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Could Dewclaw Removal Be Bad?

Discussion in 'Doberman Health and News Articles' started by Ingrid H, Dec 30, 2013.

  1. Ingrid H

    Ingrid H Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    First, two disclaimers... 1) I don't like dewclaws on a dog. 2) You can find anything on the internet to support a point of view. But these articles made me think.

    Do the Dew(claws)?
    M. Christine Zink DVM, PhD, DACVSMR

    I work exclusively with canine athletes, developing rehabilitation programs for injured dogs or dogs that required surgery as a result of performance-related injuries. I have seen many dogs now, especially field trial/hunt test and agility dogs, that have had chronic carpal arthritis, frequently so severe that they have to be retired or at least carefully managed for the rest of their careers. Of the over 30 dogs I have seen with carpal arthritis, only one has had dewclaws.

    If you look at an anatomy book (Miller's Guide to the Anatomy of Dogs is an excellent one – see Figure 1 below)
    you will see that there are 5 tendons attached to the dewclaw. Of course, at the other end of a tendon is a muscle, and that means that if you cut off the dew claws, there are 5 muscle bundles that will become atrophied from disuse.

    Those muscles indicate that the dewclaws have a function. That function is to prevent torque on the leg. Each time the foot lands on the ground, particularly when the dog is cantering or galloping (see Figure 2), the dewclaw is in touch with the ground. If the dog then needs to turn, the dewclaw digs into the ground to support the lower leg and prevent torque. If the dog doesn't have a dewclaw, the leg twists. A lifetime of that and the result can be carpal arthritis, or perhaps injuries to other joints, such as the elbow, shoulder and toes. Remember: the dog is doing the activity regardless, and the pressures on the leg have to go somewhere.

    Perhaps you are thinking, "None of my dogs have ever had carpal pain or arthritis." Well, we need to remember
    that dogs, by their very nature, do not tell us about mild to moderate pain. If a dog was to be asked by an
    emergency room nurse to give the level of his pain on a scale from 0 o 10, with 10 being the worst, their scale
    would be 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Most of our dogs, especially if they deal with pain that is of gradual onset, just deal with it and don't complain unless it is excruciating. But when I palpate the carpal joints of older dogs without dewclaws, I frequently can elicit pain with relatively minimal manipulation.

    As to the possibility of injuries to dew claws. Most veterinarians will say that such injuries actually are not very common at all. And if they do occur, then they are dealt with like any other injury. In my opinion, it is far better to deal with an injury than to cut the dew claws off of all dogs "just in case."


    With A Flick of the Wrist by Chris Zink, DVM, PhD
    (as seen in Dogs In Canada – September 2003)

    In the hundreds of agility trials I have attended over the years, only rarely have I seen a dog suffer an acute, serious injury. An exception happened in early May this year. I was relaxing at ringside, enjoying one of the rare rain free moments this spring offered, watching a bi-black Sheltie named 'Shadow' ne- gotiate the Open Jumpers course with smooth abandon. Suddenly the dog took a misstep, completely misjudged where he should take off, and crashed into the jump. As he fell, his front legs landed on the fallen jump bars, and he immediately let out an agonized scream. He was still crying as he was carried out of the ring. I ran over to help and examined the dog in a shady area some distance from the ring.

    Shadow's left front leg was extremely painful and he held it stiffly away from his body. In a few minutes he had relaxed enough for me to determine that there were no major bone breaks. In fact, the main problem appeared to be a severe sprain of the carpus (wrist). Later X-rays not only confirmed my finding, but interestingly showed that the dog had preexisting arthritic changes in the carpal joints of both front legs. Thus, although this dog did have an acute agility injury, he had chronic problems, too. In fact, it is possible that the arthritis contributed to his lack of coordination in approaching the jump.

