Genetics is the motherboard of explanation of any anatomy of a living thing. For instance, why are some human beings bald while others are not? Still, the answer is in genetics. Coming to the case in hand, the number of dog toes depends on the breed of the dog. Generally, a dog has 18 toes, but some breeds have up to 22 toes.
In simple terms, there are four toes on each leg, summing up to 16 toes. There are two extra toes that may be on the front legs or on the rear legs. These side toes are called dewclaws. The dewclaws are the ones that bring the new total to 18 toes.
In most cases, dewclaws are on the dog’s front legs, but due to genetics, some dogs have dewclaws on the rear legs.
What Are Dewclaws?
A dewclaw is an extra toe located inside the front legs of a dog. However, some dogs have dewclaws on their rear legs. These dewclaws are like the human thumb in the dog world.
Characteristics of Dewclaws
They are found on the inside of the front legs or in uncommon cases on the rear legs of a dog.
They are not on the same level as the other four toes. They are a little bit higher up; that is why they do not touch the ground.
They are normally not firmly attached to the legs; they always wiggle in a forward and upward direction. However, the front dewclaws are less mobile compared to the rear dewclaws. This is because the rear dewclaws are only attached to the skin.
Some dog species have two dewclaws on the rear legs. For example, the Great Pyrenees. Some species, such as the Norwegian Lunde Hund and the Briard, have dewclaws on all four legs making a total of 20 toes. In uncommon cases, some dog breeds have two dewclaws on each of their rear legs.
Dewclaws are seen as a vestigial remnant of the 5th toe that has reduced due to the process of evolution.
Workability of the Dewclaws
Is the dewclaw still functional? In the beginning, dewclaws used to be functional, but due to evolution and cross-breeding, they have lost their usefulness. This is because evolution made dewclaws relocate in position, making them less useful.
However, it is wrong to say that dew claws have fully lost their functionality. Dewclaws support the carpal joint of a dog. This helps the dog to have stability and traction when it is running at high speed. It should be noted that this function is effective if the dewclaws are located on the front legs.
When the dog is running, the front legs bend, and the dewclaws touch the ground. This, in turn, provides extra grip to the dog. Declaws prevent the dog from twisting its paw because of the stability provided by the dewclaws.
Dewclaws are very helpful to herding dogs. This is because these types of dogs make abrupt turns, and dewclaws provide stability and grip in such a moment.
In less common cases, declaws help dogs to get hold of objects such as bones and toys. Sometimes dewclaws help dogs to climb trees and furniture. And finally, dewclaws help dogs to scratch themselves in areas that are hard to reach.
Risks/Problems of Dewclaws
Dewclaws are normally loosely attached to the skin. They make a dog vulnerable to some health problems such as
- Tearing: The loose and wiggling attachment may lead to tearing off; this is very painful to the dog and makes it uncomfortable.
- Growth: The dewclaws do not touch the ground when the dog is just relaxing or walking. This leads to progressive growth, making the dewclaw to be embedded inwards on the skin. This is very painful when the dog folds its leg.
Is it Safe to Remove the Dewclaws?
This is a question that has had a lot of debate over the years. According to some dog owners, the front dewclaws should not be removed because they have clear-cut functions. But in case of a serious reason such as illness, they can be removed.
But other dog owners believe in removing the dewclaws. They believe that dewclaws can cause abnormal growth or tumors in some cases; hence, removing them is in the dog’s best interest.
But dewclaw removal needs a vet’s medical intervention. Generally, you are advised to remove rear dewclaws that are loose and wiggling on the dog’s skin.
Is Removing Dewclaws Worth It?
This question is simply asking reasons why/benefits of removing dewclaws.
A long time ago, dewclaws were removed on the dogs that were used in competition or game show rings. Dog owners in the past considered dewclaws as an eyesore; this is why they removed them to improve the dog’s appearance.
It should be noted this procedure should be done on puppies only. Vets recommend that declaws should be removed when the puppy is below six months old.
Some dog owners see dewclaws to have little or totally no purpose on dogs. This makes them choose to remove them when the dog is still a puppy. However, surgery can be done on an adult dog if necessary, but it isn’t easy.
Dewclaws can be removed to prevent them from tearing because they are normally loosely attached to the skin. A torn dewclaw is very painful to the dog and may lead to discomfort.
An ingrown dewclaw is painful to the dog when it folds its legs. This is why some dog owners remove them completely or partially to prevent any kind of infection that may develop.
When the dewclaws hinder the day-to-day living of your dog is when surgery is recommended. But in many cases, declaws do not require to be removed. They are only supposed to be trimmed to a nice safe length to not cause injuries and discomfort.
Dewclaws should be maintained just like any other dog nail. Regular trimming of the dewclaws to a healthy length is recommended. A long dewclaw puts the dog at high risk of injuries and discomfort. Please pay close attention to the dewclaw because it does not easily touch the ground like other nails on the paw.
A normal/ordinary/regular dog is supposed to have 18 toes; four toes on each paw, and two front dewclaws. But due to different dog species, malformation or genetics, some dogs have more or less than 18 toes.
Common dog breeds with rear dewclaws are Portuguese sheepdog, Estrella mountain dog, Beauceron, Icelandic sheepdog, and Saint Bernard dog.