A little article on why dew claws are important. Both Breeze and Scout have their dew claws (which I'm going to start another thread about in just a minute!)
I work exclusively with canine athletes, developing rehabilitation programs for injured dogs or dogs that required
surgery as a result of performance-related injuries. I have seen many dogs now, especially field trial/hunt test and
agility dogs, that have had chronic carpal arthritis, frequently so severe that they have to be retired or at least
carefully managed for the rest of their careers. Of the over 30 dogs I have seen with carpal arthritis, only one has
If you look at an anatomy book (Miller's Guide to the Anatomy of Dogs is an excellent one – see Figure 1 below)
you will see that there are 5 tendons attached to the dewclaw. Of course, at the other end of a tendon is a muscle,
and that means that if you cut off the dew claws, there are 5 muscle bundles that will become atrophied from
Those muscles indicate that the dewclaws have a function. That function is to prevent torque on the leg. Each
time the foot lands on the ground, particularly when the dog is cantering or galloping (see Figure 2), the dewclaw
is in touch with the ground. If the dog then needs to turn, the dewclaw digs into the ground to support the lower
leg and prevent torque. If the dog doesn't have a dewclaw, the leg twists. A lifetime of that and the result can be
carpal arthritis, or perhaps injuries to other joints, such as the elbow, shoulder and toes. Remember: the dog is
doing the activity regardless, and the pressures on the leg have to go somewhere.
Perhaps you are thinking, "None of my dogs have ever had carpal pain or arthritis." Well, we need to remember
that dogs, by their very nature, do not tell us about mild to moderate pain. If a dog was to be asked by an
emergency room nurse to give the level of his pain on a scale from 0 o 10, with 10 being the worst, their scale
would be 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Most of our dogs, especially if they deal with pain that is of gradual onset, just
deal with it and don't complain unless it is excruciating. But when I palpate the carpal joints of older dogs without
dewclaws, I frequently can elicit pain with relatively minimal manipulation.
As to the possibility of injuries to dew claws. Most veterinarians will say that such injuries actually are not very
common at all. And if they do occur, then they are dealt with like any other injury. In my opinion, it is far better to
deal with an injury than to cut the dew claws off of all dogs "just in case."