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Should German Shepherds Have Their Dewclaws Removed?

I hope you don’t find the photo of my German Shepherd’s paws upsetting. If you wonder what happened, she fractured a dewclaw, and the vet recommended having both dewclaws removed. So, that got me thinking about the whole dog dewclaw debate and whether German Shepherds should have their dewclaws removed earlier?

According to veterinarians, German Shepherds’ dewclaws should not be removed unless the dog suffers a dewclaw injury or if you want the dog to participate in conformation, as removal of dewclaws on the hind legs is preferred. Front dewclaws can be left on for the show ring.

This article will explore all you need to know about German Shepherd dewclaws. You’ll learn:

  • The purpose of dewclaws.
  • Rear dewclaws and German Shepherd show dogs.
  • When and how German Shepherd dewclaws should be removed.
  • What to do if your German Shepherd’s dewclaw breaks.
Should German Shepherds Have Their Dewclaws Removed? German Shepherd paws after dewclaws removal showing stitches
My German Shepherd’s paws following dewclaw removal surgery

So, let’s now find out whether German Shepherds should have their dewclaws removed – and I’ll share my experience as a German Shepherd owner.

What Are German Shepherd Dewclaws?

Should German Shepherds Have Their Dewclaws Removed? Anatomical diagram of dog's dewclaw.

German Shepherd dewclaws are simply toenails (claws) located on the upper inner part of their front legs. All dog breeds have dewclaws on their front legs, and they are a normal part of a dog’s anatomy.

They are firmly attached to your German Shepherd’s leg bone via two major tendons and have nerves, blood supply, and muscles, just like your dog’s other toes!

Take a look at the dewclaw image courtesy of Miller’s Guide to the Dissection of the Dog, and you will see what I mean.

To put it another way, try to think of the front dewclaws of your German Shepherd as being the thumbs in humans, although, in most breeds, they are not as mobile or functional as our thumbs.

They do not contact the ground when the dog is standing. The name comes from the dewclaw’s tendency to skim the dew away from the tops of the blades of grass.

Why Do German Shepherds Have Dewclaws?

A German Shepherd’s dewclaws have several functions, including grip and stability when running or gripping food, such as a bone. Their front dewclaws may also help them when climbing, e.g., to allow them to climb out of the water if they’ve fallen through broken ice or when climbing rough terrain.

When dogs run, their front feet often bend to the point where their dewclaws come in contact with the ground. At high speeds (especially when turning) or on slippery surfaces, these dewclaws provide extra traction and help stabilize the carpal (wrist) joint.”

Pet MD

Some hunting breeds will use their dewclaws to help grasp the bark when climbing trees.

German Shepherds use their dewclaws to grasp objects better, such as food, chewing on a bone or toy, or playing with a ball. Some GSDs also like to use them for grooming purposes, especially around the head or for scratching.

Check out this fantastic short video that shows how Retrievers use their dewclaws to get themselves safely out of icy waters. The video was put together to show how valuable dewclaws are to dogs and that removing them can sometimes put them at unnecessary risk:

Dew Claws Do Have a Purpose!

I found this interesting report from Dr. Chris Zink from Canine Sports Productions, a specialist in veterinary pathology and sports medicine and rehabilitation.

Dr. Zink (who has more letters after her name than I have ever seen!) states that the function of a dog’s dewclaw is to support the lower leg and prevent torque when cantering or galloping. It’s also there to prevent carpal arthritis or other injuries, especially in very active dogs:

“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.”

Chris Zink DVM, PhD, DACVP, DACVSMR, CCRT, CVSMT, CVA
Should German Shepherds Have Their Dewclaws Removed? Galloping dog showing dewclaw touching the ground
“In this galloping dog, the dewclaw is in touch with the ground – if the dog needs to turn to the right, the dewclaw will dig into the ground to stabilize the lower leg and prevent torque.”

So why did humans start to remove the dewclaw? It became usual to show certain breeds at dog shows with their dewclaws removed. People believed it gave their dog’s leg a smoother look, thus improving their appearance for showing.

This was when many people started to think it was common practice or normal to remove dewclaws.

So let’s take a look at some of the arguments for and against having your German Shepherd’s front dewclaws removed:

REASONS TO HAVE DEWCLAWS REMOVEDREASONS NOT TO HAVE DEWCLAWS REMOVED
To prevent possible injuriesUsed for traction and stability when running
To prevent a possible infection Used for climbing, gripping food or objects
To prevent an ingrown nailUsed for grooming and scratching
Improve appearance for conformation Prevent carpal arthritis or injuries to other joints
To prevent disease, e.g., a cancerous tumor Some breeds are required to have them for conformation
To prevent overgrown dewclaws as people forget to trim them Useful for agility training to support the legs when doing tight turns
Pros and cons of dewclaw removal

Those German Shepherd breeders who have their puppies’ dewclaws removed within their first few days will say that it helps prevent injuries should the dewclaw become torn or damaged.