    Once Shadow was on the mend, his human teammate had many questions for me. How common is carpal arthritis in performance dogs? How painful is carpal arthritis and what can be done to relieve the pain? Will Shadow still be able to play agility, obedience and other fun doggie games? Since carpal arthritis is quite common, I thought I would share the answers in this column.

    In the last several years, while doing sports-medicine consultations for performance dogs across Canada and the United States, I have seen many canine athletes with carpal arthritis. Interestingly, this condition is much more common in dogs that have had their front dewclaws removed. To understand why, it is helpful to understand the structure of the carpus. This joint consists of seven bones that fit together like fieldstones that are used to build the walls of a house (Figure 2).

    The carpus joins to the radia and ulnar bones (equivalent to our lower arm) above, and to the metacarpal bones (equivalent to our hand) below.

    Each bone of the carpus has a convex or concave side that matches a curve on the adjacent bone. Unlike the bones of the elbow, for example (Figure 3),

    the bones of the carpus do not have ridges that slide into interlocking grooves on the adjacent bone. The
    relatively loose fit of the carpal bones is supported by ligaments that join each of the carpal bones to the
    adjacent bones.

    With so many carpal bones that don't tightly interlock with the adjacent bones, the ligaments of this joint
    can be easily stretched and even torn when torque (twisting) is applied to the leg. The dewclaws have the
    important function of reducing the torque that is applied to the front legs, especially when dogs are
    turning at a canter (the main gait used in agility).

    In the canter, there is a moment during each stride when the dog's accessory carpal pad (on the back of
    the carpus) of the lead front leg touches the ground (Figure 1) and the rear legs and other front leg swing forward to prepare for the next stride. At this point, the dewclaw is in contact with the ground and if the dog turns, the dewclaw can dig in for extra traction to prevent unnecessary torque on the front leg. Without the gripping action of the dog's 'thumbs’ there is more stress on the ligaments of the carpus. This may cause the ligaments to stretch and tear over time, resulting in joint laxity and ultimately, arthritis.

    There are many more options for treating dogs with arthritis today than there were just a few years ago.
    Here are some of them.

    1) Weight reduction. The more weight your dog carries around, the more stress there will be on the
    joints. This is a particular problem in dogs with carpal arthritis, because the front legs bear 65 per cent of
    the dog's weight.

    2) Massage. This is an excellent way to prevent excess scar tissue from forming and to keep your dog's
    joints flexible. Make an appointment with a canine massage therapist and learn how to do massage that is
    targeted to your dog's carpi. You can do the massage while you watch television in the evenings.
    Afterward, gently flex and extend your dog's front legs two to three times to help promote flexibility.

    3) Acupuncture. Acupuncture is often very helpful in relieving joint pain and slowing the progression of

    4) Chiropractic adjustments. Many dogs with painful joints will benefit from regular chiropractic
    adjustments because they are using their muscles unevenly to avoid pain on one side or the other

    5) Joint-protective nutraceuticals. There are many products on the market, and all are not created equal, so be sure to buy a product from a reputable company. For best results use a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and cetylmyristolate (CM).

    6) Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory food and supplements. Feed your dog natural antioxidant
    foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits that contain vitamin C. Supplement his diet with vitamins E and
    B and an appropriate combination of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

    7) Anti-inflammatory drugs.

    8) Moderate ongoing exercise. Dogs with arthritis need enough exercise to keep their muscles strong
    so that they support the joints, but not so much that it causes excessive wear and tear on the joints and
    the ligaments that support them. Moderation is the key. Dogs should get a moderate amount of balanced exercise each day, and avoid being weekend warriors. Avoid high-impact exercise as much as possible. For example, don't use stairs as a way to exercise your dog because of the impact on descending, and don't let him run over rough, uneven ground.

    Have your dog jump full height only about 10 per cent of the time during training, and only on surfaces
    that are smooth and appropriately cushioning, such as thick grass or properly prepared dirt (arena)
    surfaces. Swimming is a great exercise for arthritic dogs.

