What are Doggy Dewclaws?

DrPaul -

What are Doggy Dewclaws?

Dewclaws are one of your dog’s toes and are a little bit like human thumbs in the way that they are positioned on your dog's paw, though they don't serve in quite the same way. 


Once upon a time our dogs’ ancestors were very nifty climbers, and they utilised these digits to help them climb trees, cliffs and steep terrain. Now just like humans their “thumbs” evolved and in dogs they moved higher up the paw so that now, for most dog breeds, they no longer make any contact with the ground. The reason for this evolution was that it gave dogs more speed to hunt or to evade danger from predators and as the world's landscape changed there became less need to climb. 


All dogs are born with front declaws with some dogs also being born with hind declaws and even more rarely in some breeds 'double' dewclaws. So, what is it they actually do? And do they still have a purpose?


Front dewclaws - Front dew claws are typically fully formed toes that are attached by ligament and bone and, whilst limited, these dewclaws do serve some function. These toes help with your dog's balance and stability when moving around uneven terrain. Some research also suggests that dewclaws make contact with the ground when dogs are running at high speeds, to prevent the rest of the limb from twisting and causing injury. Front dewclaws are also there to assist with your dog's grip when eating and chewing.


Hind dewclaws - Unlike the front dewclaws the ones found on the back legs are not usually attached by anything more than skin and do not serve any functional purpose at all. For most dogs who have them, they are a genetic anomaly.


Double dewclaws - Some larger or giant working breeds, such as the Pyrenean Sheepdog, Icelandic Sheepdog or Briard, are born with functioning double dewclaws on their hind paws. Their purpose is to help improve stability and gripping power when walking or climbing in rough or steep terrain.


Because of their positioning on the paw the dewclaws are often injured more frequently than any other claw. Signs of a dew claw injury include bleeding, excessive licking, swelling, limping or it may look displaced which could signify a broken claw. These injuries can be painful so it’s worth getting them checked by your vet. In some cases, if the dew claw is causing a lot of discomfort, or it is being regularly injured then you may want to consider having it removed.

Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.