Whether or not you should remove a dog’s dew claws depends on who you ask.
I personally believe it’s best to leave a dog’s paws natural, but most dogs seem to do just fine with or without their dew claws.
I’ve had sporting breeds my whole life. Some had their dew claws removed as puppies and some did not. It didn’t seem to matter much either way, for my small sample of dogs.
What are dog dew claws?
Dogs have four toes on each front paw that touch the ground when standing, as well as a large pad in the center of the paw.
Most dogs also have a “dew claw” higher up on each front paw that does not touch the ground while standing. The dew claws are typically attached to the foot with bone and tendon and can help the dog with gripping.
Even higher up from the dew claw is the “carpal pad” located on the dog’s wrist.
Here is a photo of my Labrador’s front paw:
As you can see, he has his front dew claw. This is located above the four regular toes and below the carpal pad.
You could think of the dew claw as a dog’s “thumb,” although they don’t quite work as well as our thumbs.
Rear dew claws in dogs
On the back feet, most dogs do not have a dew claw, but some do. Rear dew claws do not touch the ground either.
Rear dew claws are more common in certain herding, watchdog and livestock guardian breeds such as briards, Beaucerons and great Pyrenees. Sometimes German shepherds have rear dew claws, as well.
Rear dew claws are usually only attached by skin – not by bone and tendon.
Double rear dew claws
Some breeds even have double rear dew claws. For example, the American Kennel Club lists double dew claws as the breed standard for Beaucerons. The Beauceron is a watchdog and guardian breed.
If a Beauceron does not have double dew claws on each rear leg, then the dog is disqualified when competing in Conformation. Conformation is when dogs are judged based on their breed standard.
How many dew claws does a dog have?
Almost all dogs have two dew claws – one on each of their front paws. Some dogs also have one or two dew claws on their rear paws. So a dog could have up to six dew claws.
Why do dogs have dew claws?
The front dew claws can help the dog with running and balancing at high speeds and can even help them grip surfaces during climbing.
My yellow Lab Rip has his front dew claws and can hold his toys in his paws easier than my other dog Remy, who does not have his dew claws.
I see that my Lab’s dew claws also help him “perch” or grip surfaces when he’s laying on something like a boulder or a log.
Reasons to have a puppy’s front dew claws removed
1. Removing a puppy’s dew claws helps prevent injury.
For some of the hunting breeds, it’s still common to have the front dew claws removed in young puppies.
When a puppy’s dew claws are removed, she is less likely to have an injury where the nail catches on something and gets yanked out.
For hunting dogs, there is a small risk that the dew claw could get caught in some brush while the dog is running through fields or woods. That is why some breeders choose to have the dew claws removed.
Removing the front dew claws in puppies is fairly common for upland hunting breeds like weimaraners, English setters and Brittany spaniels.
That being said, I belong to a couple of hunting dog groups and forums and it is clearly becoming more popular now to leave the dew claws on vs. have them removed.
It’s even less common to remove the dew claws from dogs that primarily hunt waterfowl such as Labradors and golden retrievers.
Risks associated with a dew claw injury in hunting dogs:
- bleeding (and mess)
- potential infection (unlikely)
- a vet visit
- a few days of downtime to recover with a bandaged paw
- potentially needing the dewclaw surgically removed
Because the risk of this type of injury is pretty low, I don’t see it as a reason to have your puppy’s dew claws removed.
It’s certainly something you could ask your vet about if you’re concerned, but almost all dogs have their front dew claws and you just don’t hear about many injuries.
Dogs can injure any of their nails, of course.
A dog can injure any of their nails, obviously. Not just the dew claws.
I accidentally broke one of my Lab mix Ace’s nails one time while doing a nail trim. I felt terrible. The clipper was too dull, and the nail cracked in half! This wasn’t one of his dew claws, it was one of his regular nails.
I ended up taking him to the vet because his skin was getting infected. The vet removed the whole nail and wrapped Ace’s paw. He healed up fine and the nail grew back, so no big deal, really.
My parents had a springer spaniel who also injured one of her regular nails when it somehow got caught in the door frame as she was running through the front door.
See our article: What to do if a dog breaks a nail.
2. To follow AKC breed standards
The AKC “breed standard” says the front dew claws should be removed in some breeds, such as the weimaraner.
If you are a breeder, you understandably may want to follow the AKC standards for your breed even if you don’t see any other reason to have the dew claws removed.
And if you want to compete in AKC Conformation, then you’d also want to follow the “breed standard” the best you can. For example, front dew claws are considered a “fault” or disqualification for weimaraners.