    Even if your dog doesn't currently suffer from arthritis, keep this article for later. If you should be lucky
    enough to have your canine companion in his senior years, these tips may make it possible for him to
    keep running and playing like a youngster.

    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 30, 2013
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  2. jmorposmo

    jmorposmo Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    This is really interesting - thanks for sharing! It makes me think about how since they are born with it - it must have some purpose, right?
    • Like Like x 3
  3. dh8

    dh8 Hot Topics Subscriber

    Great articles with really good info!!! Thanks!
    • Like Like x 2
  4. FredC

    FredC Guest

    Id be interested in researching this more might just have to rethink my Dew Claw policy..
    • Like Like x 3
  5. JanS

    JanS DCF Owner Administrative Staff Moderator Hot Topics Subscriber

    That is interesting! I guess little boys are still born uncircumcised, but a large percentage are still done. I realize that's not the same as the functionality they're talking about here though.
    • Like Like x 2
  6. FredC

    FredC Guest

    lol little girls are born without holes in their ears but a large percentage of them wind up with ear rings. :) What the heck does a circumcision have to do with tendons connected to dew claws in sporting dogs?

    I'd ask my Veterinarian about this but he always seems to get ornery when i bring up stuff i read from the internet.. lol once he even asked me when i became a Veterinarian. ugh!! And i think he even charged me more then usual that day.. :p
    • Like Like x 3
  7. JanS

    JanS DCF Owner Administrative Staff Moderator Hot Topics Subscriber

    I said it doesn't, but was more referring to the quote from below.

    • Like Like x 1
  8. FredC

    FredC Guest

    lame attempt at humor i suppose.
  9. Judith

    Judith Hot Topics Subscriber

    very interesting Ingrid, Bella's were removed before we got her at eight week but all her puppies had their dewclaws left on, Buddy has never had any problems with his I just keep them well trimmed down.
  10. Archer

    Archer Moderator Hot Topics Subscriber

    Interesting article. Archer has his dewclaws. I am interested in watching him now as he runs to see what they mean about contact with the ground etc. I see him use them all the time for grip and stability as he holds things in his feet. He is more dextrous with his feet than my other dogs (who had their dews removed). Perhaps this is because of the increased tendon use.
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  11. FredC

    FredC Guest

    Kali came to us with Dew Claws and we had them surgically removed to compete in the AKC Conformation ring.
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  12. iceman

    iceman Active Member

    we don't remove dew claws in Europe...
    • Like Like x 4
  13. jmorposmo

    jmorposmo Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    Yeah, circumcision is a cosmetic procedure and actually not as many are getting it as were 20+ years ago. A lot of insurance companies don't cover it anymore due to the fact that it is now looked at purely cosmetic - unless there are certain issues that arise. And the prepuce does have a function - to protect the glans. So definitely different functions of the two things, but I'd say that in some ways it is comparable. All around a very interesting article though.
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  14. Rits

    Rits Admin Administrative Staff Moderator Hot Topics Subscriber

    Both of my girls have their dews and I witness them using theirs all the time when running, chewing bones, or standing up to grab onto something. I personally wish to leave them be as long as they are tight and tucked up along the leg. In really rigorous activities for precautionary measures you can buy wraps that keep the dew tucked even more along the leg and it also serves as a dual purpose for leg protection.
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  15. Dobs4ever

    Dobs4ever Hot Topics Subscriber

    This is certainly an interesting discussion as you all know where I stand or should I say strongly stand I see it differently. For example we know when a dog looses a leg they (the rest of the body learns to compensate and adapt) These are my concerns - The muscles attached to the tendons to the dew claw are not large muscles and they do not in any way have conscious control and knowledgeable movement. By that I mean the dog can't actually control, guide or move the dew claw on a conscious level as other parts of the leg or tail for an example.

