Dew It, or Don't Dew It?

Apocryphally it is called a 'dew' claw because it skims the top of the grass when a dog walks, thereby coming into contact with the morning dew that sits atop the blades of grass. The real root of the name is unknown, but may have the same origin as dewlap, and relate to a lack of obvious purpose. There is great debate over whether or not dew claws should be surgically removed or left intact.

Only the hind dew claws, which are rarely found on Beardies, are true dew claws. Those on the front legs are actually vestigial toes complete with bone and the equivalent of the human thumb. The nail does need to be trimmed just like the other toenails. Because of the position of the claw, left untrimmed, it can grow so long that it curves round and can become ingrown, causing a lot of pain and potentially infection. Dogs that exercise at speed and on uneven ground, such as a working dog would do, though can wear down the nail just as well as the rest of the nails. In other dogs, the type of exercise or a higher location on the leg prevents contact with the ground so the nail cannot be worn down naturally. It's important to keep these claws trimmed regularly. It's easy to forget them, especially on long haired dogs, such as Beardies, where the hair covers the toe. Left untrimmed, the quick will also grow longer which will make it harder to keep the toenails properly trimmed. If this happens you have to gradually shorten the nail over several sessions so the quick has time to recede. Dew claws that are too long can make it easier for the dog to catch one in the brush when he's running around outside while working or playing. The dew claw is attached to the leg with muscle and bone. Sometimes if the nail gets caught the leg can be torn as the dog struggles to free himself.

Not all dogs are born with dew claws, some only have them on the front leg and other breeds have them on all four legs. Some breeds can have two dew claws on one or more legs. When a dog has a two on a single leg, it's called double dew claw. Some dog breeds are required to have back dew claws if they are being shown in the ring because it's part of the standard for that breed. Although not all dogs use their dew claw, some dogs use them to hold onto bones, toys, balls or other things they play with or chew on. Some breeds like the Basenji, the New Guinea Singing Dog and the Catahoula Leopard Dog are able to climb trees almost as well as a cat, and they use their dew claws to grasp the tree bark as they climb. Back dew claws are more common in breeds like the Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard and Briard. It's believed the toenail on the back legs of the Great Pyrenees and other dogs that were bred to work in snow or rough terrain aids may give them greater stability. Slow motion video can show the front dew claws touching the ground as a dog makes sharp turns or rounds corners at speed.

Many people feel that removing dew claws is unnecessary and even cruel, as the procedure can be painful. Many breeders opt to have the dew claws removed on puppies when they are just a few days old. This means an unnecessary trip to the vet, possibly exposing the pups and dam to disease and stress. Not to mention trying to keep those little puppies warm enough during travel and procedure time. Hopefully the veterinarian will use a local anesthetic to numb the area. Betadine or some other antiseptic wash will be used to clean the site. Then the dew claw is cut off and most often a single suture is applied to hasten the healing process. Sometimes the bone is crushed and the appendage is tied off and left to fall off on its own. Of course with any surgical procedure there is always the risk of infection once the puppies return home. In some cases the dew claws can regrow if the procedure is not done correctly, and most vets have not learned to do this in veterinary school. Usually regrowth happens in the first year, but sometimes they grow back — often under the skin — later in life. In some countries, removing dew claws is an illegal procedure.

The breeders of my first Beardies had their puppies' dew claws removed, so I did the same when I had my first litter of puppies. Then I purchased a Beardie puppy from a breeder who opted not to have the dew claws removed. She did early on, but hasn't done so for the past fifteen years. I have to agree with her, the procedure is barbaric and unnecessary! As time passed, I was amazed at how often I've seen this Beardie use her 'thumbs'. She uses them to hold her bully sticks and toys, and you can feel it grip your hand when she offers you her paw. I've learned to clip the nail of the dew claw and have never had an issue whether she runs agility or herds sheep. I've since become a convert, and opted not to have the dew claws removed on a recent litter. The puppy I kept from this litter also uses her 'thumbs' and you can see and feel her grip on her toys. I'm now a convert and will keep the dew claws intact.

Of course this is a personal choice, but if you are a breeder please give it some thought if you decide to 'dew' it and remove the dew claws.

Thumbs up from Sparkle and Karma!

Maryann Szalka
afterdarkbeardie@aol.com