What Are Dew Claws? Essential Facts Explained

Dew claws are extra digits that some dogs have on their “ankles.” These small appendages help with gripping objects, running, and balance.

Mar 11, 2024By Nikita Hillier
what are dew claws essential facts explained

Dew claws are essentially the fifth toe on a dog’s paw, positioned higher up on the leg. Unlike the other toes, they don’t touch the ground and are very similar to our thumbs. These odd little claws are attached to the leg by a small piece of bone or cartilage. Sometimes, these claws are quite developed and may even have a nail!

They may seem odd, but they really aren’t anything to worry about! However, if you notice swelling, bleeding, or pus around the area, you should consult a vet.

Dogs Known for Their Dew Claws

Great pyrenees dew claw
Image Credit: Reddit

All dogs, both large and small, have dew claws on their front paws. However, some dog breeds have them on their front and back legs. Some even have unique dew claws based on their breed’s standard.

Some breeds known for having prominent dew claws include:

  • Great Pyrenees: The Great Pyrenees often has DOUBLE dew claws on their hind legs. These additions add to their stability and agility while navigating rocky terrain.
  • Saint Bernards: Saint Bernards are known for their gentle nature and usually have well-developed dew claws on their hind legs. Like the Great Pyrenees, these dogs were bred to navigate harsh terrain, particularly the Swiss Alps.
  • The Anatolian Shepherd Dog: The Anatolian Shepherd Dog has double dew claws on their hind legs to help with stability while guarding livestock.
  • Briards: Briard dogs usually have dew claws on their hind legs to aid in gripping and manoeuvring.
  • The Norwegian Lundehund: The Norwegian Lundehund has six toes on each foot, including double dew claws on all four legs. This contributes to the dog’s “rotary” gait.

Dew Claws Have Many Purposes

brown dog dew claw
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There is a common misconception that dew claws are useless or left over from evolution. That’s not true! Researchers have found that dew claws have many uses, benefiting some dog breeds more than others.

Here are some of the main purposes of dew claws:

  • Gripping and stability: In breeds with well-developed dew claws, these extra additions can provide a lot of help with grip and stability. This is especially true in challenging terrains. Dew claws prove super helpful for dogs that partake in activities like hiking, climbing, herding, or rescue work.
  • Thumb-like functionality: Dew claws are much like thumbs and may serve a very similar purpose. They enable dogs to grasp objects and hold onto things. This is helpful in certain situations and environments.
  • Balancing during turns: Dew claws can greatly help a dog’s ability to balance during quick movements or sharp turns. They can also provide traction.

Considerations for Removing Dew Claws

black dog with fluffy ears staring at camera
Image Credit: Graham Smith on Unsplash

The decision to remove your dog's dew claws should not be taken lightly. In fact, it is a very controversial and personal choice for dog owners. Yet, you may consider having your dog’s dew claws removed if:

It Becomes Medically Necessary

In some cases, dew claws can be prone to injury. Dogs with floppy or loosely attached dew claws may catch them on objects. This can lead to fractures, tears, and inevitably, infections. Removal may be required in this instance to avoid further complications. Some breeders will remove a puppy’s dew claws within its first week of life, aiming to reduce the likelihood of injury.

Your Dog Competes in Physically Demanding Events

For owners who have dogs that are super involved in hunting, obedience sports, and agility, removing dew claws can be a preventative measure to avoid potential injuries.

It’s the Breed Standard

Some breed standards give owners the option of having dew claws removed. This is seen as a way of enhancing the dog’s overall look, not serving any functional purpose. For instance, the breed standard for Anatolian Shepherd Dogs gives owners the option of removal.

The Dew Claw Removal Procedure: What to Know

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Dew claw removal, also known as onychectomy, is usually performed when the dog is only a few days old. This procedure involves the precise surgical removal of the dew claws and is often done at the same time as other cosmetic procedures, such as tail docking or ear cropping.

This surgery is not recommended unless a vet sees a valid reason. If you want to reduce the likelihood of dew claw-related issues, make sure you regularly trim your dog’s nails. This prevents the nail from growing into the dog’s foot and getting infected.

Is Removing a Dog’s Dew Claws Ethical?

dew claw foot
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The ethical considerations of dew claw removal can include questions about the pain and the necessity of the procedure. Some argue removal is completely unnecessary and can cause distress to the dog. Others note that the surgery is usually done before the dog has nerve endings to the area, and because the surgery prevents injury, there’s no reason not to.

If your dog does not experience pain, swelling, or tenderness around the dew claw, there’s no reason to have the appendage removed. Still, as with any decision regarding your dog’s health, talk to their vet.

The Bottom Line About Dogs’ Dew Claws

border collie cross dog staring at camera
Image Credit: Bruno Souza on Unsplash

Dew claws are a unique feature in certain dog breeds. They have various purposes and may even help your dog! While some argue that these claws are completely useless and want them removed, others say that they contribute to a dog’s agility and stability.

The decision to remove a dog’s dew claws should be made very carefully and consider both medical necessity and ethical considerations. Being a responsible pet owner is all about understanding the breed-specific needs of your dog and ensuring their comfort and well-being throughout their life.

If your dog is having trouble with their dew claws, speak to your vet to decide what is best for them.

Nikita Hillier
By Nikita Hillier

Nikita is a huge animal lover who has grown up on a farm with many different animals, from dogs and cats to horses and cows! She has a lot of experience in the equine industry and is even in the process of studying for an internationally accredited Equine Sports Massage Certificate! In her spare time, she enjoys writing and spending time with her beloved animals!