If you adopted an older dog with dewclaws still attached should you have them removed or leave them? Find out what our veterinarians have to say…

A dog’s dewclaw removal is usually performed by a breeder when the puppy is only 3-5 days old. If you adopted an older dog and she still has her dewclaws, it is still possible to have them removed, BUT there are complications to consider.

Let’s start with understanding what the canine dewclaw is… 

What is the dewclaw?

The dewclaw is the nail on the inside of your dog’s leg. Most puppies are born with them. Dewclaws show up in an array of sizes and shapes. Usually found on the front legs, but some dogs have them on the rear legs too. Some are small and close to the paw others are large and dangle. I’ve even some dogs that have a double dewclaw!

close up view of a dog dewclaws

Dewclaw removal on older dogs

If you adopted an older dog and feel strongly about having his dewclaws removed, contact your vet to discuss the options.

Most vets will remove dewclaws in adult dogs for medical reasons only. But occasionally they will agree to remove them if your dog will be going under anesthesia for other reasons, such as a spay or neuter

Veterinarian guidance on your dogs’ dewclaw

I reached out to several different veterinarians to share their recommendations and opinions on the removal of canine dewclaws. Find out what they had to say about if dewclaw removal in older dogs is good or bad.

Q. If someone would adopt a dog that still has their dewclaws intact, in what circumstances would you recommend having them removed? Are the complications to be aware of before deciding to have them removed? 

A. Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian for Pumpkin Pet Insurance says, “I wouldn’t recommend having them removed unless they were causing problems with the dog, i.e. injury or irritation. 

There are complications to be aware of – the surgery is painful and requires strict monitoring of your dog after surgery for 10-14 days until the sutures are removed. And keeping your dog quiet enough to heal and keeping an e-collar or other deterrent on your dog at all times to prevent chewing the surgery site. 

The most common complications are surgical dehiscence (the surgery site opens up due to the dog moving around too much or chewing on the site), inflammation of the surgical site, or infection of the surgical site.”

A. Dr. Lucas White, DVM, with Sunset Vet Clinic, says, “For dogs that still have their dewclaws I rarely recommend they be removed. Some breeds have rear dewclaws which can be less firmly attached and be prone to catching on things and causing injury. These and dogs who repeatedly injure their front dewclaws are the patients for whom I recommend removal. Luckily dewclaw injuries are rare and most dogs don’t need them to be removed. Arthritis of the wrist joint may be a potential complication.”

A. Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM a Veterinary Consultant for doglab.com, says, “If a dog has torn a dewclaw or the nail had grown back into their pad, I would remove the dewclaws. I have seen some dogs get their dewclaws stuck in something and tear the dewclaw almost off; then they need to be removed.” 

A. Dr. Gary Richter, M.S., D.V.M., C.V.C., C.V.A., a veterinary health expert with Rover.com says, “I would never recommend removing dewclaws unless the claw is injured. There’s just no reason to. Sometimes dogs have dewclaws that are really only attached skin and some soft tissue. They are more prone to injury than claws with a proper bony attachment. That said, if we are talking about an older dog that has already gotten this far with his/her dewclaws, I see no reason to remove them. 

Q. Is there a downside to having them removed?

A. Dr. Sarah Wooten said, “If your dog has ‘floating’ dewclaws, which means they are not attached to a tendon, once the surgery has healed there are no downsides to having them removed. If your dog has attached dewclaws (not free-floating under the skin) then it can cause pain and arthritic degeneration of the carpus (wrist), and it is not recommended to remove attached dewclaws unless there is a medical indication (injury, cancer, etc.)”

A. Dr. Lucas White stated, “Removing the dewclaw in a grown dog is technically a toe amputation and therefore is a more involved procedure and more painful to the pet. There is some thought that the dewclaw helps stabilize the carpus (wrist) joint and without it the dogs may be more prone to developing arthritis in that joint. 

A. Dr. Sara Ochoa said, “I usually do not see any issues from having them removed later in life. Some dogs will take their stitches out and cause more of an issue to deal with the incision until it heals.” 

A. Dr. Gary Richter said, “Post-operative pain mostly. Again, there is just no real reason to do it.” 

Q. Is there any special care for dewclaws dog owners should be aware of?

A. Dr. Sarah Wooten said, “Dewclaw nails will continue to grow like any other nails, so make sure to keep them trimmed regularly or they can curl in on themselves and pierce the skin.”

A. Dr. Lucas White said, “Since the dewclaws are rarely in contact with the ground the toenail on that digit does not wear down as fast as the others. This can lead to overgrowth which makes the pet prone to catching the nail on things. The toenail can even grow so long as to curl back and grow into the skin causing pain and usually infection. They are usually very sharp as well which could inadvertently cause skin injuries to their pet parents. So regular trimming to keep the nail short can help prevent injury both to the pet and their people.

