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Cats, Dogs

Do dogs have thumbs? What those dewclaws are for

Does your pet have a small toe that is a few inches higher than the rest of their paw? If so, you may have wondered what those extra toes are for.  While the extra toe may seem useless now, it used to be important to how animals lived thousands of years ago.

Before dogs and cats were kept as pets they had to fend for themselves, looking for their own food and shelter. To help move around better, they had five toes on their paws. As the terrain changed and years passed, the need for the fifth toe, now known as the dewclaw, was unnecessary. Over time it moved up and out of the way of the four important toes.

The dewclaw no longer serves any purpose for household pets, though it provides interesting evidence of how animals have developed over time. This phenomenon has also occurred in other animals such as pigs and horses – horses used to have five separate toes and now they have just one, the hoof.

Because the dewclaw is no longer of use to a dog or cat, some owners may be wondering whether it may actually be harmful to their animal now. Some breeders will get the dewclaws of their litters removed when the pups are only a few days old, while other owners may opt to have them removed when their dogs get neutered or spayed, especially if they have specific jobs in mind for their canines.

For example, many veterinarians may recommend that owners who are training their dogs for hunting get their dewclaws removed. This is because the dewclaws can easily get caught up on branches or brush and the pain from an injury to it can be excruciating for the animal – think hangnail, but worse.

If your dog’s dewclaw gets snagged or otherwise injured, you’ll need to bring the dog to the veterinarian’s office right away. A vet can clean the injury properly and may also prescribe antibiotic pet meds or a pain relief medication. Stick the medication in a pill pocket, a product developed solely for  meds, when you give it to your dog to ensure the dog ingests the whole pill.

The dewclaw does not touch the ground so it does not wear off like the other toenails and therefore must be trimmed more often. If this is not done there is a danger of the nail actually growing around in a complete circle and penetrating the skin near the origin. Of course, this is completely preventable if you just pay attention to your dog’s feet and nails. Owners can help keep their pets dewclaws in good shape by trimming them like the rest of the dogs’ nails. Use pet scissor trimmers and make sure not to trim too close to the dog’s quick. Visit this link for more information on pet nail trimming.

If you elect to have the dewclaws removed from your adult dog, there will be general anesthesia and a post-op recovery period. Although very minor, there are risks with any surgery. If your dog is not an active outdoor dog that would be at higher risk for dew claw injury, then you would be putting your dog through all of this solely for a cosmetic result.

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