What the Heck Are Dewclaws and Why Do Dogs Have Them?_freckle removal scar

Kristi Valentini·4 min read
dog's paw with arrow pointing to dew claw
dog's paw with arrow pointing to dew claw

valery / Adobe Stock

What you know about your pup's claws: They clickety-clack on the hardwood, dig in the dirt, and sometimes leave marks on the couch. But did you know that dogs have an "extra" toenail called a dewclaw? Read on to learn why dogs have them and how to care for these special digits to prevent injury.

What Are Dewclaws?

Look at your dog's front paws. The dewclaw is the toe and nail that sits a little higher up than the rest of your dog's toes. It's similar to the position of the human thumb on a hand. Some dogs also have dewclaws on their rear feet. Certain breeds like the Great Pyrenees have double dewclaws, meaning you'll see two digits (with two nails) in the dewclaw spot.

Why Do Dogs Have Dewclaws?

"The ancestors of modern canines were actually climbers like cats. So their dewclaws helped them climb trees and cliffs," says veterinarian Natalie Marks, co-founder of VetScoop, a resource for trusted veterinary advice. "But as the species evolved, the dewclaws moved higher up the paw, coming off the ground. That gave dogs more speed to evade predators and made the dewclaw functionless for the vast majority of dogs."

A few very active, working breeds do still use dewclaws for gripping and stabilization. For example, it can be useful for hunting, military, and search-and-rescue dogs. When they're running over uneven terrain, the dewclaws may touch the ground and help them move more quickly. Also, dog breeds from frigid climates (think: Alaska and Antarctica) use their dewclaws to grip ice if they've fallen into the water and need to climb out.

Which Dog Breeds Have Dewclaws?

All dog breeds are born with front dewclaws. Only a handful of breeds, such as the Icelandic sheepdog and Saint Bernard, have them on their back paws as well. If you don't see any dewclaws on your pooch, it's probably because the breeder had them removed shortly after birth, says Marks.

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