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Doggie Dew Claw Danger!

June 12, 2009 - Amy Jo Hanna
We had a little doggie dew claw emergency last week. Mazey somehow ripped both of her dew claws off of her front paws within a few days of each other. To be honest I don’t know if she got them caught in the carpet and they ripped so she chewed them the rest of the way off or if they fell off.

I eventually found both nails intact and both looked relatively undamaged except for the break point. However the quick (the nerve-filled area you try not to cut into when you trim your dogs/cats nails) was fully exposed on one paw – very raw and sore. It did not look infected although I started a regimen of applying antibiotic ointment (much to her dismay). The exposed quick was extremely tender to the touch and Mazey cried every time I got near. Mazey has never winced at a thing in the three years since I’ve had her.

The other dew claw almost looked as though it had dried up and fallen off. It wasn’t nearly as sensitive as the exposed quick.

Of all the dogs I’ve had over the years, I have never encountered a problem with a dew claw or ripped nail.  First let me say, those bad boys can bleed. Don’t let the amount of blood get you too worked up until you can properly assess the situation. It’s kind of like a cut on the forehead, mega amount of blood even if the cut is small.

Dew claws are the strangely placed nails located high up on the front paws. At one point (in days gone by) they were useful to dogs (supposedly – even though no one can really say for sure what they were used for -- apparently dog’s legs were designed to sit much lower to the ground and the dew claw served as another nail to help propel and aid the animal in moving and capturing prey, etc.). Today, not so much thanks to breeding and over-breeding. Most dogs don't even have dew claws on their back paws any longer.

You may see some dogs still using their dew claws. My Jesse, was able to use hers to help hold on to her big ‘old bones while gnawing away.  For most dogs, however, they no longer have a use for them.

For hunting/bird dogs, dew claws can almost be a hazard. They can easily become stuck in wooded areas, swamps, rivers or wherever they are hunting/running. If the dew claw rips it does hurt just like having your own nail ripped off.

Ask your vet but I think you’ll find they’ll agree that dew claws really serve no purpose. If you don’t have a sporting dog and the most exercise your dog gets is reaching for a bone, you may wish to leave the dew claw alone and keep it trimmed.

However, if you do have an active breed, consider having the dew claws removed when the dog is still a month or two old. At this young age, the bone has not formed yet and the nail area is basically just a mass of cartilage. It’s a relatively painless procedure for the puppy and recovery is quick. However, if you wait until the dog gets any older than a month or two, the bone (finger) will have begun to form. You’ve waited too late and having a dew claw removed at this late date becomes major surgery – just like having your finger removed – bone and all. Don’t do this to your dog.

I don’t know why Mazey lost either of her dew claws. I am completely puzzled. However a few nights later I found the area behind the tv where she lays where she had lost the first one. At first I thought I saw a spot of blood, then I started scrubbing. I was horrified at the amount of blood I kept pulling from the carpet. I had the get the rug scrubber out. An hour later I was satisfied I had gotten as much out of the carpet as I could.  That poor dog had to have bled like crazy from her nail and I had no idea. That’s the problem. Dogs/cats/animals in general will hide when they are injured. It’s their natural instinct. It’s how they protect themselves from natural predators (or human owners who are going to want to thoroughly clean the wound and apply medicine that will sting).

Mazey’s exposed quick is still sensitive after a week but I have been watching closely for any signs of infection.

There is also debate as to whether a dog licking/cleaning their own wound is the best medicine or not. In this case, it did seem to be for Mazey but then again, I’ve also been applying antibiotic ointment. The only treatment she had for a day though was her own licking until I discovered what had happened.

I felt like the most terrible mother in the world until I started exploring on the web and learned that the loss of a dew claw is not all that uncommon. Many people have experienced the same with their dogs. It was somewhat comforting to learn how others dealt with ripped nails, exposed quicks, etc. and none of us have yet to have an all out heart-attack from the experience. Yet.
** HELPFUL HINT ** If you don't have any styptic powder at the house to stop a bleeding nail, cornstarch will work just as well.


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