Surgical removal is only necessary for field dogs.

 

Question:

We recently adopted a 6-month-old German Shepherd-mix puppy from an animal shelter.  He is “double dewclawed” on his hind legs.  Do they need to be removed?  One vet said they should be removed; the other said it’s optional. I’m planning on walking him every day in fields and on forest trails, also some rugged hiking in New Hampshire. I understand that removing dewclaws is more of a prophylactic measure–“just in case” they get snagged–as well as cosmetic.  (Personally, I don’t care what his feet look like!)  What are the chances of his ripping/snagging his dewclaws, and could I just throw an Ace wrap in my backpack if that happens, and THEN get them removed?

 

Dr. Nichol:

Great question. We hear this one often. For those unfamiliar with this part of the canine anatomy I will elucidate.

 

Dewclaws are the small, useless, finger-like appendages on the inner aspect of the front legs and, on many dogs, the rear legs too. Like the other toes they have a normally shaped nail. In evolutionary terms dewclaws are considered vestigial. In other words, they have the same anatomic root as our thumbs and big toes. But in dogs they are only partially developed. Too bad. If dogs had real thumbs and big toes they could write, play the piano, and kick a football.

 

Surgical removal? You can go either way. But if your dog rips a dewclaw in the woods he’ll be hurtin’ for certain. Because the dewclaws are attached to the joint snagging them is a lot like having your thumb ripped away from your hand. You can just wait for it to happen. But if it does your boy could bleed a bit, get a nasty infection, and have a lot of pain. Given your hiking plans, I say that prevention is best. The last point on dewclaws: If they are left on they will not wear down by walking and running like the other nails because they don’t reach the ground. Thus dewclaws need frequent trimming while the other nails may not.