Overgrown Dew Claw – What To Expect?

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Check this article to learn how to deal with overgrown dew claws in dogs. Discover how to provide care that will keep your Fido pain-free.

Overgrown dew claws in dogs can lead to a certain discomfort and difficulty moving, as overgrown dew claws can get snagged on grass, any form of landscaping, and even indoor items.

Overgrown dew claws can easily glitch on furniture, or even carpet leading to broken or torn dew claws.

These obstacles can potentially cause an injury to your dog, which is something that you want to avoid.

If the overgrown dew claw is ignored, it can grow so long that it begins to circle itself, which can lead to even stressful moments in dogs.

Common injuries include torn or broken, overgrown, ingrown, or infected dew claws and we will elaborate on them further in this article.

If you are not sure why dew claws are so important in dogs or how to take proper care of them, continue reading.

Overgrown Dew Claw In Dogs

Dew claws can easily become overgrown because they don’t wear down as regular nails do.

Toenails tear down thanks to proper grooming (monthly nail trimming or nail grinding) and direct contact with the surface.

That being said, dew claws are most likely to become overgrown in dogs who tend to be more of ouch potatoes, than active pooches.

Overgrown dew claws are more likely to snag on things, and become torn or broken. Luckily, this can be prevented by regular maintenance.

The best way to stop overgrown dew claws is to practice regular nail trimming.

Now, let’s learn more about the dew claw, what is it, what its main purpose is, and what are the most common dew claw injuries that can be treated.

What Are Dew Claws?

Although the term dew claws may sound strange, or like something really confusing, the truth is that this body part is rather simple and small.

What the thumbs and big toes are in humans, dew claws are in dogs.

They are not directly equivalent to the human structure, but it is fair to say that they are, in a way, similar.

When you look at the dog from the front, especially at the dog’s front foot, you can see the toes that are in contact with the ground while standing to reflect the human pinky, ring finger, middle finger, and index finger. That being said, the dew claw is the ‘thumb’.

The biggest distinction here is to see whether or not the dewclaws are firmly attached to a dog’s foot.

In general, if a dog has a single front dew claw, it will be attached to a dog’s foot. This means that you will be able to wiggle the dew claw just a bit, while you can feel the bones connect it to the leg.

Double dew claws are very rare and tend to only be attached by the skin. As such they are much more mobile.

Do Dewclaws Have A Purpose?

Every body part in humans comes with a certain purpose. Even the smallest body part and the slimmest muscle come with a certain purpose, helping the body to move and work as a whole.

Is it the same in dogs? Of course, it is.

Every living being comes with a body that is specially designed to perform a certain task, whether it is performing a concrete role, or supporting another body part to perform a specific role.

If you are still thinking if dew claws are important or not, know that dew claws are an important part of a dog’s anatomy.

They are attached by bone to a dog’s foot. When dogs run, their front feet will naturally bend to a certain point, where their dewclaws come in contact with the ground.

At very high speeds or on slippery surfaces, these dewclaws serve to provide extra traction and help the dog stabilize the carpal, also known as the wrist, joint.

Dogs who are really passionate about climbing may use dew claws to help them climb trees, or even hold objects to chew on them better or at an easier pace.

Dogs who are based in more cold areas, with icey areas to be precise, will often use dew claws to climb out of the water if they’ve broken through the ice.

Every dew claw usage here is associated with dew claws that are attached by bone to a dog’s front foot. The purpose of dew claws that are only attached by the skin is a bit unclear.

Why Do Dogs Have Dewclaws?

Did you know that the ancestors of modern canines were actually climbers?

Or that canines’ ancestors were so great climbers that they had cat-like climbing skills?

Ever since dew claws helped them climb trees and cliffs. Just like humans, dogs evolved over time making their dew claws move higher up the paw, moving off the ground.

This way dogs got more speed to escape predators and made dew claws functional for many needs making them useful even today in many different areas.

Very active dog breeds and working breeds use dew claws for gripping and stabilization.

This is why dew claws are more than useful for hunting, military, and search-and-rescue dogs.

Dogs that are used for specific jobs that involve strong physical movement use dew claws for better balance over uneven terrain, as the dew claws may touch the ground and help them move more quickly.

Do not forget that as mentioned earlier dog breeds from frigid climates, such as Alaska and Antarctica area, use their dew claws to grip the ice.

Which Dog Breeds Have Dew Claws?