Why don’t weimaraners have dew claws?
Most weimaraners are born with front dew claws just like other dogs, but they are often removed when they are a few days old because of the two reasons mentioned above – injury prevention and following the breed standard.
Breeders of some of the other upland hunting breeds may also choose to remove the dew claws from their puppies, even when it’s optional by their AKC “breed standard.”
Some of these breeds include German shorthaired pointers, English pointers, vizslas, Brittany spaniels and English setters.
3. Without dew claws, there are fewer nails to clip.
I don’t see this as a reason to have the dew claws removed, but I guess it would be a benefit.
Nail trims are stressful for a lot of dogs and their owners. If you have fewer nails to clip, this makes life easier.
See our article: Teach your dog to tolerate nail trims
Best age to remove a dog’s dew claws
If your dog does not have front dew claws, they were most likely removed when he was a puppy. This is the best time to remove a dog’s dew claws, if they are going to be removed at all.
Some breeders clip the dew claws themselves when the puppies are just days old. Since the puppies do not have a fully developed nervous system yet, the breeders say no anesthesia is needed. The puppies might squirm for a second and then fall back to sleep.
For adult dogs, I would not recommend removing the dew claw unless there is a medical reason to do so. For example, if the dog keeps injuring the nail bed.
If you choose to have your puppy or dog’s dew claws removed, it should be done under anesthesia by a veterinarian. This is because dew claws are typically attached by skin, bone and tendon.
Why you should not remove a dog’s dew claws
1. Dew claws help a dog grip, balance and climb.
When you remove a dog’s dew claw, you are removing a nail that helps them grip and balance.
A dog’s dew claws come in handy in a variety of life’s situations such as competing in agility or climbing out of the lake or simply gripping onto logs in the woods.
The dew claws also make it easier for some dogs to hold onto toys with their paws.
2. Dew claws help agility dogs and other athletic dogs.
If you plan to compete in dog agility or if you do other types of sports with your dog like dock diving, it’s beneficial for them to keep their dew claws to help with their natural grip and gait, pulling themselves out of the water, etc.
3. Removing the dew claw could cause arthritis later on.
A dog’s front dew claws are attached by bone and tendon to the front paws and have a definite purpose. When you remove the dew claw, you are altering their front foot and some veterinarians say this increases the dog’s likelihood of arthritis or pain later in life.
Of course, this does not guarantee anything either way.
Some dogs who have their dew claws removed will never get arthritis. And some dogs who have their dew claws will still develop painful joints as seniors. The dew claws are just one factor in addition to genetics, weight, health, breed and lifestyle.
My weimaraner is 7 years old and has lived an extremely active life without his dew claws. He is fit and lean and shows no signs of arthritis or pain anywhere in his body.
On the other hand, my Lab mix Ace had front dew claws and he developed pain in his joints around age 5 or 6 and it got worse as he got older.
How to care for your dog’s dew claws
You should regularly check and trim your dog’s dew claws. Just like all of their other nails, you don’t want the dew claws to get too long.
If you have a puppy, spend some time each day gently touching and handling their paws and nails so they can get used to you touching their feet. This will typically make nail trims easier.
I’ve had dogs with their front dew claws and dogs without their front dew claws.
In this limited sample of dogs, I haven’t noticed much of a difference between the dogs with dew claws and the dogs without.
My current two dogs both run long distance, hike, train for agility and upland hunting. One has his dew claws and one does not.
Should you remove a dog’s rear dew claws?
Sometimes, a dog’s rear dew claws are only attached by skin, not by bone and tendon. When that is the case, some vets recommend removing the rear dew claws.
This is because the dew claws are just “hanging there” not serving any real purpose, and there are more likely to get caught on something and “yanked out” or injured.
If your dog will be going under anesthesia for some other reason such as a dental or a spay/neuter surgery, then it would make sense to have the rear dew claws removed at that time.
I personally wouldn’t plan a separate procedure to have the rear dew claws removed. I would just leave them and “take my chances” with the low risk of potential injury to the nail.
So … what should you do?
Generally, there is not a strong reason to remove a puppy’s dew claws. But it’s your choice. Even if you plan to upland hunt with your sporting breed, the chance of injuring the dew claw is pretty low.
If your breeder typically removes the dew claws when the puppies are a few days old, then that’s probably fine. If the breeder typically leaves the dew claws, that’s also fine.
Let us know your experience!
In the comments, let me know if your dog has his front or rear dew claws. Do you have a hunting dog? Were the dew claws removed when he was a puppy? Do you have a guardian breed with double rear dew claws?