Dew claws appear to be rather unnecessary body parts that hang from a dog's paw and serve no purpose at all. Lets have a look at the function of dew claws, and when it is considered appropriate to have them removed.
Dew claws are fairly common on the front paws of dogs, and can sometimes be found on the hind paws as well. They are positioned on the inside of the paw, slightly higher than the other claws, and are therefore not used to walk on. Unlike nail trimming, which is a simple painless procedure that should form part of your dog's regular grooming routine, and can be undertaken by anybody with a nail trimming tool, dew claw removal involves painful permanent surgical removal of the entire toe.
Many dog breeders elect to have the dew claws removed, for aesthetic or practical reasons, when the puppies are just a days old. At this stage the bone and tissue is undeveloped and soft, making it a relatively simple, but possibly unnecessary procedure. Dew claw removal in older dogs is much more complex, and involves surgical removal by a veterinarian. As this is a very tender area for the dog, it very often leads to complications after the operation as the paws are easily accessible, so constant licking and biting at the wound can limit its ability to heal, resulting in the wound becoming infected.
So considering dew claw removal is extremely painful for a dog, why do people have their dog's dew claws removed and put their pet through so much trauma? Unfortunately, there are people who have these appendages removed simply because they consider them to be unsightly and serve the dog no purpose. However, there are instances when dew claw removal is completely justified. Because they tend to dangle about, dew claws do pose a risk of being snagged on a carpet or caught on branches as the dog runs through dense bush. This could result in painful injury should the dew claw get ripped off..
In most cases, dew claws can be left on the dog without any problems, but there may be instances when it is preferable to have them surgically removed. Front dew claws are found on most dogs; they generally don't pose any problems and are in fact used by the dog for holding bones or toys. Dew claws on the hind legs are not as common, are usually loosely attached and dangle about, posing a real risk of being snagged and ripped off the skin, which is extremely painful for the dog. As dew claws do not touch the ground, the nails on these claws are not worn down. This can result in the nail growing round and into the skin of the dog's paw, which can be very uncomfortable for the dog. If this goes unnoticed and the nail is not trimmed it can pierce the skin and lead to a very nasty, painful infected wound. To avoid this, make sure that your dogs nails are trimmed regularly, paying special attention to dew claws that do not wear down through physical activity.
Dew claw removal in dogs in understandably a controversial matter, and a decision that ultimately rests on the breeder or owner. However, it is recommended that if your dog's dew claws were not removed as a puppy, and they are not presenting any problems to the dog, or are not likely to result in serious injury through snagging, then rather leave them alone rather than subjecting your dog to costly, painful surgery. If you feel your dog's dew claws pose a risk of serious injury, and would prefer to have them removed, try and have them removed while your dog is under aneasthetic for other surgery (for example, sterilisation) where possible.