Dew Claws On Dogs: Clipping Dew Claws vs Keeping Them

You may have noticed your dog’s little toe that sits a bit higher up the leg, away from the bed of its paws. In some dogs, they are tightly attached, in other dogs they only seem loosely attached to the leg. These are your dog’s dew claws.

You may have found this article because you are considering removing your dog’s dew claws. This article will help you understand what dew claws are, explore their function and which different types of dew claws there are. We discuss the pros and cons of surgical removal as well as the implications and costs of such a procedure.


What are dew claws?

Dew claws are short nails on the site of the foot that don’t touch the ground. They are often referred to as a dog’s thumb, but they have a lot less purpose and value to a dog than a human’s thumb does.

From an evolutionary perspective, it has been discovered that, around 40 million years ago, the cat-like animal miacis – a very early ancestor of modern dogs – needed all five toes for climbing trees. However, since then dogs have evolved and the physiology of their paws changed to allow for more speed when hunting on the ground. Dew claws are basically leftovers of the canine evolutionary process.

The majority of dogs have dew claws only on their front paws, however some dogs exhibit dew claws on their hind feet, e.g. Newfoundlands. And in some cases dogs even have an extra toe which is often referred to as a double dew claw, or polydactyl (meaning “extra toe”) and is commonly found in breeds like the BriardSt Bernard and Great Pyrenees.


Double dew claw on a dog

The risk of dew claw injury

In some dogs the dew claws are held tightly against the paw, in others they can be quite loose and floppy.  These looser type of dew claws can cause a bit of worry for dog owners, as there is a risk of serious injury occuring. They can, for example, get torn off when the nail catches on something, as the dog runs through bush or over rough terrain. Some dog sports also pose a level of risk for dew claw injuries, e.g. agility and flyball.

If a dew claw is injured, you will often find that the animal may limp and cry out when you touch its leg. If the claw gets caught and torn off, expect there to be a lot of bleeding. This is because dogs’ nails have quicks (the soft tender flesh below the growing part of the nail), which have their own blood supply.

If your dog has injured its dew claws, it is best to take it to the vet. If it is torn but still connected to the leg, then the vet will probably cut it off completely. If it is broken, the broken part of the nail will be trimmed off. A bandage will be applied for a few days if there is a lot of bleeding or the nail has completely come off.

Apart from the bleeding and being painful for the dog, these injuries aren’t too serious. Your vet will very likely give your dog some pain medications and antibiotics if needed to stop infections.


A pet insurance policy with Bow Wow Meow will help ensure you can always afford to give your pet the best treatment for your dog’s dew claw injury, along with many other health conditions.


How to clip your dog’s dew claws

Because they don’t touch the ground, dew claws do not get worn down on walks. Keep an eye on your dog’s dew claws to avoid long toe nails becoming overgrown and growing into the toe pad.

Use scissors or clippers that are especially made to trim your dog’s nails. With dew claws, it is best to separate them a bit from the leg to avoid cutting into the skin. Make sure you don’t cut into the internal nail area, which is called the quick. If the quick is too close to the tip of the nail it is better to wait until the nail is further away from the quick before cutting it.

Our friends from dog training company, Dog Matters, have published an informative (and entertaining) video on how to trim your dog’s toe nails and what you can do to get your dog used to it.


Advantages and disadvantages of dew claw removal

The advantages of removing your dog’s dew claws are:

  • Reducing the risk of dew claw injuries;
  • Reduction of overgrown dew claws and ingrown nails;
  • Like other toe nails, dew claws can get infections. This risk will be reduced.

The disadvantages of removing your dog’s dew claws are:

  • The standard risks that come with a general anaesthetic;
  • Removing your dog’s dew claws is an amputation and at the end of the day, a surgery that may not be medically necessary;
  • Losing the functionality of the dew claws. Many groomers, vets and dog owners have seen their dogs use their dew claws, for example, as thumbs when rubbing their eyes or to assist with gripping things;
  • Cutting off your dog’s dew claw means that some major muscle bundles will become atrophied because the muscle won’t be used adequately anymore. This can lead to other biological conditions such as arthritis. Especially for some dog sports the biological impacts should be considered.


When is dew claw removal recommended?

In countries like the USA, removing a dog’s dew claws is quite a common procedure and is even done preventatively at puppy age. The dew claws are frequently removed by breeders when the animal is only a few days old and the digit has not yet attached to bone or muscle tissue.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) however, has a more conservative view on dew claw removal, which it does not promote unless required because of a legitimate medical reason. It is seen as surgical alteration to the natural state of an animal, which is acceptable only if it is necessary for the health and welfare of the animal concerned.

In practice, Australian vets tend to recommend removing a dog’s dew claws if they hang loosely off the paw and provide a risk for injury. This is often recommended to be done when your dog undergoes a standard procedure such as de-sexing, where the animal will be put under general anaesthetic. 

