“Understanding Dog Behavior: The Curious Case of Dew Claw Licking”

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Dog Licking Dew Claw

Dog Licking Dew Claw: Dogs exhibit various behaviors that often leave us puzzled or curious. One such behavior is licking their dew claws. Dew claws, the small claw-like digits on the inner side of a dog’s paw, often catch the attention of both pet owners and veterinarians due to their unique position and occasional licking behavior.


In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the reasons behind why dogs lick their dew claws, exploring biological, behavioral, and potential health-related explanations. By the end, you’ll have a deeper understanding of this intriguing canine behavior.


Dog Licking Dew Claw


1. Anatomy of Dew Claws

Dew claws are small, often vestigial, claw-like digits located on the inner side of a dog’s paw, positioned higher up the leg than the other toes. Unlike the primary claws on a dog’s paw, which typically make contact with the ground during walking, dew claws are less functional and do not typically touch the ground. They vary in size and shape among different breeds and may even be absent in some breeds.(Dog Licking Dew Claw)


Anatomy of Dew Claws


Dew claws are thought to be evolutionary remnants, analogous to thumbs in humans, and while they serve little purpose in modern dogs, they can occasionally be used for grasping objects or providing stability during certain activities like climbing or turning. However, their proximity to the leg makes them more prone to injury, and they can sometimes become snagged or torn, leading to discomfort or health issues if not properly maintained.



2. Evolutionary significance of dew claws

Dew claws, situated on the inner side of a dog’s paw, hold evolutionary significance as vestigial remnants of ancestral digits. While they vary in functionality across breeds, these claws are thought to have once served a purpose in ancestral canids, potentially aiding in traction during climbing or grasping prey. Despite their diminished role in modern dogs, dew claws persist as evolutionary artifacts, reflecting the evolutionary journey of canines and offering insight into their ancestral behaviors and adaptations.(Dog Licking Dew Claw)



Read more: Why Is My Dog Licking Their Dew Claw?



3. Variations in dew claws across different dog breed

 Variations in dew claws across different dog breeds are quite common and can be observed in both their presence and structure. While some dog breeds have dew claws on all four paws, others may have them only on the front or rear paws, and some breeds may even have double dew claws on one or more paws.


Additionally, the size, shape, and positioning of dew claws can vary significantly between breeds, ranging from well-developed and functional to small and rudimentary. These variations are often influenced by genetic factors and reflect the breed’s evolutionary history and selective breeding practices.(Dog Licking Dew Claw)


For example, breeds with working or hunting backgrounds may have dew claws that are more developed and functional, potentially aiding in tasks such as gripping or climbing, while breeds with less active lifestyles may have smaller or absent dew claws. Understanding these variations can provide insight into the breed’s behavior, anatomy, and historical purpose.



4. Why Is My Dog Licking Their Dew Claw?

If your dog is licking their dew claw, several reasons could be behind this behavior. Firstly, it might be a natural grooming instinct. Dogs frequently lick their paws as part of their grooming routine, and the dew claw area is no exception. However, excessive licking could indicate an underlying issue, such as irritation or discomfort.(Dog Licking Dew Claw)


Anatomy of Dew Claws


Your dog may be licking their dew claw due to physical discomfort, such as an injury, infection, or irritation caused by a foreign object. In some cases, dogs may lick their dew claws out of boredom, stress, or anxiety, much like other repetitive behaviors they may exhibit.


Additionally, certain medical conditions, such as allergies or skin disorders, could lead to itchiness in the dew claw area, prompting licking as a response. It’s essential to monitor your dog’s behavior closely and consult with a veterinarian if you notice excessive licking or any signs of discomfort or irritation in the dew claw area.



Read more: Dewclaws in Dogs: All You Need to Know



5. What Is the Purpose of a Dew Claw on a Dog

The purpose of a dew claw on a dog has been a subject of evolutionary interest and debate. Dew claws are the small, sometimes vestigial, digits located higher up on the inside of a dog’s front or hind legs, resembling a thumb in humans. While their exact function in modern dogs is not as prominent as that of the primary claws, dew claws are believed to have served various purposes in the evolutionary history of canines.