This can occur while the GSD is working or playing. Simply running over rough terrain or jumping a fence can cause a painful injury if the claw catches on something. German Shepherd dewclaws can easily snag on carpets or get caught on furniture in the house environment.

Should German Shepherds Have Their Dewclaws Removed? German Shepherd front dewclaws

Although it is scarce, having the dewclaw removed may help prevent disease, for example, a cancerous tumor. I’m not sure about this argument, but that’s just my two cents’ worth!

German Shepherd dewclaws do not touch the ground when the dog is simply walking, so they do not get naturally worn down like their other claws. Therefore, they can become overgrown when owners forget to trim them.

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Do German Shepherds Have Rear Dewclaws?

German Shepherds can have rear dewclaws, although it is rare. Most hind dewclaws are merely genetic anomalies and serve no useful purpose for most breeds, with a few exceptions. Rear dewclaws tend only to be attached by a flap of skin and tissue in contrast to the bone in front dewclaws.

My German Shepherd does not have any hind dewclaws.

Do German Shepherds Have Rear Dewclaws.
German Shepherd Dewclaws

Consider rear dewclaws as the big toes in the canine world! And to make things more interesting, some breeds even have double dewclaws, although hind dewclaws or double dewclaws are relatively unusual compared to the dog population.

Breeds with hind dewclaws include:

  • Pyrenean Mountain Dog (Great Pyrenees)
  • Beauceron
  • Briard
  • Norwegian Lundehund
  • Anatolian Shepherd (Turkish Mountain Dog)
  • Catalan Sheepdog
  • Estrela Mountain Dog (Portuguese Shepherd)
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Icelandic Sheepdog
  • Spanish Mastiff
  • Cao Fila de Sao Miguel
  • East Siberian Laika
  • Saint Bernard

You may have noticed that these are all large or giant dog breeds. They are also all working dogs, such as sheep or cattle herders, and used to guard livestock. They use the rear dewclaw for stability and grip in rough terrain, mountainous regions, or snowy and icy conditions.

It is common for vets to remove double or rear dewclaws to prevent injury, especially if they are loosely attached or dangling down the paw. Again, this is open to debate due to the low number of rear or double dewclaw injuries.

German Shepherd Show Dogs and Dewclaws

If you intend to show your German Shepherd, you may wonder if you should have his dewclaws removed for the show ring.

If you wish to show your German Shepherd, their front dewclaws can either be left on or removed, according to the UKC breed standard. Removal of dewclaws on the hind legs is preferred but also not required. Check the breed standard in your area.

Front dewclaws may be removed but are normally left intact. Removal of rear dewclaws is preferred but not mandatory.” 

UKC German Shepherd Breed Standard
German Shepherds Show Dogs and Dewclaws. German Shepherd Show Dog

Some breeds, for example, the Briard, Icelandic Sheepdog, and the Beauceron are required to have their rear dewclaws intact for showing purposes. Therefore, it’s best to check the specific breed standard for your dog if you plan to put them in the show ring.

In the United Kingdom, there is no requirement within any of the Kennel Club Breed Standards that dewclaws must be removed.

When Should Dewclaws Be Removed?

If a German Shepherd breeder chooses to remove puppies’ dewclaws, the procedure should be done 1-3 days after birth. Sometimes a breeder may remove them straight after birth if they are experienced and confident to do so, but only if the puppy is doing okay.

Some GSD owners choose to have them removed when their dog is spayed or neutered while under anesthetic. Removing your German Shepherd’s dewclaws is an amputation at the end of the day, and unless they are removed within the first few days of birth, they will always require a general anesthetic.

How Are German Shepherd Dewclaws Removed?

If a German Shepherd breeder chooses to remove puppy dewclaws within their first few days of life, they do not need a general anesthetic. A local anesthetic is given, or the pup may be sedated. In other words, the puppy will feel calm but will not be asleep during the removal.

The procedure is performed with no apparent ill effect on the puppies. Pain is minimal as the bones are still soft and muscle tissue is underdeveloped. However, some GSD breeders still prefer the vet to perform the removal, usually done at the first visit. Recovery is quick.

In adult dogs, the surgery is relatively straightforward. Once the German Shepherd has been anesthetized, the vet will disinfect the skin around the nail to prevent any infection.

Surgical instruments are used to cut through the skin, tissue, and muscle to remove the entire toe. The wound is then stitched with dissolvable sutures and bandaged.

Pain relief and antibiotics are usually prescribed. Surgery may be done with a local anesthetic if the digit is not well connected to the leg, like rear dewclaws.