The dew claw removal procedure

Step 1: Your dog will be put under general anaesthetic. Ensure that you follow any preparation guidelines your vet gives you, e.g. not to feed your dog anything on the day of the surgery.

Step 2: To prevent infections, the skin around the dew claw will be disinfected.

Step 3: The entire toe will then be removed with surgical scissors cutting quickly through skin, muscle and bone.

Step 4: After the dew claw has been removed, the wound will be stitched up with dissolving or non-dissolving sutures.

Step 5: To protect the wound, its is often covered by a bandage.

Because their bones are still soft, and muscle tissue has not developed that much, dew claw removal is much simpler in young puppies, and is often performed when they are only a few days old.

The surgery itself often takes only 15-30 minutes. Your dog may have to stay at the vet hospital for 2-3 hours and can return home once the anesthetic has worn off.


Dew claw removal aftercare

  • If your dog bites or licks their paws, your vet will recommend that is wears an Elizabethan collar.
  • The wound should be checked daily for redness, puffiness or if it causes obvious distress to your pet.
  • If the sutures are non-dissolving, they need to be removed by your vet after 5 to 7 days.


Dew claw removal costs in Australia

The most expensive part of the procedure is the general anesthetic. For this reason, the procedure is often combined with other surgeries such as de-sexing. The extra amount that you would pay for the actual dew claw removal procedure is usually around AUD $70 or more, depending on your vet and your location.

If you have opted for our Routine Care option, Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance will contribute up to $50 for your dog’s dew claw removal* (conditions apply). Learn more about our Routine Care Cover.



Dog after dew claw removal



Why do dogs have dewclaws?

A dewclaw is a small digit located on the inside of a dog’s leg, higher up than the rest of the paw. Not all dogs have them, and they can be found on both the front and rear legs, although rear dewclaws are less common. Dewclaws are considered to be ‘vestigial’— remnants of what used to be toes in their evolutionary ancestors. In some breeds, dewclaws are attached by bone, making them more functional for gripping bones while chewing, climbing, or running, while in others, they are loosely attached, serving minimal practical function.


Should dewclaws be removed?

The decision to remove a dog’s dewclaws often depends on the breed, the purpose of the dog, and the advice of a veterinarian. For most pets, especially if the dewclaw is firmly attached, there is no clear reason to remove them and they can be left as is. However, in some working dogs or breeds where loose dewclaws might pose a risk of snagging and tearing, removal might be considered. Always consult with a vet to determine the best course of action for your specific dog.


How do you properly care for a dog’s dewclaws?

Proper care for a dog’s dewclaws involves regular monitoring and grooming. Since dewclaws are less worn down from contact with the ground, their nails can grow longer and curl, potentially causing discomfort or injury. It’s important to keep the nails trimmed to prevent them from growing into the paw pads. Regular checks for signs of infection or irritation are also crucial, especially if the dewclaw is loosely attached.


What are the risks associated with clipping a dog’s dewclaws?

Clipping a dog’s dewclaws, if not done correctly, can lead to several risks, including nail splitting or cracking, infection, and pain if the quick is accidentally cut. It’s advisable to have a professional groomer or veterinarian handle nail trimming, especially if you are unfamiliar with the process or if your dog’s nails are particularly tough or dark-colored, which makes it difficult to see the quick.


Are there benefits to keeping a dog’s dewclaws?

Yes, there are benefits to keeping a dog’s dewclaws, particularly if they are well attached. Functional dewclaws help with stability and traction when a dog runs or turns quickly, preventing torque on the leg. For some dogs, especially those involved in agility training or activities requiring sharp turns, dewclaws can provide additional grip and support on soft or uneven surfaces.


Can dewclaws grow back after being removed?

Dewclaws generally do not grow back once they are surgically removed. However, if the removal was not complete and some residual tissue remains, there can sometimes be regrowth of a partial nail or claw. It’s crucial to ensure that dewclaw removal, if chosen, is performed by a skilled veterinarian to prevent complications or incomplete removal.


How should dewclaw injuries be treated?

Dewclaw injuries should be treated promptly to prevent infection and further complications. If a dewclaw is torn or injured, cleaning the area with a mild antiseptic solution and seeking veterinary care is crucial. A vet may need to trim or surgically remove the damaged portion of the nail, provide antibiotics, or bandage the paw to ensure proper healing.


In summary

Removing your dog’s dew claws in most cases is not necessary if you keep an eye on them to ensure they do not get too long and prevent injuries when your dog is in rough terrain. However, if you feel the dew claws impact your dog’s wellbeing and risk causing an injury, you should discuss the option of surgical dew claw removal with your vet. Especially with very loose sitting dew claws, this might be beneficial. The surgery itself is simple and in most cases requires general anaesthetic. Recovery time until removal of sutures can take up to one week.


A pet insurance policy with Bow Wow Meow will help ensure you can always afford to give your pet the best treatment for your dog’s dew claw injury, along with many other health conditions.




*Please note, any pet insurance advice provided is general only. Refer to the applicable Product Disclosure Statement for details of Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance cover.