Springtime Claw Care

Pet Health and Safety  •  Pam Karkow  •  Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Spring has sprung...or has it?  I don’t know about you, but I saw snow this morning, so I am not sure how appropriate this post is for the current temperature outside my front door today.  Nevertheless, it never hurts to prepare yourself for the spring time merriment and alternately the springtime menaces that are to come this time of the year.

Spring brings with it the desire to get outside and play, to observe as the world around us thaws, the flowers bloom, and the trees turn green.  It also brings with it a host of outdoor pests and other various problems.  We encountered one such problem when our overzealous dog got a little too excited in the warmer weather last spring.

Dangers of long dew claws

Did you know most dogs have a fifth nail on the inside of their front legs called a dew claw?  I knew about his nail, but I had no idea how traumatizing it could be for a dog to tear this claw.  In fact, I didn’t even know it was possible to tear it! 

We were having a great time playing a game of fetch, when Hattie came back up on the deck with a bleeding paw.  Thinking she had just injured her pad, I took a closer look and noticed her dew claw seemed to be hanging by a thread!  We cleaned it up, wrapped it, and took her to the vet.  After sedating her--she cried in pain every time the vet touched it--Hattie’s doctor clipped the nail and bandaged it with what looked like a mini cast.  We had to keep the bandage clean and dry for a week a so, and then return to the vet to have it removed.  She provided us with a little plastic bag with a ribbon at the top to tie around Hattie’s foot when she went outside in order to keep the bandage dry.  Of course it seemed to rain every day during that week of healing. 

Naturally, I wanted to know more about this whole dew claw thing.  What does a dew claw even do?  I had heard some people have their dog’s dew claws removed as a puppy.  Was that something we should look into?  Now that she’s torn hers, is she likely to do it again?  I had to know, so I did a bit of research.

What are dew claws?

A dog’s dew claws are like your thumbs and big toes, serving to assist in turning when running at high speeds or on slippery surfaces, holding objects to chew, and climbing. If your dog has a dew claw on his front leg, that functions as his thumb.  Dew claws on the back leg are similar to a big toe.  My dog only has dew claws on her front legs, and they are attached to her foot.  I can gently wiggle the claw from front to back, but I can feel the bones that attach the claw to her leg.  Since this type of dew claw serves such an important function, veterinarians do not recommend having it removed.  The type of dew claws some dogs have, which are only attached by skin, are more mobile, and are sometimes removed to prevent injury.

Keeping nails trimmed

Although I couldn’t find any research to show whether Hattie is likely to tear her dew claw again, I have had friends tell us their dogs have torn theirs multiple times.  I am inclined to believe it is not that they are more prone since they’ve had a tear before, but that they are just wildly active dogs who enjoy racing around the backyard, making tight turns.  And since I am not going to get in the way of my dog enjoying herself (and tiring herself out), it is possible that she may have another tear.  In the meantime, I know it is important to keep her dew claws clipped, just like her other nails.  Maybe this spring we can avoid the trip to the vet.

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