I have been asked numerous times, "Why does my dog/cat have a dewclaw?" This is a really good question, because most people don't know why there is this odd little digit that sits a couple of inches above the rest of the toes.
Where do dewclaws come from?
Thousands of years ago, dogs and cats used to have five toes on each paw. Dogs and cats are animals that are made to move around quite a bit, and over the years as the terrain slowly changed, so did their paws. Animals have adapted to their changing environment just as we do today. For example, if we moved to the mountains, we would buy a truck or SUV to navigate the hills and rough terrain. Unfortunately, our pets don't have the same luxury of buying motor vehicles; they have their own built-in four-paw-drive. So, to adjust to their changing environment, it became easier for dogs and cats to navigate on four toes instead of five. Slowly the first toe, which is now called the dewclaw, migrated up the leg so that it was out of the way. It no longer serves a vital purpose to the regular movements of our pets, but we can still see the remains of the original toe.
Has this occurred in other animal species?
Yes, this has actually occurred in many species over time, not just dogs and cats. Pigs, for example, have dewclaws on both the inside and outside of their legs, and horses used to have five toes and now they are down to only one, the hoof. It is amazing how our four-legged friends have adapted over time so that they can be the thriving animals that they are today.
Why is it called a dewclaw?
It is called a dewclaw because when a dog walks outside, the dewclaw merely brushes the morning dew from the grass.
So what do you do with a dewclaw? Anything?
Some dog breeders will have the dewclaws removed when a puppy is only a few days old and owners can also have them removed at the time that they spay or neuter their dog. Do you need to have your dogs dewclaws removed? No. Depending on the location, breed, and your dog's active purpose, you don't need to. With some breeds it is highly recommended that you do go ahead and have the dewclaws removed because they can easily be caught on rugs, bedding, and even brush outside. For example, it is recommended that hunting dogs have their dewclaws removed because they are out in the brush on a regular basis. It is very easy for their dewclaw to become entangled and torn off. This can be very painful, and will require a vet visit. Your dog doesn't have to be an active outdoor pet for this to happen. Nails can get caught in rugs, blankets, chain, rope, and even screen doors.
Do I need to trim my pet's dewclaws?
Yes. Dewclaws grow just as well as the rest of your pets nails. Unfortunately, they appear to grow faster because they aren't naturally being worn down as your pet walks around on hard surfaces. It is very important to keep an eye on the nails and trim them on a regular basis. If not kept up on, the nail can actually grow long enough to curl back into the paw pad. Unfortunately this is a more common occurrence than you think, and is completely avoidable with simple observation and routine trimming. It is also important to remember that just like a regular nail, there is a blood supply and you and if you trim too close you can 'quick' the nail just as easily as you can the others.
My dog has black nails and I am constantly nervous about trimming them too short and quicking him. In the past nail trimming has been a very long and stressful ordeal. I would sit with my dog and slowly widdle away with the nail trimmers. By the time we were done, both the dog and I were very irritated. Recently I have started using the Peticure Elite Nail Grinder. It makes trimming nails fast and efficient. I no longer have to worry about quicking him because I can easily see when I need to stop. This is a great product that has taken a lot of stress out of both of our lives. Nail trimming now only takes a few minutes.