One hypothesis suggests that dew claws were once functional digits used for gripping and climbing, especially in ancestral canids that inhabited diverse environments. They may have provided additional traction on rough terrain or aided in grasping prey during hunting activities. Additionally, dew claws could have contributed to stability and agility during swift movements or turns. However, as dog species evolved and adapted to different lifestyles and environments, the necessity for dew claws diminished in some breeds, leading to their reduced size or functionality. Nonetheless, dew claws still hold significance as evolutionary remnants, providing insights into the ancestral behaviors and adaptations of dogs.



6. Symptoms and types

Dog’s dewclaws are the small digits slightly higher up a dog’s leg than their other toes. They are similar to human thumbs. All dogs are born with front dewclaws, and some have hind and front dewclaws too.


Anatomy of Dew Claws


Hind dewclaws tend to be less well attached and floppier than front dewclaws, so they are more likely to get damaged. Another common problem with dewclaws is that the nail can grow too long and become ingrown, resulting in the dewclaws removed by a vet. (Dog Licking Dew Claw)


If your dog has an injury to its dewclaw or the surrounding skin, you might notice them licking at it excessively. If the nail is torn off the nail bed, there might be a lot of bleeding. If the dog’s declaws have an injury severe or is particularly painful, you might notice them limping on the affected leg, and you’d need to visit a vet and acquire some veterinary medicine to treat the pain and sometimes have a dewclaw removal.(Dog Licking Dew Claw)



7. Understanding the diagnostics

If your dog’s dewclaws are damaged, most dogs will visit a vet where a member of our veterinary team will need to check on the broken dewclaws. 


Sometimes sedation is necessary if your dog is too painful to be examined. The vet can determine whether the dog’s dewclaw is cracked, split, or detached by seeing how dogs react when they make contact with the ground. 


Depending on the damage, ingrown nails or infected dewclaw on the hind leg, the vet can also decide whether the nail is still viable or needs removal. They may also check that the other nails are not overgrown. 


If the veterinarian is unsure whether there is a fracture, they may recommend an x-ray of the foot so that treatment can allow the dog to heal properly. 


Equally, if there is a foul smell or the wound looks infected, they may prescribe antibiotics. If antibiotics don’t resolve the problem, they might need to take a swab to see which bacteria are causing the infection.


Long dewclaws can get caught on undergrowth, branches, and other obstacles, especially if the nails are not kept at the proper length. In certain breeds, this can cause the nail to rip off the nail bed, causing bleeding and pain and leaving the area exposed to bacteria.(Dog Licking Dew Claw)


Read more: Understanding Your Dog’s Strange Behavior: A Comprehensive Guide


8. Best treatment options

Veterinary Examination: Before initiating any treatment, it’s crucial to have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues that may be causing discomfort or irritation in the dew claw area. The vet can assess for infections, injuries, or other conditions that may require medical attention.


Healthcare Interventions: Depending on the veterinarian’s findings, treatment options may include antibiotics for infections, wound care for injuries, or surgical removal of overgrown or damaged dew claws. Addressing any underlying health issues can often alleviate the need for excessive licking.


Environmental Enrichment: Dogs may lick their dew claws out of boredom or stress, so providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation can help reduce the behavior. Interactive toys, regular exercise, and positive reinforcement training can keep your dog engaged and mentally stimulated.(Dog Licking Dew Claw)


Behavioral Modification: If dew claw licking is determined to be a behavioral issue, working with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist can be beneficial. They can help identify triggers for the behavior and implement behavior modification techniques to redirect your dog’s focus and discourage licking.


Protective Measures: In cases where dew claw licking is causing irritation or injury, protective measures such as using an Elizabethan collar (cone) or covering the dew claws with bandages or protective sleeves may be necessary temporarily to prevent further licking and allow the area to heal.


Regular Grooming: Keeping your dog’s dew claws properly trimmed and groomed can help prevent overgrowth and reduce the likelihood of irritation or injury that may lead to licking. Consult your veterinarian or a professional groomer for guidance on safe grooming practices.(Dog Licking Dew Claw)


Medication: In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help alleviate itching, discomfort, or anxiety that may be contributing to dew claw licking. This may include topical creams or oral medications to address underlying issues or manage symptoms.


