Dewclaws: Problems, Solutions And Surgery


Even the name is funny. Spellcheck doesn’t even know it. Then, again, spellcheck doesn’t know “spellcheck”, either!

Dewclaws are functionless first digits (toes) on the inside of the front legs of most dogs and cats, and on the rear legs of some individuals. When present on the front legs they almost always have three bones, called phalanges, just as our fingers and pets’ other toes have. On the rear legs they may have one, two, three or no bones. In the latter case a claw and toe pad simply hang from skin, like a drop of dew. Thus the name.

Some breeds of dogs routinely have the dewclaws removed within a few days of birth.

Dewclaws rarely cause problems for pets, but the subject tends to come up at this time of year when blankets come out of the attic when the first cold front arrives and dewclaws hang in the fabric.

As dewclaws don’t reach the ground they fail to wear like other pet toenails. If not trimmed regularly they can grow in a circular fashion and penetrate the toe pad immediately above the nail.

Dewclaws can also be misused as a means of grasping owners’ arms and legs. When they dig into human skin they can be very painful.

The worst scars I have from thirty years of practice have come from dewclaws.

Some pet owners elect to have the dewclaws removed surgically to control ingrown nails and pet-inflicted human injuries.

Surgical removal is a delicate, tedious procedure. The procedure requires general anesthesia, so candidates must have preanesthesia laboratory testing of blood and urine, just as people have before anesthesia and surgery.

On the front legs the phalanges are often positioned tight to the radius bone, so it can be challenging to dissect behind them to access the blood vessels for ligation (to prevent bleeding). There is a ligament associated with each dewclaw, which must also be incised.

On the rear legs the challenges are similar if all of the normal structures are present. Conversely, if there are no bones present the only challenge is ligating the blood vessels prior to removing the claw.

Some surgeons prefer to bandage the surgery sites, some prefer to leave the site open to the air.

See your pet’s doctor if your pet has had difficulty with dewclaws ingrowing, snagging or just to learn how to trim the nails.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.

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