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 one of her dewclaws, and the vet recommended she have them removed. Don’t worry, she was back on her paws in no time! So, that got me thinking about the whole dog dewclaw debate…

Should German Shepherds have their dewclaws removed? German Shepherds’ dewclaws should not be removed unless there is a good reason to do so. However, opinion is divided and some breeders remove puppies’ front dewclaws in their first few days to prevent possible injuries or to improve appearance in future show dogs.

This article will explore all you need to know about German Shepherd dewclaws. We’ll cover exactly what dewclaws are and their purpose, rear dewclaws, show dogs and dewclaws, when and how dewclaws should be removed, and 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

Before we dive straight in, I want to be super clear on something. I’m not a veterinarian, and I’m not giving medical advice. I’m sharing my personal experiences as a German Shepherd owner and all the research I’ve found.

So, let’s now discover the world of German Shepherd dewclaws!

What Are Dog Dewclaws?

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

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

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

Take a look at the below image 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 make contact with the ground when the dog is standing and the name comes from the dewclaw’s so-called tendency to skim the dew away from the tops of the blades of grass.

What is the Purpose of a Dog’s Dewclaw?

A German Shepherd’s front dewclaws have several functions including grip and stability when running:

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

The dog’s front dewclaws may also help them when climbing, for example, to help them to climb out of the water if they’ve fallen through broken ice, or when climbing rough terrain, or to help grasp the bark when climbing trees in some hunting breeds.

Check out this interesting and amazing short video which shows how retriever dogs use their dewclaws to get themselves safely out of icy waters. The video was put together to show how useful dewclaws are to dogs and by removing them can sometimes put them at unnecessary risk:

Dewclaws Do Have a Purpose!

German Shepherds can also use their dewclaws to grasp objects better, for example, food, or when 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.

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

Dr. Zink (who has more letters after her name that I have ever seen!) not only states that the function of a dog’s dewclaw is to support the lower leg and prevent torque when cantering or galloping, but is 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.”

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 a usual practice 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 is 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:

To prevent possible injuriesUsed for traction when running
To prevent a possible infection Used for stability when running
To prevent an ingrown nailUsed for climbing
Improve appearance for showing Used for gripping food or objects
To preventing disease, e.g. a cancerous tumor Used for grooming and scratching
To prevent overgrown dewclaws as people forget to trim them Prevents carpal arthritis or injuries to other joints
Some breeds are required to have them for showing
Useful for agility training to support the legs when doing tight turns

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

This can occur whilst 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. In the house environment, German Shepherd dewclaws can easily snag on carpets or get caught on furniture.

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

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

Do German Shepherds Have Rear Dewclaws?

Some dogs can also have dewclaws on their hind legs and this includes the German Shepherd, although this is rare. My German Shepherd does not have any hind ones. If you think of the rear dewclaws as being the big toes in the canine world however these tend to only be attached by a flap of skin and tissue in contrast to being attached to the bone in front dewclaws.

To make things more interesting, some breeds even have double dewclaws!

Most hind dewclaws are merely genetic anomalies and serve no useful purpose, however, in some dog breeds, they are there to serve a purpose. These breeds include:

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

You may have noticed that these are all large or giant dog breeds. They are also all working dogs, for example, sheep or cattle herders and used for guarding livestock.

They use the rear dewclaw for stability and grip in rough terrain, mountainous regions, or in snowy and icy conditions. Hind dewclaws or double dewclaws are relatively unusual compared to the dog population in general.

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 number of injuries to the rear or double dewclaws being quite low.

Show Dogs and Dewclaws

Should German Shepherds Have Their Dewclaws Removed? German Shepherd Show Dog

So, should I have my German Shepherd’s dewclaws removed for the show ring? If you wish to show your German Shepherd their front dewclaws can either be left on or removed, however, removal of dewclaws on the hind legs is preferred but also not required:

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

UKC German Shepherd Breed Standards

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 then 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 whilst 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, a general anesthetic will always be required.

How Are German Shepherd Dewclaws Removed?

If a German Shepherd breeder chooses to remove puppies 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 underdeveloped. However, some GSD breeders still prefer the vet to perform the removal which is usually done at the first visit. Recovery is quick.

In adult dogs, the surgery is fairly 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 as in rear dewclaws.

Should German Shepherds Have Their Dewclaws Removed? German Shepherd after dew claw removal surgery wearing cone of shame
My German Shepherd “Willow” following her dewclaw removal surgery and 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 repeatedly lick the wound site, however, the threat of the “cone of shame” soon put a stop to 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 not a 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 has to be for a legitimate medical reason.

They take the view that a surgical alteration to the natural state of a dog is only acceptable if it is 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 therefore an injury risk. 

According to the UK Kennel Club, the removal of 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

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

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

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

Although dewclaw injuries can occur, they are quite 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. Whilst jumping up at the kitchen door her nail split. I know she was in considerable pain as she would not let me nor the vet anywhere near her! She had to be sedated whilst the vet trimmed her dewclaw right back as far as possible.

Later in life, my GSD went on to fracture her dewclaw whilst 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 whilst she was a puppy? Of course, hindsight is a wonderful 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 completely remove the damaged dewclaw. In my adult dog’s case, the vet recommended removal due to the fracture.

For maintenance, your German Shepherd’s dewclaws are no different than his other nails, 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 bone of the leg.

Extremely active dogs, such as German Shepherds, may wear down their nails, including their dewclaws, so that nail trims are not necessary but for most dogs, especially the less active, regular trims are needed.

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

The average cost for a vet to remove puppies’ dewclaws can vary somewhere between $35-$45 (£25-£35) depending on the area where you live.

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 for example during 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 whilst 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 at the time!

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. I suppose this is because I had to, having had first-hand experiences!

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.

I think if you have had first-hand involvement like me then this is going to affect your opinion. When it comes down to it, the decision is ultimately up to you.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a 6-year-old female German Shepherd named "Willow," and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with my dog, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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