Should German Shepherds Have Their Dewclaws Removed? German Shepherd after dew claw removal surgery wearing cone of shame
My German Shepherd Willow after her dewclaw removal surgery wearing the “cone of shame.”

Your German Shepherd may be required to wear an Elizabethan collar (also known as the “cone of shame”) to prevent them from interfering with the bandages or wound site. Here’s a photo of my GSD feeling sorry for herself after I brought her home from the vets just a few hours after her operation.

The bandages were removed after a week. She did try to lick the wound site repeatedly. However, the threat of the “cone of shame” soon stopped that!

She certainly wasn’t a fan of the plastic cone and somehow managed to remove it herself overnight! She was probably sulking because I refused to let her sleep with me!

My German Shepherd was fully healed in 3 weeks and back to her usual self running through the woods and fields with no care in the world.

Is it Illegal to Remove Dewclaws?

In some countries, it is illegal to remove dewclaws for cosmetic reasons. For example, in Australia and New Zealand, dewclaw removal must be for a legitimate medical reason.

They view that a surgical alteration to the dog’s natural state is only acceptable if necessary for the dog’s health and wellbeing. In practice, vets will remove a German Shepherd’s dewclaws if they hang loosely off the paw and are an injury risk. 

According to the UK Kennel Club, removing a dog’s dewclaws is not currently illegal in the UK. However, this is what they say:

The Kennel Club’s position is that it does not support the cosmetic removal of dewclaws. It does recognize however that in certain individual circumstances the removal of dewclaws is in the best interests of a dog’s welfare.”

UK Kennel Club
German Shepherd Dewclaws

What Do You Do When a Dog’s Dewclaw Breaks?

If you see your German Shepherd biting or chewing a dewclaw, he may have torn it significantly if you had not trimmed it. However, if your dog’s dewclaw breaks, they will be in excruciating pain and need veterinary treatment.

German Shepherd dewclaw injuries can vary. The nail can become partially or wholly pulled off or split, and there is a risk that the dewclaw can become infected.

Although dewclaw injuries can occur, they are pretty rare. However, I think I must be one of the unlucky ones as my German Shepherd has damaged her dewclaws twice!

The first occasion was when she was a puppy. Her nail split when jumping up at the kitchen door. I know she was in considerable pain as she would not let the vet anywhere near her or me! She had to be sedated while the vet trimmed her dewclaw right back as far as possible.

Later in life, my GSD went on to fracture her dewclaw while playing with a football. She yelped in pain whenever the ball touched her paw. She subsequently had both dewclaws surgically removed to prevent any further injuries. Maybe I should have had them removed while she was a puppy? Of course, hindsight is a beautiful thing!

Depending on the damage done and your views on removal, the vet may either trim the nail back (as in my German Shepherd’s case as a puppy) or remove the damaged dewclaw altogether. In my adult dog’s case, the vet recommended removal due to the fracture.

Your German Shepherd’s dewclaws are no different from his other nails for maintenance. However, there is a difference between trimming the nail and removing dewclaws, especially as we have already learned that front dewclaws are attached to the leg’s bone.

Highly active dogs, such as German Shepherds, may wear down their nails, including their dewclaws, so nail trims are unnecessary, but regular trims are needed for most dogs, especially the less active ones.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Dog’s Dewclaw Removed?

The average cost for a vet to remove puppies’ dewclaws can vary between $35-$45 (£25-£35), depending on your area.

Most vets will also charge an initial examination fee. However, most will also offer a discount depending on the number of puppies having the procedure done. The cost of an adult removal will also vary depending on numerous factors, including:

  • the number of dewclaws being removed
  • whether the dog has double dewclaws
  • the complexity of the operation
  • how much muscle and bone is attached to the claw
  • the age of the dog
  • whether it can be carried out while the dog is undergoing other surgery

As the most expensive part of the procedure is the general anesthetic, it is often combined with other surgeries, such as spaying or neutering.

As a rough guide, the cost to remove my German Shepherd’s front dewclaws was $700 (£525). This included her initial examination, medication, and a follow-up visit. Luckily I had pet insurance and was able to make a claim.

When my GSD pup split her nail and had to be sedated while the vet cut it back cost $240 (£180). Unfortunately, this had to come straight out of my pocket as I didn’t have any pet insurance!

Final Thoughts

You now know everything about German Shepherd dewclaws! I have to confess, for a first-time German Shepherd owner, I didn’t know much about them at first, but I have learned along the way.

Opinions on German Shepherd dewclaw removal will always be divided, and this can vary amongst veterinarians, reputable breeders, and dog-lovers. Some swear dogs need them, whereas others believe they serve no useful purpose and are better removed.

If you have had first-hand involvement like me, this will affect your opinion. The decision is ultimately up to you when it comes down to it.

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