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What is the benefit of removing dew claws?

Dew claws are the digits located on the medial side of a dog’s front and rear legs. They are vestigial toes that generally do not make contact with the ground when the dog is standing or walking. While some breeds are born without dew claws, most dogs have them on their front legs. On the rear legs, they are less common and only present in certain breeds. Dew claw removal, also known as onychectomy, is a controversial elective surgery done in order to prevent injuries and other medical issues.

What are dew claws?

Dew claws are vestigial digits located on the medial side of a dog’s leg, slightly above the foot. On the front legs, they are attached by bone to the rest of the limb. On the rear legs, they are often only attached by skin and muscle. They do not normally make contact with the ground when the dog is standing or walking.

Dew claws typically have a nail, but it does not grow as robustly as the weight-bearing claws on the paws. Since they are not in contact with hard surfaces, they do not wear down naturally and often grow in a circle back into the paw pad if not trimmed regularly.

Some dog breeds are born without dew claws on the rear legs. Others, like the Great Pyrenees, use their rear dew claws to grip uneven terrain and can have double dew claws on their hind legs.

Why remove dew claws?

There are several reasons why dew claw removal may be recommended:

  • Prevent injury – Dew claws can get caught on furniture, fences, and flooring and rip partially or fully off. This is very painful and will cause bleeding.
  • Prevent later amputation – If dew claws are left, they may be traumatically ripped off later in life. This requires amputation as an adult, which is more invasive than a simple removal as a puppy.
  • Prevent disease – Dew claws can be prone to fungal and bacterial infections since they do not touch the ground. Embedded collars left on growing puppies can also cause imbedded dew claws.
  • Conformation showing – Dew claw removal is done for a neater, streamlined appearance in the show ring. It is considered a breed standard in some cases.
  • Hygiene – Long dew claw nails can become dirty and collect debris between the nail and foot.

Veterinarians may recommend removal based on breed, the owner’s preferences for activities and sports with their dog, and other factors. Show dog breeders routinely remove front and rear dew claws on young puppies within days of birth to adhere to certain breed standards.

What are the potential benefits of dew claw removal?

Some of the touted benefits of elective dew claw removal include:

  • Prevents traumatic injuries – Getting dew claws caught and torn is very painful and prone to infection. Removal prevents this risk.
  • Simplifies grooming – With the dew claw gone, it is easier to clip the nails on the feet.
  • Reduces likelihood of disease – Tightly curled dew claws prone to fungal and bacterial infections are eliminated.
  • Enables participation in activities – Working dogs and sporting/hunting breeds won’t risk painful tears when running and moving over obstacles.
  • Improves conformation showing – Certain breed standards require dew claw removal for a tidy, streamlined look.

Proponents argue that removing dew claws while puppies are young prevents pain and medical issues as adult dogs. The surgery has a quick recovery time if done properly by a veterinarian when the puppy is under 3 days old.

What are the risks of dew claw removal surgery?

While many veterinarians recommend dew claw removal, especially for certain breeds, the surgery is not without risks including:

  • Infection – Any surgical procedure runs the risk of infection of the wound site, especially if bandages come off prematurely.
  • Nerve damage – The dew claw is attached by bone, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. Improper surgical technique can damage the nerve and cause chronic pain.
  • Regrowth – In rare cases, the partially removed dew claw can regrow, requiring reoperation.
  • Bleeding – Puppies are prone to bleeding issues since their clotting systems are not fully developed. Bleeding is a risk with any puppy surgery.
  • Anesthesia problems – Any surgery requiring general anesthesia comes with inherent anesthesia-related risks, especially for young puppies.
  • Lack of function – Front dew claws may have an unknown function in tendon and muscle anatomy that is disrupted by removal.

While risks can be minimized by using an experienced veterinary surgeon, they cannot be fully eliminated. Owners must determine if the benefits outweigh the potential complications.

What is the recovery for dew claw removal like?

The recovery for dew claw removal is relatively quick, especially if done within the first few days of life. After surgery, the puppy’s feet are bandaged and will remain bandaged for 24-48 hours. Puppies are typically walking within minutes after recovering from anesthesia.

After bandage removal, the incision site heals rapidly, being at least partially closed by the time the bandage comes off. There may be some bruising, swelling, and minor suture reactions which resolve quickly. Complete cosmetic healing happens within 2-3 weeks.

While activity should be restricted to allow healing, puppies can generally return to normal play and movement within a day or two. No splints, casts, or further bandaging are required in most cases.

Some post-operative care recommendations include:

  • Preventing licking or chewing at the incision site
  • Monitoring for signs of infection like discharge or swelling
  • Returning to the vet if bleeding occurs after bandage removal
  • Using an Elizabethan collar if licking persists
  • Avoiding bathing until sutures are out

With proper surgical technique and aftercare, dew claw removal recovery is typically rapid and complication-free.

What are the risks of NOT removing dew claws?