Monitoring and Follow-Up: Regardless of the treatment approach taken, it’s essential to monitor your dog closely for any changes in behavior or signs of discomfort. Follow up with your veterinarian as needed to ensure that the treatment plan is effective and to address any ongoing concerns.


Overall, the best treatment options for dew claw licking in dogs involve a combination of veterinary care, environmental management, behavior modification, and grooming practices tailored to address the specific needs and underlying causes of the behavior in your dog. Working closely with your veterinarian and implementing a comprehensive treatment plan can help alleviate discomfort and promote your dog’s overall well-being.



9. Home remedies and their effectiveness

While home remedies may offer some relief for minor cases of dew claw licking or as complementary support to veterinary treatment, it’s essential to proceed with caution and consult with your veterinarian before trying any home remedies. Here are some home remedies commonly suggested for dew claw licking in dogs, along with their potential effectiveness:


Epsom Salt Soaks: Soaking your dog’s paw in warm water mixed with Epsom salt can help soothe irritation and reduce inflammation. Epsom salt has natural anti-inflammatory properties and can promote healing. However, it’s essential to ensure that the water is not too hot and to monitor your dog during the soak to prevent ingestion of the saltwater.


Aloe Vera Gel: Aloe vera gel is known for its soothing and moisturizing properties and may help relieve itching and irritation in the dew claw area. Use a small amount of pure, organic aloe vera gel and apply it gently to the affected paw. Avoid using products containing alcohol or other additives, as these can be harmful if ingested.


Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Rinse: Some people suggest using a diluted solution of apple cider vinegar as a rinse for irritated or infected dew claws. ACV has antimicrobial properties and may help kill bacteria or fungi that could be contributing to the problem. Mix one part ACV with one part water and apply it to the affected area using a clean cloth or cotton ball. However, be cautious as ACV can sting if applied to open wounds, and some dogs may find the scent unpleasant.


Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has moisturizing and antimicrobial properties and can help soothe dry, irritated skin. Apply a small amount of organic, cold-pressed coconut oil to the affected paw and gently massage it into the skin. Coconut oil is safe for dogs to ingest in small amounts, but excessive licking may lead to gastrointestinal upset.


Calendula Cream: Calendula cream, derived from the marigold plant, is often used topically to promote wound healing and reduce inflammation. Apply a thin layer of calendula cream to the affected area, taking care to avoid any open wounds. Calendula cream is generally safe for dogs, but individual sensitivities or allergies may occur.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Adding omega-3 fatty acid supplements to your dog’s diet may help improve skin and coat health, reducing the likelihood of dry, itchy skin that could lead to dew claw licking. Fish oil supplements are a common source of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs. Consult your veterinarian for appropriate dosage recommendations based on your dog’s size and health status.


Oatmeal Bath: Oatmeal baths can help soothe itchy, irritated skin and provide relief for dogs suffering from allergies or dermatitis. Grind plain, uncooked oatmeal into a fine powder and mix it with warm water to create a soothing bath for your dog. Allow your dog to soak in the oatmeal bath for 10-15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with clean water.


It’s important to note that while these home remedies may offer temporary relief for mild cases of dew claw licking, they are not a substitute for proper veterinary care. If your dog’s dew claw licking persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as swelling, redness, discharge, or limping, it’s crucial to seek professional veterinary advice promptly. Your veterinarian can diagnose the underlying cause of the behavior and recommend appropriate treatment options to address the root cause effectively.




Why would you remove a dewclaw?

Usually, dewclaws aren’t removed unless they are repeatedly damaged. There are exceptions to this rule, though. The first is working dogs, who can have their dew claws removed a few days after birth as a preventative measure. The other exception is removing hind dewclaws at neutering or at around six months of age in dogs whose lifestyles put them at high risk of dewclaw injuries.


Is removing dewclaws cruel?