A. Dr. Sara Ochoa said, “These nails may need to be trimmed more frequently than normal. Some dogs do not need their nails trimmed because they are always running around on the concrete. These dogs will need the dewclaws trimmed.” 

A. Dr. Gary Richter said, “Keep them trimmed because in some dogs the nail can overgrow as it doesn’t touch the ground and thus doesn’t wear down as the other nails do. 

Q. What should you do if your dog has injured a dewclaw? 

A. Dr. Sarah Wooten said, “Call your veterinarian for assistance – the nail may need to be removed, which is painful. Avoid handling the injured declaw because it can be painful and cause your dog to snap at you. If it is bleeding, you can place a light bandage on the leg to control bleeding until you get to the vet.

A. Dr. Lucas White said, “The most common injury is trauma to the toenail. This can be painful and expose the tissues underneath the nail which can become infected. It is best to have your pet examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible to evaluate the injury and make treatment recommendations.”

A. Dr. Sara Ochoa said, “Many times these many need to be removed depending on the severity of the injury.” 

A. Dr. Gary Richter said to “Contact your veterinarian. Oftentimes, it’s just a broken nail. If a dog severely injures a dewclaw, then removal might be considered.”

Q. What is the function of the dewclaw? Is it true that the dewclaw is attached to 2 major functioning tendons? And that if removed could cause unforeseen damage or arthritis later in life? 

A. Dr. Sarah Wooten explained, “Floating dewclaws don’t have any function. Attached dewclaws function like thumbs – your dog may use them to hold onto things, like a bone, while he is chewing. A dog also uses an attached dewclaw when he is running to properly ambulate – an attached dewclaw prevents the leg from rotating too much while running and helps prevent injury.

Actually, there are 5 tendons that are attached to the dewclaw, and yes if you remove attached dewclaws it can cause arthritis and predispose highly athletic dogs to injury later in life.”

A. Dr. Lucas White said, “More research is likely needed but the dewclaw may be important in helping stabilize the wrist joint, especially during turns and changes in direction. It can also help them grip when climbing or hold onto things while chewing. The tendons attached to the digit are what is thought to help provide this stabilization.

A. Dr. Sara Ochoa also stated, “The dewclaw really does not have a function. It would be very rare for this to actually cause damage or issues later in life. There are some dogs who are born without dewclaws and do not have these issues.” 

A. Dr. Gary Richter agrees, “A dewclaw doesn’t really have functionality and many dogs don’t have dewclaws. The claw is attached to deeper structures. However, proper surgical removal would not lead to problems later in life.”  

Dog dewclaw injuries 

The question about removing dewclaws came up recently in our private Facebook community group, which prompted me to research this topic. Several people shared that their dogs had injured their dewclaws while jumping over a fence, running through wooded areas, and other activities. Several other members shared they had their dogs dewclaws removed at the same time as the spay or neuter.

If your dog injured his dewclaw you may or may not need to rush to the vet’s office. If the nail has broken off and is bleeding try applying styptic powder and/or wrapping with gauze and bandages

If the dewclaw is partially torn, wrap it up and call your vet. This can be very painful for your dog, so take care to not handle it more than you need to. 

I always recommend, when in doubt, a phone call to your vet is always free and will put your mind at ease.

In summary

After interviewing all four vets, it seems to be agreed that removing dewclaws in an older dog is not necessary unless he/she is experiencing a medical reason to do so.

We’ve adopted 5 out of 7 of our dogs. Only 2 of them had their dewclaws removed before we adopted them. I found it interesting that these two dogs, were yellow labs, Abby and Bear were both adopted from families that bought them from breeders. Our other dog’s dewclaws remained intact, even our latest puppy, Thunder, which we did buy from a breeder.

If given the choice I won’t ever have my dog’s dewclaws removed unless it poses a health or injury risk. I think some dogs that have unattached dewclaws that dangle excessively could benefit from being removed. But that is my opinion, of course, always talk with your vet and make your decision based on your unique situation. 

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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  1. I just checked my two dogs, both rescues: one doesn’t have them, the other one does. I do remember my first dog, GSD puppy pure bred, had one not attached and was considered as defective, back early 70’s, so the breeder, a friend of the family, gave her to us. I was 8 years old. It was never a problem. So, I’m inclined to leave it alone, unless there’s a medical reason to consist of.

  2. Front dewclaws are very much used – watching my dog chew a bone, holding it in place with their paw while pulling a juicy tidbit of meat off, or holding a stuffed Kong in place while licking out the goodies inside, you see the dewclaw involved.

    It’s my understanding that the practice began with hunting dogs, where, per your informal survey on Facebook, the dogs sometimes tore a dewclaw while running through thick brush. The practice is also something you see in show dogs, where the breeder wants a cleaner look, even on the front legs. But I’m glad to see the practice is becoming less prevalent.

    Lastly, there are a few breeds where rear dewclaws are a breed standard/requirement (Great Pyranees is one), so breeders are breeding for these rear appendages, which in many (most?) breeds are not commonly seen.

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