Broken dewclaws are one of the most common injuries we see in clinics. Given how loosely the claws can hang off, they are prone to being pulled. Some vets will advise routinely removing dewclaws to prevent injury, but this practice is not always considered necessary.
No, in most cases a broken dewclaw will NOT heal itself. Broken or injured dewclaws are usually painful and may get infected if left untreated. If your dog has a broken dewclaw it’s advised to see a veterinarian.
What Is a Dewclaw?
The dewclaw is kind of equivalent to the human thumb. Though, while it is located in a similar place, it is not as useful. Most are attached to the body by bone, though some are only attached very loosely by skin.
A dewclaw is a vestigial digit that no longer serves much of a purpose. Those attached by bone can, however, be used to help hold on to items and to provide extra traction when running about, slipping, and sliding.
Dogs tend to have one dewclaw on each front paw, but some dogs will have more and many will have dewclaws on the hind legs.
You may be wondering if all dogs have two dewclaws but this is not the case. Most dogs have two dewclaws but many have dewclaws on their back feet or even double dewclaws! Breeds including the Pyrenees, Beauceron, and Briard should have double dewclaws as part of their normal anatomy.
Should Dewclaws Be Routinely Removed?
Ethically, this is a question worth debating. Some vets advocate routine dewclaw removal, to minimize the risk of injuries and infection during a dog’s lifetime. Others recommend only removing claws that have been badly damaged.
The surgery to remove dewclaws is not without risks. It requires an anesthetic, though many dogs have the procedure done while being neutered. During recovery, some dogs suffer from wound breakdown, infections, and ongoing discomfort.
In the last 20 years or so, it has become far less routine to remove dewclaws without a medical reason. Nowadays, it is hard to find a clinic that will agree to perform this procedure without good reason.
What Happens If a Dog Breaks a Dewclaw?
When a dewclaw breaks, the injury may be minor or serious. In some cases, the claw breaks completely off! In others, there will just be a small crack.
At the time of the injury, your dog may stop suddenly and make a yelp. You may also see them hold their paw in the air and hobble for a few steps.
Your dog will usually be able to let you know how significant the injury is or is not. A significant injury will cause discomfort and you will find your dog might limp, lick the area and go off their food. Conversely, a mild injury is unlikely to perturb your dog.
Sometimes, the injury is not easily visible and owners won’t be able to easily spot what is going on. It is sensible to have any potential dewclaw injuries examined by a vet.
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Will a Broken Dewclaw Heal Itself?
Unfortunately, most broken claws will require some form of intervention. If we delay treatment, this can cause ongoing pain and may lead to an infection.
Sometimes, badly broken claws will fall off by themselves, but a vet visit is still needed to ensure the quick is not exposed and the stump can be cleaned and there is no sign of infection. We also need to manage any pain or inflammation with medication.
If the dog is lucky enough to only break the very end of the claw and the quick is not affected, medical treatment won’t be necessary. There will not be any bleeding or pain and this sort of break is comparable to when we break a nail.
In these injuries, you’ll see that the dog is not in any discomfort and they do not exhibit any signs.
Tips For Treating Broken Dewclaw/Nail
First and foremost, have your dog seen by their local vet. It takes an expert to examine these breaks and to determine the best course of action.
At home, we can start some first aid, to keep our dogs comfortable immediately after the injury. Dewclaws can bleed dramatically, so apply a pressure bandage if there is active bleeding. While the bleeding can seem extreme, it will stem after a few minutes of pressure.
TOP TIP: If the broken claw won’t stop bleeding, you can dip the quick in an egg cup of corn flour. This should help a clot to form.
Stay calm! While you may panic, especially if the claw is bleeding, remember your dog will be picking up on your emotions. Anxiety for either of you will only make things worse.
Bathe the lesion in salt water, especially if the injury happened outdoors or your dog has managed to lick or chew at it.
Apply a clean dressing, ensuring the bandage is not too tight. This provides padding to minimize further injury and also keeps your dog’s dirty mouth and tongue away. If needed, use a buster collar to stop your dog from chewing the bandage off.
Be cautious, those in pain may growl and snap when we try to help them. If you don’t feel confident you can safely treat the injury, bring your dog straight to the vet. If very distressed, they may require sedation before they can be treated.
When To Seek Veterinary Help
It is generally advised that all dewclaw injuries are checked by a vet. This is to determine how badly the claw is injured and to prescribe any required medicine. Only very minor breaks, which don’t bother the dog, can be treated at home.
Most dogs will benefit from a few days of anti-inflammatories and pain relief. Antibiotics are sometimes issued to prevent an infection from occurring.
If the claw is hardly attached, the vet will probably be able to remove it consciously. It is important to not leave it hanging, as this causes pain. The remaining stump will be gently cleaned and then dressed.
After removal, it usually only takes one or two days for a scab to form. It is important to keep the wound covered until that time. The claw will grow back as normal within a few weeks.
If the claw is badly broken but still well attached, it will need to be removed under anesthetic. If your dog is prone to dewclaw injuries, your vet may suggest the digit is permanently amputated. When this is done, the claw will never grow back.
During the recovery period, make sure your pooch rests up. There is usually a 5 to 7 day recovery period when vets advise your dog to take it easy. It is sensible to keep walks short and have your dog on a lead at all times when outdoors.
Monitor the claw and surrounding skin closely as your dog heals. Any sign of swelling, redness, or ooze could indicate infection and requires an urgent re-check.
Preventing Dewclaw Injuries
Active breeds are more prone to injury, due to their lifestyle. Hunting and working dogs, in particular, tend to be over-represented. Some breeders and vets advocate removing their dewclaws during neutering, though this practice is largely falling out of favor.
Dewclaws should be kept neat and trimmed at all times. It is easy to forget about these claws when clipping the claws, as they are somewhat hidden away. However, as they do not contact the ground, they are arguably the claws that need to be trimmed the most.
When a dewclaw grows too long, it may curl around. However, there is also a chance it will grow into the skin and cause a painful abscess. This is another reason why trimming it every few weeks is so important.
It can be trickier to see the dewclaw on long-haired breeds and they may curl into the skin before an owner has spotted their length. Signs can include excessive licking, a bad smell, and a limp.
Older dogs tend to have thicker and longer claws which need more regular trimming. These dogs are more prone to overgrown claws, so check those dewclaws at least once a week.
It may help to offer dog food and supplements that contain nail strengthening ingredients such as Biotin and Collagen. Ensure your dog is not deficient in any vitamins or minerals such as Zinc, which can lead to brittle claws.
‘Claw strengthening’ foods that contain lots of Biotin include turkey, eggs, blueberries, and sweet potatoes. So, you could also supplement your dog’s food with a few of these each week.