Before owning a Whippet I’d never heard about dew claws on dogs. I hadn’t the faintest idea that they existed, let alone that they were the source of disputed opinion among the veterinary professional, dog breeder and dog owner communities.
In this post I’m going to discuss dew claws on dogs and attempt to explain why they cause so much debate.
Table of Contents
- What Are Dew Claws on Dogs?
- What Do Dew Claws Do?
- The Arguments Against Dew Claw Removal
- The Arguments For Dew Claw Removal
- The Best Time to Remove Dew Claws
What Are Dew Claws on Dogs?
Dew claws are those curious toenails located on the interior part of a dog’s front legs of all dog breeds and on the hind legs of some breeds. Some dog breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees, have multiple dew claws on the same leg… these are known as double dew clawed breeds.
Whippets though are born with dew claws only on their front legs.
Due to their position on the leg just above the paws, people often refer to dew claws as thumbs. They are higher on the leg and appear almost thumb-like in terms of their position in relation to the paw claws.
For many dog breeds the dew claw never comes into contact with the ground as they are so far from the paws, and this has lead to debate about the purpose they serve and whether or not they should be removed.
What Do Dew Claws Do?
In most breeds, the rear dew claws are not connected to anything but skin, however the front dew claws are connected to muscles via tendons.
It’s said that the front dew claws help dogs to climb trees or gain a better hold on things when they chew. For most dog breeds, dew claws don’t appear to serve a direct purpose, but for others they’re considered a necessity, giving them stability on uneven surfaces and traction when it’s slippery underfoot.
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However, the dew claws of some dog breeds never touch the ground and therefore they gain no obvious traction benefit from them.
And yet, because front dew claws are still connected to tendons some believe they must provide some function that assists in some way.
Rear dew claws that are only connected to skin and not tendons are seen as vestigial. This means that although they’re present, they’ve become obsolete through evolution, rather like the appendix in humans.
Some argue that for dogs with dew claws that never touch the ground, they no longer serve a function and potentially pose more of a problem than a benefit of any kind.
Since some believe that dew claws are not required they should be removed to avoid injury to them… and this is the cause of controversy.
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The Arguments Against Dew Claw Removal
Although perhaps serving little purpose for some dog breeds, many people feel that removing them should be avoid for the following reasons:
- Some dog breeds need them for traction and gripping things.
- Although perhaps not as useful as they once were for most breeds, the front dew claws are connected to tendons so they must serve some purpose, even if it’s so the tissues they’re connected to don’t degenerate.
- Dew claw removal for older dogs requires a surgical procedure and anaesthesia, that always means risk. Procedures can be go wrong, they can result in infection and they can result in scarring.
- The removal of dew claws can increase the risk of carpal arthritis and damage to elbow, shoulder and toe joints.
- There are suggestions that dogs without dew claws suffer more injuries to paws.
The Arguments For Dew Claws Removal
Some people feel that since they provide little benefit for some breeds, dew claws pose the following risks and should therefore be removed:
- Dew claws can catch on things when the dog is running and sometimes this results in them tearing. This can be a major problem for dew claws connected to tendons, is extremely painful to the dog and requires surgery to fix.
- For newly born puppies, dew claw removal is a relatively simple process that doesn’t require general anaesthesia and the risks it brings. It’s also a procedure that can be done inexpensively. Some believe this is better than allowing them to develop to a point where they might become a problem for the dog or it becomes more expensive.
- Since dew claws for some dogs never touch the ground the claw doesn’t wear down as they do with the paws. If these claws aren’t trimmed through neglect or forgetfulness they make it more likely that dew claws will catch on something and tear.
The Best Time to Remove Dew Claws
It’s not at all necessary to remove dew claws… for most people the choice boils down to their feelings about potential for injury if they remove them and potential injury if they don’t.
However, if dew claw removal is going to be done, it’s easier to do it when the dog is a pup, at around are 3 to 5 days old. Many breeders do this as a matter of course, especially with certain pedigree breeds where it’s become “expected”.
Our Whippet Misty had here dew claws removed by our breeder prior to us ever having met her. He explained to us that he believed it was the best policy having had Whippets that had torn their dew claws.
In his view the pain, suffering and surgical costs of repairing torn dew claws did not justify keeping them. He also told us that it’s a very simple process to remove them from very new born pups but it becomes more complicated when they grow.
If you’re thinking of buying a Whippet puppy, make sure to buy from a reputable breeder who can demonstrate proper breeding practices. Avoid puppy mills at all costs.
For most people considering a puppy the decision to remove dew claws might be made for them already. However, if you’re speaking to a breeder it’s something you might want to ask them about, especially if you have strong feelings for or against dew claw removal.
In terms of how I feel about dew claws on dogs, honestly I’m not sure. As I’ve mentioned, my Whippet Misty had hers removed as a very small pup and we had no say in it.
I hate the idea that Misty might have ever seriously hurt herself because of her dew claws, so on the one hand I’m glad they were removed when she was little.
On the other hand, a few years ago Misty suffered from carpal arthritis, and eventually after much suffering had to have one of the toes on her front paw amputated… was dew claw removal the reason why?
How do you feel about dew claws on dogs?
Want to know more about Whippets? Check out my Whippet dog breed information page to find out everything about this lovely creature!
What’s you’re opinion about removing dew claws? Have you had a bad experience from either keeping them or removing them? Please share your views and experiences in the comment section below.