Dewclaw Avulsion in Dogs: Cookie Breaks Her Dewclaw

Nail injuries, however minor they appear can be extremely painful and might lead to substantial lameness.

The reason for potentially severe bleeding and pain is the quick, which is a collection of blood vessels and nerves. If you ever cut the quick while trimming your dog’s nails, you’re familiar with the outcome.

Why do nails break?

The longer the nail, the easier it snags on things; indoors and outdoors. A nail can even break with an unfortunate landing after a jump. Trauma is the most common cause of toenail injuries.

Other potential dog nail issues include:

  • ingrown nails
  • bacterial infections
  • fungal infections
  • immune-mediated disorders
  • congenital disorders
  • cancer

This is especially likely when the problem involves multiple nails. Further, problems can pile on. For example, a nail trauma can lead to secondary bacterial infections, while other issues can contribute to a higher likelihood of the nail breaking.

Further information: Dog Nail Problems You Should Know About

Dewclaw Avulsion in Dogs: Cookie Breaks Her Dewclaw

Dewclaws

Dewclaws are seemingly useless nails that are located higher up on the foot. Because they don’t get into regular contact with the ground, they don’t wear down as much as other nails and require special attention. Dewclaws are also most likely to fracture.

While it appears that dewclaws serve no function, with closer observation, you would find that is not the case. When the dog is in motion, the dewclaw helps to:

  • stabilize the carpus during gallop or canter
  • supports carpal ligaments during turns

A dog without dewclaws has a higher potential for injuries to carpal ligaments. It leads to more stress on their elbows, shoulders, and even spine.

Further information: Function of Dewclaws 101

Avulsion versus fracture

An injured nail can break or split in half. Avulsion, on the other hand, is when the nail completely rips out of the nail bed.

Cookie’s story

Since she came to us, Cookie already had only one dewclaw on her left leg. We don’t know what happened to the other one; perhaps she ripped it out before we adopted her.

Her injury never bled, and she never limped. However, I think some initial damage happened a day or two before we realized there was a problem.

The first signs

The first thing I noticed was that she was less eager to go for her walk. She always looks forward to getting outside. In the past, every time she hesitated, it was the first red flag that something was wrong.

The day before we discovered the injury, she yelped while we were outside. I didn’t see what happened, and Cookie has a history of unexplained random yelps. Despite our best efforts, we never figured out the cause(s).

The discovery

It wasn’t until the next morning when the issue became clear. As I was going to apply Cookie’s wrist wraps to go out for a walk, I found this thing sticking out sideways from her foot. It looked so odd that at first, I wasn’t sure whether it wasn’t some foreign body. Even though it was at the location where a dewclaw is supposed to be, it looked more like an embedded thorn of some sort.

Dewclaw Avulsion in Dogs: Cookie Breaks Her Dewclaw

I lightly touched it, and I got a major pain response in return. Upon further examination—getting my glasses to peer at it, it became clear that it was Cookie’s dewclaw, sticking out in this unnatural angle. While this was the first time any of my dogs suffered a nail injury, I was quite certain it had to come out.

My concern was how it could be removed without pain and without anesthesia because Cookie’s body doesn’t tolerate sedation.

Getting in touch with the veterinarian

I took a couple of photos and sent them to Cookie’s veterinarian. The veterinarian did agree that the nail was likely ripped from the nail bed and will have to come out.

However, she was confident she might be able to get that done with local anesthetic alone. We arranged an appointment for early in the morning, and we decided to fast Cookie in case she did need to go under. Until then, Cookie had to take it easy to avoid pain and complications in the form of an infection.

The fix

Fortunately, it was an easy fix. The veterinarian examined the dewclaw and was confident she can remove it with local anesthetic.

Cookie complained more about the injection than she did about the dewclaw removal. One good pull took care of things and Cookie could go back home.

She had to wait a couple of days to return to her normal activity, mainly to make sure the area heals and doesn’t get infected.

Preventing nail problems

Regular nail trimming is the most important step in preventing nail injuries. However, mishaps can still occur; Cookie does get her nail trimmed regularly during each of her physical therapy visits.

Cookie’s nails are not fragile. On the contrary, they are hard and strong—it takes a lot of strength to clip them. That might, however be the reason why her dewclaw avulsed rather than broke.


Vocabularly

Dewclaw

Non-weight-bearing toenail inside of dogs’ front legs, located about halfway to the wrist.

Dewclaw avulsion

Dewclaw that ripped from the nail bed.

Related articles:
Nail Injury in a Dog: Keep Your Dog’s Nails Trimmed—Bubba’s Lameness
The Importance of Nail Trimming: What’s The Most Common Problem I See In My Canine Patients?

Further reading:
First Aid for Broken Nails in Dogs
Managing a Broken Toe Nail At Home

Categories: ConditionsDog health advocacyNail injuriesReal-life Stories

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

8 Comments
  1. Poor Cookie, that looks quite painful (and like you said, it looks more like a thorn than a dewclaw.) I’m glad that the vet was able to remove the dewclaw with local anesthesia.

  2. And I thought the dewclaw was useless. Wrong eh? Your post is an education for every single dog owner!

    The whole business sounds painful (empathy 🙂 ) but I am glad Cookie was able to get her claw sorted out quickly. You have an awesome vet to take such quick action.

  3. This was really interesting to read. Both of our dogs have their dewclaws and out of fear of something happening, their hiking boots are a taller design so that it covers them and keeps them from getting caught on random objects while we’re out and about. That being said, as you pointed out, the injury could just as easily happen at home due to a freak accident. You can only take so many steps to keep your pet safe and then you have to rely on dumb luck and the knowledge that you know how to respond properly.

  4. Great post and I make sure Layla gets her nails clipped every 3 months by the groomer as I cannot do it but I keep an eye on all just in case. Am happy Cookie is back to herself and it was an easy fix.

  5. My oldest had his dew claws removed, I wonder if that be contributing to some of his spinal sensitivities in his older years. Very interesting and good to know!

  6. This is very interesting. I have always believed the dewclaw served no purpose, but that it was also the one nail to make sure to be the most careful about. I’m so glad you shared this. My rescue came with no dewclaws. Hers were both surgically removed, I noticed her little scars the first time I trimmed her nails after adopting her. She had a major nail surgery done prior to me adopting her, many of her nails had grown and curled deep into her paw pads.

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