What Are Dewclaws and Why Do Dogs Have Them?

by beaconpet
What Are Dewclaws and Why Do Dogs Have Them?

Have you ever been curious about the purpose of dewclaws on your dog’s or cat’s paws? These unique appendages, which resemble thumbs, may appear to be remnants of evolution, but they actually play crucial roles. Dewclaws can assist dogs and cats in digging, climbing, and stabilizing objects or prey. While front dewclaws have practical applications, rear dewclaws are considered vestigial structures with no discernible purpose. Some dog breeders opt to remove dewclaws, but many veterinarians now advocate for retaining these potentially beneficial digits. To learn more about dewclaws and how they contribute to your pet’s mobility and functionality, explore our comprehensive information on Beaconpet, a website dedicated to providing insights into the world of dogs and cats. Additionally, for tips on maintaining your pet’s dewclaws and avoiding issues such as nail growth into the paw pad or snagging on objects, visit Beaconpet’s guide on dewclaw care.

What Are Dewclaws?

A dewclaw is a non-weight-bearing toe on an animal’s paw located on the inside of the leg near the carpus (“wrist” area). Dewclaws slightly resemble human thumbs but they do not have the same functionality. Dogs and cats are typically born with two front dewclaws, but some may have one or more dewclaws on the rear limbs as well. Dewclaws contain nerves, blood vessels, and a nail that grows just like the other toenails. The dewclaw usually contains bones, is firmly attached to the leg, and can be slightly moved by the animal. However, some dewclaws—especially rear dewclaws in dogs—contain no bones and appear to hang from the side of the leg. The nail grows as normal, but there is no bony attachment and no motor function in the digit.

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Purpose of Dewclaws

While the dewclaws are not essential, they can be quite useful for many reasons. Dewclaws can help dogs and cats dig, climb, and hold objects or prey. When dogs run, their dewclaws make some contact with the ground and can serve to stabilize the carpus. Watch a dog or cat handling a toy or treat, and you may notice the use of the dewclaws to stabilize the object.

Rear dewclaws are another matter. These are considered vestigial structures that serve no function for dogs and cats. Rear dewclaws are present at birth and occur due to a genetic trait. Dog breeds like the Great Pyrenees and Beauceron are born with one or more rear dewclaws; this is actually part of the breed standard. Mixed breed dogs may be born with rear dewclaws as well. Polydactyl cats have a genetic mutation that causes them to be born with several extra toes, often including extra dewclaws.

What Are Dewclaws and Why Do Dogs Have Them?

Dewclaw Removal

Some dog breeders remove puppies’ dewclaws and dock their tails around 5-7 days old. This may be done because of the belief that the dewclaws serve no purpose and may become injured. It is also sometimes done to create a cleaner look for the show ring and to conform to breed standards. Although dewclaw injuries may occur, they are not typically serious and may be avoided by keeping the nails trimmed short. Many vets are moving away from the practice of dewclaw removal in young puppies and prefer to let dogs keep these potentially useful digits. However, don’t worry if your dog has already had his dewclaws removed; this will not limit them in any significant way. Detached dewclaws in dogs may be removed during spay or neuter surgery to avoid future injuries. These floppy dewclaws are more likely to get injured than attached dewclaws. Cat dewclaw removal is not typically done unless it is part of a complete declaw surgery. Feline declawing is the amputation of the last bones of the toes that contain the nails. This is a major surgery for cats and many experts now advise against it in favor of more humane alternatives.

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What Are Dewclaws and Why Do Dogs Have Them?

Problems with Dewclaws

Dewclaws often cause no problems for dogs and cats. However, there are situations when nail problems occur. Most commonly, dewclaws may grow too long, curve, and grow into the skin of the paw pad. This can lead to pain, inflammation, and infection. Dewclaws may get caught on objects like rocks, plants, and bedding, especially if the nails are too long. This is more common in dogs and may occur while they are running and playing. If a toenail gets caught on something, it may tear the nail or even fracture the toe. Detached dewclaws are more likely to snag on something and cause injury because the digit has no motor function and hangs freely. Most dewclaw problems can be avoided by checking the nails regularly and trimming the nails as needed. Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet’s dewclaws.


In conclusion, dewclaws are toe-like structures located on the inside of dogs’ and cats’ paws. While they may not serve a crucial function, they can be useful for activities such as digging, climbing, and holding objects or prey. Rear dewclaws are considered vestigial structures and are present at birth due to a genetic trait. Some dog breeders choose to remove dewclaws, but many veterinarians now advocate for keeping them intact unless they become detached or prone to injury. Regular nail trimming and vigilant care can help prevent problems associated with dewclaws. As always, consult your veterinarian for personalized advice and guidance regarding your pet’s specific needs.

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