Should You Trim Your Dog’s Dewclaws? The Great Debate
So picture it. You're curled up with your dog and they stretch their front paws across your tummy. As they do, those tiny, seemingly unnecessary digits on their paws snag your clothes. Dewclaws. And if you’ve been in the dog care world for a while, you've probably heard various opinions on whether to trim them or leave them be.
So let’s talk about it. Should you trim your dog's dewclaws?
Here’s a balanced article to help you make the right decision for you.
What Are Dewclaws?
First things first, let's understand what dewclaws are and why dogs have them.
Related: Why Do Dogs Have Dewclaws?
Dewclaws are the extra digits located on the inner side of your dog's front legs, and sometimes on their hind legs too.
They're like the thumbs of the dog world.
Most dogs have front dewclaws, but not all. Fewer dogs have back dewclaws. Even fewer have double dewclaws which we’ll cover shortly.
What are dewclaws for? Nothing in the modern world.
But evolutionarily, they once played a role in helping dogs to steady themselves on uneven surfaces, climb up rocky mountains, and grip things like bones.
Dogs that were bred to be working dogs in harsher conditions may have double dewclaws. These breeds include Great Pyrenees, Icelandic Sheepdogs, Briards, and Beaucerons.
Theory has it that these dogs used their double dewclaws as extra “brakes” when sliding down the snowy mountains where they worked.
Are they completely useless in today’s age? Mostly. Your pooch might use their dewclaws to stabilise a bone or toy that they’re chewing on. But otherwise, they are extra toes – beautiful yet utterly superfluous.
Pros: Why You Should Trim Your Dog’s Dewclaws
One school of thought argues that dewclaws should be trimmed. Here’s why:
Preventing snags, tears and injuries
Dewclaws are more exposed than other nails since they don't touch the ground when a dog is walking. This saves them from snagging on the floor but it also makes them susceptible to snags on furniture, carpets, clothes and bushes. A snagged dewclaw can be painful for your pup. It may even lead to a tear or break of the nail which could lead to infection or other nail problems.
“Veterinarians will sometimes recommend removing loosely attached double or rear dewclaws to prevent injury. But the actual incidence of these problems is quite low, too, so the value of these surgeries is up for debate.” - PetMD (2)
For active dogs, especially those who love to frolic and play, the risk of dewclaw injuries increases. A sudden twist, an awkward jump, or an unfortunate encounter with a sharp object can lead to painful sprains, fractures, or even complete detachment of the dewclaw. And if the dewclaw gets injured, it can fester leading to complete removal in some cases.
Related: Getting Your Puppy Accustomed to Having Their Nails Cut.
Trimming the dewclaws can make nail grooming sessions easier. Long, untrimmed dewclaws can accumulate dirt and debris. That might lead to hygiene issues and discomfort for your dog. It seems more intuitive and simple to trim your dog’s dewclaws while you groom their other nails.
Dewclaws, like regular nails, can grow too long. They’re actually more likely to grow to an unwieldy length because they don’t touch the ground which can naturally file your dog’s nails if your dog is active. Overgrown dewclaws can curl back into the paw pad. In other words, they can become ingrown nails that are uncomfortable and unsightly.
Related: How Long Should Dog Nails Be?
Cons: Why You Shouldn’t Trim Your Dog’s Dewclaws
On the flip side, there's a camp that believes dewclaws should be left untouched. Here's why:
One of the primary arguments for not trimming dewclaws is that they still have a role to play in a dog's life. Some experts believe that dewclaws help with balance, especially during activities like climbing, running, and turning.
Some people advocate for removing dewclaws entirely which involves a minor surgical procedure. Like any surgery, it carries some risks. There's the possibility of complications like infections, excessive bleeding, or pain during the healing process.
“Removal of front dewclaws can potentially cause issues later in life. Without a front dewclaw, there seems to be a higher likelihood that the carpal (wrist) ligaments can stretch and tear. When this occurs, there is a risk of laxity and arthritis as time progresses.” - Preventative Vet (3)
Certain breeds have more prominent or functional dewclaws. For instance, I mentioned that breeds like the Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, and Anatolian Shepherd have dewclaws that serve a purpose in their unique tasks. Their dewclaws provide stability on rough terrain and act as an extra digit to help with digging. So perhaps working dogs and dogs who live in wilder environments need their dewclaws more than others.