Some veterinarians recommend removal because leaving dew claws intact carries its own set of risks, such as:

  • Torn dew claws – Dew claws get caught on objects and torn. This is extremely painful and prone to infection.
  • Repeated injury – Once torn, dew claws are prone to repeated catching and tearing. They do not heal as robustly.
  • Lifelong grooming issues – Untrimmed dew claw nails can grow into the leg. They require vigilance to maintain.
  • Arthritis – Some research indicates persistent untrimmed dew claws may increase the risk of developing arthritis in the leg joints.
  • Cysts – Dew claws can develop benign cysts that must be surgically removed.
  • Disease – Bacteria and fungus can colonize the moist, protected environment of floppy dew claw pockets.

While risks do exist with removal, some veterinarians argue not removing dew claws also carries lifelong risks. Owners should thoughtfully weigh the pros and cons of each choice.

When should dew claw removal be done?

If dew claw removal is elected, the optimal time is when puppies are between 3-5 days old. This allows the following advantages:

  • Minimal surgical trauma – Dew claws are loosely attached at this age, allowing simpler removal.
  • Rapid recovery – Younger puppies heal quickly with little complication.
  • Anesthesia safety – Before bone has ossified, anesthesia is safer than when older.
  • Less painful – The nerves are less developed, potentially reducing surgical pain.
  • No bone involvement – Removal is simpler when bone attachment has not yet occurred.

While some vets may remove dew claws up to 10-14 days old, the consensus is earlier is ideal. After several weeks of age, surgical risks increase substantially.

How is the procedure done?

Here are the typical steps to surgically remove dew claws on a young puppy:

  1. Sedation and local nerve blocks – The puppy is sedated and numbed at the operative site.
  2. Tourniquet – A rubber band or special clamp is placed at the top of the limb to reduce bleeding.
  3. Incision – A small incision is made to pop out the dew claw.
  4. Dissection – The skin is separated from underlying muscle and tendon.
  5. Cutting – The dew claw is dislocated from its attachment and cut free.
  6. Closure – The skin is brought together and sutured closed.
  7. Bandage – A light pressure bandage is applied over the site.

The puppy is monitored until recovered from sedation and stitches are removed in 10-14 days unless absorbable sutures were used. Rear dew claws may only be attached by skin and are simply excised.

What are the costs for dew claw removal surgery?

Dew claw removal done by a veterinarian typically costs between $30-$50 per puppy. Costs may be slightly higher for removal of rear dew claws if more extensive dissection is required. Factors impacting price include:

  • Number of dew claws – Front versus rear dew claws or double rear dew claws.
  • Sedation method – General anesthesia versus local nerve blocks.
  • Vet fees – Prices range widely depending on the veterinary office.
  • Aftercare – Any complications or medications add cost.
  • Age – Older puppy removal is more complex thus more expensive.

For a front dew claw removal on a 3-5 day old puppy, total costs are usually $30-$60. Some breeders include dew claw removal as part of their overall pricing. However, the procedure can be done later if desired by the owner, albeit at higher cost due to increased surgical complexity.

What are the pros and cons of dew claw removal?

Dew claw removal is controversial in veterinary medicine. While many vets recommend it, others argue downsides exist. Here is a comparison of some pros and cons:

Potential Pros

  • Prevents future injuries from catching and tearing
  • Eliminates risks of untrimmed nail issues
  • May improve conformation and aesthetics
  • Simplifies grooming requirements
  • Avoids possible dew claw infections

Potential Cons

  • Surgical complications like bleeding or infection
  • Possible nerve damage
  • Risks of repeat surgery if regrowth occurs
  • Danger of anesthesia in young puppies
  • Unknown function may be disrupted

There are good arguments on both sides. Pet owners should think through their own dog’s breed, lifestyle, and activities when deciding. There is no universally right or wrong choice.

Are there alternatives to surgical removal?

For those wishing to keep dew claws intact while avoiding associated risks, some alternatives to surgical removal include:

  • Dew claw trimming – Keeping nails short helps prevent tears and embedment.
  • Taping – Taping down floppy dew claws can prevent catching during activity.
  • Dew claw braces – Plastic caps on long dew claws prevent penetration into the paw.
  • Dew claw removal later – Removal could be done after maturity if issues emerge.

However, these options require greater owner commitment to regular care. They also do not address potential injury, infection, and other risks as fully as surgical removal.


Dew claw removal is a preventive procedure meant to avoid future pain and injury in dogs. While popular in certain breeds, it remains controversial due to surgery risks and possible loss of function. Owners should consider their own dog’s breed, lifestyle, and their ability to monitor and care for intact dew claws when making a decision.

When done properly on very young puppies, dew claw removal has low surgical risk and quick recovery time. However, dogs can live full, active lives with intact dew claws given attentive owner care. There is no universally right choice for all dogs and owners.

With careful thought and discussion with their veterinarian, owners can decide if removal is appropriate for their puppy based on individual circumstances and risk factors. Either choice should be made with the dog’s lifelong comfort and soundness in mind.