Dewclaw Removal

The dewclaw in the dog is by definition the first digit of the hind paw.  By comparison, a human’s first digit on the foot is the big toe. In some dogs, it may be fully developed containing two toe bones (phalanges) attached to a metatarsal bone.  In other dogs, it may be only partially developed with or without an attachment to underlying bone.  In the St. Bernard and Great Pyrenees, double dewclaws may be present.  In the dog, the first digit on the front paw (thumb) is routinely present and fully formed with attachment to the metacarpal.  Some people call this digit a dewclaw as well.  This is erroneous but generally accepted terminology.


Dewclaw removal is performed for several reasons in the dog.  Often, the dewclaws are removed to conform to a breed standard.  Other times, the dewclaw is removed to prevent inadvertent trauma during play, hunting, or grooming.  Dewclaws are typically removed when a puppy is between three and five days old.  Surgery done in dogs any older than five days may result in excessive bleeding necessitating anesthesia.  For this reason, any dewclaw not removed by five days of age is typically removed between three and six months when the puppy is spayed/neutered.


When performed on a puppy under five days old, only local anesthesia is necessary.  The procedure is relatively simple since the joint (if present) between the toe bone and the foot is not fully formed.  Deep dissection is not necessary and healing is quick.  Occasionally, the dewclaw can grow back.  This occurs when complete excision (between the bones) is not accomplished. 


Dewclaw removal in an older puppy or adult dog is more involved.  General anesthesia is usually required as the procedure is now more along the lines of an amputation.  In dogs where the dewclaw is not fully formed, there is no muscle attachment to sever.  The claw and first toe bone are removed with minimal bleeding.  In a dog where the dewclaw is fully formed, the skin must by incised, the joint must be disarticulated, the muscle attachments must be released and the blood vessels must by ligated.  If the nail is removed without removing the first toe bone, the nail will inevitably grow back.  It may even grow back deformed.  A bandage is usually placed over the wound for a few days and an Elizabethian collar is often required to prevent a dog from chewing the surgery site.  Overall, surgery at a later date is more expensive and recovery is longer than dewclaw removal in a newborn.


Some owners request the first digit of the front paw to be surgically removed as well.  This can be done similarly to dewclaw removal at three to five days of age or later in life.  These surgeries always involve a fully formed toe and require the same care and attention that a fully formed dewclaw requires.


Post-operative complications include bleeding, infection, swelling, and possible re-growth.  Reports have also indicated that dogs which undergo dewclaw removal are at a greater risk of developing osteoarthritis in that paw later in life.  This has been documented in canine athletes specifically in the front paws.  As stated, the first digit of the front paw is always attached to the metacarpal bone via muscles.  These muscles serve a unique purpose in preventing torque on the leg when the paw hits the ground.  When the claw is removed, the muscle is severed and can no longer perform as designed.  This may lead to increased wear on the joint (carpus) and eventually, arthritis.


By:  Susan St. Pierre, DVM

Click like if you love dogs :)