If your dog could, they’d definitely give you a “thumbs up” when you ask if they want something you know they want, like a treat or a walk to the park. They would if they had thumbs, that is. 

But wait, they do! Dew claws are sort of the last gasps of the canine evolutionary process, and while they’re largely perceived as vestigial, dew claws may be occasionally employed. 

Know What to Look For

It’s not totally accurate to compare dewclaws to thumbs, but they’re not far off. While a dog’s dew claws may not offer the same function and flexibility as opposable human thumbs, they can be helpful. 

Dogs have five digits on each of their front paws, but they really only use the front-facing four nails. The fifth digit, otherwise known as the dewclaw, is positioned up off the bottom of the foot and doesn’t touch the ground when walking.


While all dogs have front dew claws, only some breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees or Briard, have hind leg dew claws, too. While they are part of the breed standard, they are typically perceived as “abnormal” on other dogs.

In contrast with the front dew claws that are firmly connected by ligaments and bones, hind dewclaws might appear to be loosely attached and somewhat floppy against the skin. Also, unlike the front dew laws, hindleg dew claws do not serve any function at all.

The Point of Dew Claws

The dewclaws help maintain balance and stability. You may notice this when your dog walks or climbs on uneven terrain. Dewclaws are especially helpful when getting out of water.

Dewclaws can also help dogs hold or grip something they’re eating, like a delicious treat or chew toy. They can also help a dog during grooming the head or face.

The Dangers of Dew Claws

Hind dewclaws have greater potential for injury if they are ever caught on something. Some breeders will remove hind dewclaws early on in a pup’s life, possibly saving them from a future bloody, painful incident later on. These puppies typically recover faster than older dogs that suffer from accidental injury.

That being said, however, elective surgical removal of de claws is not widely practiced unless it is deemed the safest option for a dog’s health. 

What Can You Do?

Many dogs wear their nails down every day while walking on concrete or asphalt. But the dewclaws don’t wear down as they don’t hit the ground. As a result, routine inspections and trimming of the dewclaws may be necessary for your dog’s health. If the dew claws grow too long they can catch on things and be either completely or partially removed. They can also be split in half. 

If this happens to your dog, please let us know. They may need removal, trimming, dressing and even antibiotics depending on the situation.

Time and Attention

You may go your entire life as a dog owner and never even notice your dog’s dew claws, or they can be a constant issue. Wherever you stand on this topic, we hope you’ll contact us with any questions. The Pet Experts at Wheaton Animal Hospital are always here for you.