At one time or another, dog owners new and old have asked themselves this question: what is that extra nail on the inside of my dog’s front legs? Plain and simple, this nail is called the dewclaw. Of course, once that question is answered, the next big thing we ask ourselves as dog owners is: what do I do if the dewclaw breaks or rips away entirely?
To answer that question, let’s first understand what the dewclaw really is, and why dogs have them.
What Is A Dewclaw? Why Do Dogs Have Them?
To put it simply, a dog’s dewclaw is their version of a thumb. Just like our human thumbs, dewclaws are made up of bones, joints, and a nail. For many breeds, the dewclaw will be found higher up on the side of the front legs. There are some breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees, who have rear dewclaws (dewclaws on the hind legs). Some dogs even have double dewclaws!
So why do dogs have them? Are they really like thumbs?
Believe it or not, the dewclaw is quite helpful. While dogs may not have the dexterity of our human thumbs, their dewclaws help them grip various things. From gripping the ground as they run, to holding their favorite bone as they chow down, dewclaws are a helpful toe on your pooch’s leg.
Why Do Dewclaws Break or Rip?
We’ve established the comparison of dewclaws to thumbs. And like the human thumb, dewclaws are subject to injury.
Dogs can break or rip their nails in many different ways. One way dogs can injure their dewclaw is getting them caught on something. Nails that don’t wear down naturally, from running around or daily walks, need to be trimmed. Dewclaws are easy to forget when tending to the other nails, and if neglected, they’ll grow long and curly. Even trimmed nails can snag on things, but overgrown dewclaws run a greater risk for catching on things and breaking.
Another reason your dog might break their dewclaw is if their leg is accidentally stepped on. As dog lovers, we’re lucky enough that our furry best friends want to stay by our sides. Unfortunately, this means we sometimes don’t know they’ve followed us from one room to the next and laid down right in our backpedaling path.
Whatever the cause, an injury to the dewclaw can lead to complications far worse than the pain your beloved pooch will be in.
My Dog Broke Their Dewclaw, What Do I Do?
First things first, if you’re not sure what to do, call your vet. Sometimes, injury to the dewclaw is a simple broken nail that can be treated and cared for at home by cleaning the sight of the wound and keeping it dry. It’s recommended you check with your vet before assuming your dog is a-okay.
Depending on the injury, a broken or ripped nail can lead to further trauma and infection in the nail bed itself. Therefore, it’s important to double check with your vet to see if professional care is what’s needed. In some cases, your vet will need to clean out infection, cut back the nail, or even remove the nail altogether.
The Healing Process: What Comes Next?
Your dog has injured their dewclaw, you’ve taken them to the vet, now what? Again, depending on the severity of the injury, your vet may have cleaned up the site of trauma. Typically following dewclaw injury, medical bandaging will be applied to your dog’s leg. It’s important to keep this dressing dry and to keep your pup from chewing it off, as the bandaging is preventing new infection. Your vet should tell you how many days the dressing will need to stay on your dog’s leg, but in general, you’re looking at 3-5 days.
Whether or not your dog will need antibiotics is also a case by case basis and should be decided with your vet. If there was an infection to the injured dewclaw prior to vet consultation, it’s likely they’ll send you home with antibiotics after cleaning up the wound. If so, stick to the guidelines provided by your vet when giving the medication to your dog.
Finally, once the declaw is healed and regrowing, it is important to maintain a healthy nail length. Here are some tips when trimming your dog’s nails.
The best way to help prevent dewclaw injury for your pup is to ensure their dewclaws are trimmed. Whether your pooch enjoys lounging around on the couch or hiking for miles, healthy maintenance of your dog’s nails will help keep them happy and healthy. This can be taken care of at home, or if you’re in the Tucson area, contact the Acoma Animal Clinic. We’re happy to provide everything from simple nail trimmings to cleaning and care of broken and ripped dewclaws.