Both dogs and cats are born with dew claws on their front feet. Some dogs are also born with dew claws on their hind feet (e.g. newfoundland) and occasionally they have double dew claws on the hind feet (e.g. St Bernard, Briard).
What are dew claws?
A dew claw is a nail (claw) attached to a short toe on the inside of the leg that does not touch the ground (like our thumb but as its not opposing its not quite as useful to the pet).
Why do pets have dew claws?
Cats use dew claws to climb.
Dogs may use them when running and turning quickly or sometimes to hold something between their paws to eat but in dogs they are basically left over from canine evolution. Around 40 million years ago, The early ancestor of dogs was a cat-like animal called the miacis that needed all five toes for climbing trees.
The risk of dew claw injury
Dew claws can get torn, broken or over grown. Signs of a dew claw problems include limping, licking the area a lot and crying out when you touch the leg. With any of these signs veterinary attention is required.
We tend to see injury of dew claws most commonly in active dogs. If the claw gets caught and torn off, there can be a lot of bleeding. This is because nails have quicks (the soft pink tender flesh below the growing part of the nail), which have their own blood supply. If it is torn but still connected to the leg, then the nail will probably need to be removed completely (it will re grow). If it is broken, the broken part of the nail will be trimmed off. A bandage, pain relief medications and antibiotics to stop infections are also often required.
We tend to see over grown dew claws most commonly in elderly cats and in dogs with lots of hair in the area that hides the claw and owners forget they are there. If the nail over grows it tends to curl and grows into the nail bed (base of the nail). The skin will be inflamed (sore and swollen) and often have an infection. Treatment involves trimming the nail so the nail that’s grown into the skin can be removed as well as treating the nail bed with medication (e.g. pain relief and antibiotics) .
The best way to prevent dew claw problems is to keep the nail short with regular trimming. Make sure you don’t cut into the internal nail area, which is called the quick. Ask your vet or vet nurse to show you how or see some great photos and tips at
Dew claws can be permantly removed. This involves surgical amputation of the digit that the claw grows from. The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) does not promote removal unless required because of a legitimate medical reason. In practice, Australian vets tend to recommend removing a dog’s dew claws if they hang loosely off the paw and provide a risk for injury or if animals repeatedly injuries them.