    When the dog is holding the bone the dew is sticking out there so it can and does support the bone but it can't be moved to support so I see it as a prop not a vital necessary tool. My dogs hold bones just fine and do not struggle. Now about the dew gripping the ground in turns. When I look at the picture of the dog above running it has a totally different paw and leg design than our Doberman. The paw bends more than our dogs and that puts the dew lower to the ground so it drags when they turn and it is somewhat protected by the long hair and undercoat. Our Dobermans do not have that added layer of protection so are more prone to injury.

    I would guess more dogs have them removed than not as they are ugly and almost look deformed on the Doberman because they are so prominent and that could I said COULD account for the increased # you see with problems so it might have nothing to do with the early removal but sheer numbers where so many would get it regardless. Amount of jumping, twisting and turning etc would play a big role again that would have an affect that might just as easily not be associated directly with the removal of the dew. Most dogs have both front and back dews........the doberman only has front dews for the most part. What happened to the back ones???? If you want to believe evolution which I don't then they became useless as the front one and soon they will disappear. (that was meant to add a little humor to the discussion)
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  16. Ingrid H

    Ingrid H Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    I was very interested to hear your opinion on this subject. I noticed a major difference in the paw/leg design in the examples provided and wondered if this even applied to Dobermans. The dogs provided as examples are mostly Border Collies. I don't think I've ever seen a Doberman's foreleg bend in that way almost like a hyper-extension...

    Your point about the author encountering increased numbers of dogs without dewclaws is very likely as well since she specializes in dog sports medicine and would not have many patients with dewclaws intact.
  17. Dobs4ever

    Dobs4ever Hot Topics Subscriber

    Thank Ingrid - I did not want to come off as argumentative but I do see it differently and have read this argument on other list. My opinion has not changed due to the very different design of the Doberman leg. Thanks for understanding. I only wanted to contribute ...........................................
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  18. ServiceDogUser

    ServiceDogUser Notable member

    I've seen articles like this one before that state the dew claw has use, and based on my reading and understanding, I do agree with them. With that said, I agree with D4E that the dogs they're mostly looking at are structurally different than Dobermans, as well as a few other breeds. I would really like to see a study done on Dobes and some of the other breeds; I think the findings would be very interesting.

    I do also have to say that as a service dog handler, I hate, HATE dewclaws. Why? Because it is nearly impossible to find a boot that fits correctly, doesn't rub, and stays on with a dog with a dewclaw.

    The OES/Spoodle mix that we're training for someone didn't have his dewclaws done when he was a puppy. It's very unfortunate because his hind ones are not attached to anything. They're very loose. He's already gotten one caught a couple of times, and I told his person that when it comes time to neuter him, she had better remove them too.
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  19. Cariboo Country

    Cariboo Country Hot Topics Subscriber

    I was quite surprised when I got Kris that although they had docked her tail, she still had her front dew claws. I don't mind as I intend to do Agility with her so it is no problem. The Vet in our area will not dock tails or remove front or back dew claws so maybe they did not have a vet dock her tail so probably would not have taken the dew claws off.
  20. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    Our pup has his dewclaws. It's my first Dobe that has had them left intact. I didn't want them. That article was certainly interesting though.

    The pic of the dog running that has its lower front leg bent in half is pretty wild. I really doubt a Doberman's leg bends that much.

    I will say, however, that given how quick and agile my pup is, I can see it being true that he gets use out of his dewclaws when he makes his turns. He gets really low and cuts hard. He's from working lines and isn't one of your real big, impressive looking Dobes (at least not at this point). His head is small to my eye. Looks terrible sometimes, but I have a theory it helps him be quicker.

    Downside of the dewclaws if of course: It does suck when he puts those feet on you. We have worked hard from the beginning to rid him of the behavior, but he seems to have a particular affinity for swiping at people with his paws, and even wrapping his legs around and hugging people's legs. If you wear shorts, you're in trouble. I always wear shorts, but fortunately he almost never does it to me.

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