All dogs are born with front dewclaws, and these are more firmly attached than the hind dewclaws. They are essentially another toe or the equivalent of a human thumb. Therefore, removal of the front dewclaws without justification is mutilation and is undoubtedly cruel.


Hind dewclaws are a residual extra digit, which is not supposed to be there. This is why they tend not to be attached firmly with bone and sometimes are just extensions of the skin. Removal of hind dewclaws is far more justifiable, but each dog is different.


Why do dogs lick their dew claws?

Dogs can lick their dew claws for many reasons. If they have a nail bed infection, this can cause them to lick their dewclaw. Similarly, if they are in pain because the dewclaw is damaged or ingrown, they will often lick the area.


What are dew claws, and where are they located on a dog’s body?

Dew claws are small, often vestigial, digits located on the inner side of a dog’s front or hind legs, resembling a thumb in humans. They are situated higher up on the leg than the primary claws and may not touch the ground when the dog is standing or walking.


Do all dog breeds have dew claws, or are they specific to certain breeds?

Not all dog breeds have dew claws, and their presence can vary among breeds. Some breeds have dew claws on all four paws, while others may have them only on the front or rear paws. Additionally, certain breeds, such as Great Pyrenees and Saint Bernards, are known for often having double dew claws on their rear legs.


What is the purpose of dew claws in dogs, and do they serve any functional role today?

Dew claws are believed to have served various purposes in the evolutionary history of dogs, such as gripping, climbing, and stability. While they may have had more functional significance in ancestral canids, their role in modern dogs is often minimal. However, some breeds, particularly those with working or hunting backgrounds, may still use dew claws for tasks like gripping objects or providing stability during certain activities.


Are dew claws similar to regular claws, or do they have different characteristics?

Dew claws generally resemble regular claws in appearance but are often smaller and positioned higher up on the leg. They are attached to the limb by a combination of bone, tendons, and muscles, similar to other claws, but their placement and size may vary among breeds.


Can dew claws be removed, and what are the reasons for or against dew claw removal?

Dew claw removal, known as onychectomy, is a surgical procedure that involves amputating the dew claws. It can be done for various reasons, including preventing injuries, reducing the risk of dew claw-related health issues, or conforming to breed standards.


However, there is debate among veterinarians and dog owners regarding the necessity and ethics of dew claw removal, with some arguing that it can cause unnecessary pain and compromise the dog’s natural anatomy.


How common are dew claw injuries in dogs, and what are the potential consequences?

Dew claw injuries are relatively common in dogs, particularly those with longer or more exposed dew claws. Common injuries include torn or broken dew claws, which can result from snagging on objects or excessive force during physical activities. If left untreated, dew claw injuries can lead to pain, infection, and even permanent damage to the dew claw or surrounding tissues.


Do dew claws require any special care or maintenance compared to other claws?

Dew claws may require additional attention compared to other claws due to their location and potential for injury. Regular trimming and grooming can help prevent overgrowth and reduce the risk of snagging or tearing. Additionally, monitoring for signs of injury or irritation and seeking prompt veterinary care if needed is important for maintaining dew claw health.


Are there any specific dog breeds known for having particularly well-developed dew claws?

Certain dog breeds are known for having well-developed dew claws, often as a result of their historical roles or environmental adaptations. Breeds like the Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, Briard, and Anatolian Shepherd are among those known for frequently having double dew claws or larger, more prominent dew claws.


Can dew claws cause any health issues or complications if not properly managed?

If not properly managed, dew claws can be prone to injuries, infections, and other health issues. Torn or broken dew claws can lead to pain, bleeding, and infection, while overgrown dew claws may become snagged or cause gait abnormalities. Additionally, neglecting dew claw care can result in discomfort and reduced mobility for the dog.


Are there any instances where dew claws may need to be examined or treated by a veterinarian?

Dew claws should be examined regularly as part of routine veterinary care to check for signs of injury, infection, or overgrowth. Additionally, dogs experiencing pain, limping, or other signs of dew claw-related issues should be evaluated by a veterinarian promptly. Treatment may include wound care, trimming, or surgical intervention depending on the nature and severity of the problem.



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