All dog breeds are born with front dew claws. Some breeds have dew claws on the back paws as well, such as Icelandic Sheepdog and Saint Bernard.

What if you don’t see any dew claws on your dog? Chances are that your dog got them removed shortly after birth.

Why Is It Called A Dew Claw?

The term dew claw is first seen in the 1570s, while the exact etymology is unknown.

There are many theories around it, but two are most common, or best accepted:

  • First theory: term has a root word in term teue-, an Indo-European root which means to swell
  • Second theory: term comes from the fact that a dew claw never touched the ground, but only brushes the dew on grass

Once again, both on dogs and cats the dew claws are mostly on the inside of the front legs, similar to a human’s thumb, as mentioned earlier – which means that dogs and humans share evolutionary homology.

Common Dog Dew Claw Injuries

Dew claw injuries are very common. In fact, dew claws are injured more frequently than other dog claws.

How can you know if your dog has injured dew claw? To know this, you need to know your dog’s regular behavior when he is healthy.

When a dog is healthy and strong, you won’t see him limping or bleeding.

By knowing his regular state you can react faster to any unusual appearance, or movement, and contact your veterinarian on time before any further health-related disturbance appears.

Here are the most common signs in dogs that something is wrong with dog’s dew claw:

  • Limping
  • Bleeding
  • Swelling around the toe
  • Excessive licking
  • Warmth around the toe
  • Yelping
  • Flinching

Any of these symptoms is a clear indicator that something is wrong and that you should contact your veterinarian.

Keep in mind that some dogs are stoic and may mask any sign of pain or discomfort.

In some cases, a dog may not show any sign of pain, but he might be in massive pain.

Even if you do not see any sort of dew claw issue, it is likely causing them a lot of pain.

Here are the most common dew claw issues:

1. Torn Or Broken Dew Claws

Dew claws can easily become snagged during playtime or even on a run inside the house, due to their position on the inside of the leg. This way they are easily torn or broken, especially in high-energy dogs.

Broken dew claws can be bloody, but the amount of blood often depends on how severely the nail is broken.

When a dog’s dew claw is torn or even broken, the ‘quick’ of the nail is often left exposed.

This quick nail houses the nail’s nerves and blood supply, making them highly painful when injured.

An exposed quick is very sensitive even cold air can lead to distress and uncomfortable feeling.

Know that torn or broken dew claws always require medical attention. Yes, a bandage can be applied, but it won’t stop the bleeding, not it should anyhow be a substitute for veterinary care.

When a dog tears or breaks a dew claw, your veterinarian will need to remove any part of the nail that is mobile, or even partially attached, because any mobility of the nail will continue to irritate the exposed quickly.

The following step is cleaning the area carefully with an antiseptic solution and shaving the hair away from the nails to prevent infection.

A bandage may be applied to the paw for a few days to help protect the sensitive quickly.

It is crucial to ensure that the bandage is not so tight it limits circulation to the rest of the paw, as it may lead to some sort of complications.

In most cases, dogs will end up wearing an Elizabethan collar, also known as an e-collar, to prevent them from tearing off their bandage or level licking the dew claw.

As the last step, your veterinarian will prescribe your dog pain relief medications and antibiotics.

The quick should recover within a few weeks and look as it should.

2. Overgrown Dewclaws

Overgrown dew claws are a common issue in dogs.

They can easily become overgrown as they do not wear down from regular surface contact, especially in dogs of more mild energy, who do not dig or play frequently.

Overgrown dew claws will easily get snagged on the carpet, furniture, and many other house items.

The best way to deal with overgrown dew claws is to practice regular nail trimming.

When it comes to trimming overgrown dew claws you should be extra careful – trim small pieces away at a time.

3. Ingrown Dew Claws

Ingrown dew claws are also an issue if they appear.

When dew claws are overgrown and left untreated, they will eventually grow into the flesh of the toe. This is something that is mostly seen in long-haired breeds.

Long-haired breeds, such as Collie have long coat that often hides overgrown dew claws.

If you have a long-haired dog who is active it is most likely for your Fido to naturally wear down other nails with regular play.

Since they aren’t going to the groomer or the vet’s office for regular nail trimming, their dew claws are far from being properly maintained.

Is a dew claw curling into the pet’s flesh painful? Simply said, yes.

Even if your dog manages to hide this kind of pain, once you notice it make sure that you take him to the vet’s office as soon as possible.