Related: What To Do About Your Dogs Broken or Cracked Nails.
So Should You Trim Your Dog’s Dewclaws?
So who is right? The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Here's a balanced approach to consider:
Check your dog’s paws regularly
If you’ve been following our nail care series, you’ll know that we’re advocates for regular paw checkups to ensure your dog’s paws and nails are kept healthy.
Related: Common Dog Nail Problems.
That includes the dewclaws.
Whether you decide to trim or leave your dog's dewclaws, regular checkups are crucial for spotting any potential issues early on.
If you spot any nail irregularities with the dewclaws, talking with a veterinarian is important. They can assess the dewclaws' condition, length, and overall health.
If your dog's dewclaws are prone to overgrowth, the vet might recommend occasional or regular trimming.
Observing your dog
If you have an active dog that has a history of dewclaw injuries, trimming might be a sensible option to reduce the risk of accidents.
Groom the dewclaws
Whether you trim dewclaws or not, you can still care for them during your dog’s grooming routine. Regularly clean your dog's paws, including the dewclaws, to prevent dirt buildup and potential infections. You can also gently file the edges of the dewclaw if it’s overly sharp.
How to Trim Your Dog’s Dewclaws
So you’ve decided it’s time to give your dog’s dewclaws a trim. How should you go about it?
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide:
1. Restrain your dog (lovingly)
By this I mean, get them into a position where you can hold their paws still without interference. If your dog is aggressive when having their nails clipped, you might need a second person to help restrain your dog or a dog muzzle.
2. Use the right tools
To trim your dog’s dewclaws, you need a sharp dog nail clipper or a reliable dog nail grinder.
Check out our reviews to find the right option for you:
3. Clip or grind your dog’s nails slowly
Take small pieces off the nail at a time. You don’t want to clip the dewclaw too much or you might injure your dog. If you accidentally clip off too much, you can stop your dog’s nail from bleeding with styptic powder.
So be extra careful! If this is the first time you’re trimming them, go slow.
Final Thoughts: To Trim or Not to Trim Your Dog’s Dewclaws
In the end, the decision to trim your dog's dewclaws boils down to what's best for your dog. As you read there are valid arguments on both sides. But as ever, responsible management of your dog’s health is about understanding your dog's individual needs.
So if your pup’s dewclaws are constantly snagging on things and are at risk of being ripped out, trim them!
If your dog’s dewclaws stay at a reasonable length and don’t seem to pose any issues, consider leaving them alone.
If in doubt, contact your licensed vet or a professional dog groomer for expert advice.
Read these articles next to learn more about dog nail care:
If your dog’s dewclaw falls off, don’t panic! It likely snagged on something and broke off – especially if it was brittle. Inspect your dog’s paws for pain, blood, or pus. If you spot any issues, call your vet and book in an appointment if necessary.
If you choose to trim your dog’s dewclaw, it should be short enough not to curl but long enough not to injure the “quick”. The quick is the inner fleshy part of the nail that keeps it alive. Cutting the quick can hurt your dog.
Your dog’s dewclaws are long because they don’t have much contact with the ground as they walk. So the dewclaw gets less natural filing action from walking on pavement than the other nails do. Be sure to include the dewclaw during your dog’s regular nail grooming sessions.
- Meyers, H. May 17, 2023. “What Are Dog Dewclaws?”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved August 15, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/what-are-dog-dewclaws/
- Coates, J. February 10, 2023. “Everything You Need to Know About Dog Dewclaws”. PetMD. Retrieved August 15, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/5-things-you-need-know-about-dog-dewclaws
- Turner, B. December 9, 2021. “Dog Dewclaws: What Are They and Should They Be Removed?”. Preventative Vet. Retrieved August 15, 2023. https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/dog-dewclaws-what-are-they-and-should-they-be-removed