeds like the Coton de Tulear expressly prohibit hind dewclaws in their breed standard.

While not all breeds require dewclaw removal, it has become common practice with certain breeds like Australian Shepherds and Poodles. Breed standards are an important factor in the decision to remove dewclaws.

When Removal Occurs

Dewclaw removal most commonly occurs during the first few days of a puppy’s life. According to Preventive Vet, dewclaws are typically removed when puppies are 3-5 days old. Breeders or their veterinarians perform the procedure at this young age before the bones have ossified. Removal is easier and recovery faster the earlier it is done.

However, dewclaw removal can also occur later in a dog’s life, even into adulthood. Some owners choose to have dewclaws removed during their dog’s spay or neuter surgery to avoid an additional anesthesia event. Veterinarians can perform dewclaw removal during spay/neuter up to around 5-6 months of age, according to Tier 1 Vet. The surgery becomes more invasive after ossification.

While less common, dewclaw removal may be advised at any age due to injury, infection, or other medical reasons. Owners should discuss the pros and cons with their veterinarian before deciding to remove dewclaws from an adult dog.

The Removal Procedure

Dewclaw removal is a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia, as it is an amputation. There are a few different methods used:

– The traditional method involves using surgical scissors to cut through the skin, joint, and bone. The dewclaws are then pulled and twisted off. This method has fallen out of favor due to causing more tissue trauma.

– Using a scalpel blade is now more common. A scalpel is used to dissect around the dewclaw and sever its attachments before cutting through the bone. This method is more precise and causes less tissue trauma.

– Some veterinarians may use electrosurgery units that employ radiofrequency waves to cut and coagulate tissue. This can help control bleeding and improve recovery.

For anesthesia and pain management, sedatives are often administered first to relax the puppy. General anesthesia is then induced, usually through mask inhalation of isoflurane gas to keep the puppy fully unconscious during surgery. Local nerve blocks, opioids, and anti-inflammatory medications may also be used for pain control.

Monitoring vital signs like heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and oxygen levels is important throughout the anesthetic procedure. The puppy is also kept warm with blankets and heating pads. Precautions are taken to ensure the puppy remains stable under anesthesia.

Proper anesthesia and pain management helps reduce stress and allows for a smooth, safe dewclaw removal procedure. The veterinarian’s goal is to minimize pain and maximize comfort during recovery.

Recovery and Aftercare

The recovery period for dew claw removal typically lasts around 10-14 days. Sutures and bandaging are used to protect the surgical site immediately after the procedure. The bandages are usually removed after 3-5 days, though the sutures may stay in place for up to 14 days.

It’s important to restrict activity during the recovery period to allow proper healing. Dogs should be kept on a leash when going outside to toilet for at least the first week. Only light exercise on a leash is recommended until the wound is fully closed. Jumping, running, and rough play should be avoided.

Pain medication is often prescribed for 3-5 days after surgery. This helps manage discomfort as the wound heals. Signs of pain include limping, licking excessively at the site, decreased appetite, and behavioral changes. Alert your vet if you notice these signs after bringing your dog home.

Proper recovery and aftercare following dew claw removal is important to prevent complications like infections, reopening the incision, and chronic pain issues. Be sure to follow all of your vet’s instructions for care during this period.

Cost of Dewclaw Removal

The average cost of dewclaw removal ranges from $30-$300 per dewclaw depending on factors like location, veterinarian, breed, age of dog, anesthesia needed, and additional services performed at the same time.

Some of the main factors affecting the cost include:

  • Age of dog – Removal on an older dog often costs more due to the need for anesthesia.
  • Veterinarian or location – Prices can vary significantly depending on the veterinarian performing the procedure and geographic location.
  • Breed size – Larger breeds often have a higher removal cost.
  • Anesthesia – General anesthesia may be required for older puppies or adult dogs, raising the price.
  • Additional services – The cost decreases if the removal is done along with other procedures such as spaying or neutering.

According to veterinarians, the typical range for dewclaw removal is $35-$60 for young puppies having it done at the same time as other services. Removal on an older dog often ranges from $135-$300 depending on the factors mentioned.

Alternatives to Removal

There are some alternatives to completely removing dewclaws that owners can consider. One option is to simply clip the dewclaws rather than amputating them. Trimming the dewclaws helps keep them at an appropriate length where they are less likely to snag or tear. Clipped dewclaws still provide the functionality that dewclaws naturally have.

Another alternative is using protective booties on dogs when they will be active outdoors. Booties protect the dewclaws and prevent injury. They can be used temporarily when doing activities where dewclaws are prone to snagging, versus permanently removing the dewclaws altogether. Some dog owners keep booties on hand for their dogs to wear during specific activities like hiking or running through brush.

Ultimately, clipping dewclaws and using protective gear provides safety for the dewclaws without removing them completely. These alternatives allow the dog to keep its natural dewclaws while preventing potential injuries at the same time. Owners should consider these options before deciding to surgically amputate dewclaws.

Scroll to Top