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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ask the Vet, with Dr. Pat:
Your Dog's Dewclaws

by Pat Bradley, DVM

Dear Dr. Pat,  

I just got a purebred Rottie. He is a gem of a puppy. I got papers and he's supposed to be from a good line. The breeder was real nice. He had a clean place and only 2 litters all year. 

My friend Jim told me that Jessup's toenails on his front paws have a special name but he couldn't recollect what that word was. Jim said this is proof that the puppy is purebred. Can you tell us about this? I never heard of it before. Thanks for writing answers for You and the trainer lady are real helpful. Miss Carrie is nice too and knows lots about dogs. I'm sure she will be a big help to me with Jessup. Thanks from Roy.
Dear Roy,

Well, Roy, I have to admit, I've never heard that one before!  Those toes on the inside of Jessup's front legs are called "dewclaws".  They’re called that because the claw doesn’t touch the ground; it only "brushes the dew" off the grass during early morning runs. It's easy to see that dewclaws are where our thumbs would be if we walked on our fingers.  Thank goodness we don’t have to walk on our fingers! Well, anyway…

Dewclaws can be:
·         on one side, or both sides
·         on the front legs or the back legs
·         on both front and back legs
·         attached by bone or hanging by just skin.  

And as if that’s not enough, they can have…
·         two dewclaws on the same foot

Now that’s strange looking!  But although I do find them interesting, they don’t say to me, "I'm a purebred dog".  They say something more like "My parents or grandparents had dewclaws like mine". 
Their pattern is inherited, like your own hair color or eye color – it’s likely your eyes are the same color as one of your parents, or at least one of your grandparents.

The dewclaw isn’t worn off like the other nails, so it’s important to keep it trimmed. Otherwise they’re no trouble at all for most dogs. But some people like to have the dewclaws removed to prevent them from getting torn when the dog is running through brush, especially in dogs used for hunting.   They're very easy to remove when the pups are only a few days old.  Otherwise, it takes a surgery that’s often done at the time a dog is neutered.

Thanks for writing, Roy, and I hope you enjoy your new puppy. He sounds wonderful, no matter how many toes he has.

(c) courtesy P. Bradley

Have a question for Dr. Pat? You can reach us at

For a personal consultation about your pet's needs, visit Holistic Veterinary Services.
Dr. Pat's opinion or advice does not replace an actual exam with a veterinarian

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