How your veterinarian might treat ingrown dew claws? In most cases, the first step will be carefully trimming the ingrown dew claw, cleaning the wound, and applying a bandage for a few days.

In some cases, dogs will need pain relief medication as well as antibiotics, putting an e-collar on your dog is always a good idea as it will prevent a dog from licking the wound.

As you may know already, licking can delay healing and cause infection.

4. Infected Dew Claws

In some rare cases, dogs may have infected dew claws.

Different types of infection may occur due to some sort of trauma, the nail itself, or small abrasions to the skin near the dewclaw.

Infected dew claws are most common in dogs who tend to chew their paws – this way they easily transform bacteria from their mouth to the nail bed, making infection grow and making it harder to heal.

If you notice your dog licking a certain area (paw area most likely) more than usual, or if you smell a foul odor near your dog, or notice your Fido pushing hair around the affected toe, or if you notice the red skin around the dew claw, or even the infected dew claw you might check it and contact your veterinarian.

When it comes to dealing with infected dew claws, prompt veterinary care is a must, and the best way to help your Fido.

Know that if infected dew claws are left untreated the infection can spread to the bone of the toe.

To determine the origin of the infection, your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam to see the origin of the infection.

To determine this source, the exam might include additional tests, such as a nail bed cytology, blood work, and radiographs (X-rays).

When it comes to treatment it will vary the underlying cause of a dog’s dew claw infection.

In most cases, treatment will include oral anti-inflammatory medications, oral antibiotics and/or antifungals, and paw soaks.

It may also include soaking the paw in a diluted chlorhexidine solution or Epsom salt, as it may reduce inflammation.

Placing an e-collar may be recommended to prevent the dog from licking the infection site.

Why Dew Claws Break Or Split

As mentioned earlier dew claws usually break or split on some kind of surface when they grow to a certain extent.

The thing is that no matter how much work and exercise you might provide, urban dogs do not get as much run as they need.

If you often visit rural areas you hear from dog owners there that they do not have to trim their dog’s nails monthly, but once in two to three months, as they get so much run time, hence their nails naturally get worn down.

Not all dew claws break or split due to this reason, but this is the most common one.

Next to this there are many other reasons why dog’s nails split or break, including the following:

  • Not enough of suitable spaces
  • Not enough exercise time
  • Medical reasons such as arthritis
  • Not enough bodyweight to wear the nail down
  • Dog just don’t want to run

You do have to provide endless exercise sessions if your dog isn’t a high-energy breed.

Still, you should provide enough exercise, next to pee walk, because exercise is a great way to keep a dog’s weight in balance, his joints strong, and his spirit high.

Overgrown Dew Claw… How to Maintain Dewclaws?

The best way to help any dog with anything health-related is to think about prevention.

The best care is the care that includes prevention and not getting to the level that includes medicine or any long or harsh treatment.

When it comes to maintaining your dog’s dew claws you should know that this care is no different than the care of the dog’s other nails.

For most dogs, regular nail trimming or grinding, including their dew claws, should be enough to keep nail-elated health in balance.

Highly active dogs should wear down their nails naturally, or they might need less nail training in general.

Frequently Asked Questions On Overgrown Dew Claw

1. What Happens If Dew Claw Is Too Long?

When a dog’s dew claw is too long, it can lead to several different issues. Not only that the claw may get snagged on grass, but it may break or tear and cause an injury to your dog.

2. Can I Cut My Dogs Dew Claw?

Leave this to your veterinarian; it is always preferable. However and, if you decide to do it alone, be sure to get instructions on how to safely cut dog dew claws from your veterinarian or a trustworthy and skilled dog groomer.

3. How Far Can You Cut A Dog’s Dew Claw?

Put a finger under a dew claw; if you experience any itching, it is time to trim the claw.

Cut it so that your finger may easily slide off of it. A dog’s dew claw could become painful and even bleed if it is cut too deeply.

Uncertain of your suitability for the job? Leave it to your veterinarian or a trained groomer in that situation.

4. How Do You Treat A Bent Dew Claw?

Your veterinarian will trim the ingrown dew claw, clean the wound properly, and apply the bandage if needed.

In most cases, a dog will receive pain relief medication and most likely antibiotics.

5. Do Dew Claws Fall Off Naturally?

Long dew claw nails will often fall off without any problems. In most cases, they will get split, get damaged, or get caught on carpet or any rough area that will pull them off.