A dog laying on a bed sleeping

Most dog lovers are fairly certain that every inch of their pet is adorable, from nose to tail. If you have ever spent time admiring your pup, you may have noticed those extra little thumbs on the inside of their front paws (or lack thereof). 

What are these tiny appendages? Why do some dogs have them and others don’t? The Pet Experts at Naperville Animal Hospital have all the answers to your burning questions about doggy dewclaws.

The Deets on Dewclaws

When it comes down to it, dewclaws are really what they appear to be – thumbs! 

Sort of.

The anatomy of your dog’s paw and your hand are nearly identical. Dogs walk on their four fingers, with most of their weight on the middle and pointer finger. The dewclaw is very much the equivalent of our thumb, only not so opposable.

Dewclaws can differ from dog to dog, though. Take into consideration:

  • Most dogs are born with dewclaws on the front paws only
  • Some dogs have rear dewclaws
  • Dewclaws are most often “attached” by bone to the rest of the paw
  • Some dewclaws are underdeveloped and are “detached” with no bony attachment to the paw
  • Certain breeds of dog such as the Great Pyrenees may have two or more dewclaws on the same paw
  • Oftentimes breeders have puppies’ dewclaws removed at a few days of age

Many dogs have had their dewclaws removed. If you look you can often find a scar where the dewclaw once was on the inside of the paw. We are learning more and more, though, that rather than a nuisance dewclaws do serve a purpose.

Watching the movements of dogs has revealed that the dewclaw can be used for extra traction at high speeds or on slippery surfaces and to stabilize the wrist. Dogs also utilize them to grip things like a bone they are chewing on, climb trees, or even pull themselves up out of the ice. 

Dogs can and do fine without dewclaws, but there are definitely some benefits to leaving them intact!

Dewclaw Care 

If your dog doesn’t have dewclaws, don’t worry. Most dogs do just fine without them, and some have had them removed for medical reasons such as infection or cancer. 

If your pet does have dewclaws, though, you do need to pay a little bit of attention to them. Because they do not contact the ground as often as the other four nails on the paw, dewclaws are prone to becoming overgrown. Unkempt dewclaws can even curl around into the skin, causing pain and infection. Longer nails are also like to snag on things and break. 

Be sure to pay attention to your dog’s dewclaws when trimming the nails. Particularly if your pet has rear or multiple dewclaws, be sure to alert your groomer so they are not overlooked. If your pet has long fur, be sure to peek at the dewclaws periodically to be sure they are not too long as they may hide in fluffy fur. 

Long thought just a vestigial appendage, the dewclaw actually serves a purpose for those pets that sport them. Now when you look adoringly at your pet, you can also admire these amazing little extra toes and all they do.