Can You Declaw a Dog?

Declawing is a controversial topic even when it comes to the family cat. Declawing a dog is dangerous, cruel, and debilitating – barring some kind of a rare health issue. You’d be challenged to even find a certified veterinarian who would do such an inhumane procedure.

To declaw a dog is so unheard of, it’s hard to find real legitimate information on the internet about it. We’ve asked the questions and gotten the answers all in one information-packed article.

The Anatomy of a Dog’s Foot

A dog’s paw is made up of several exterior parts.

  • Claws
  • Digital pads (smaller pads that circle the outside of the paw)
  • Metacarpal/Metatarsal (front and rear “big” paw pad)
  • Dew Clear
  • Carpal pad (above the paw itself on the leg)

Each part of the paw provides an essential function to the dog’s ability to walk, move, run, and pivot. Claws provide traction, balance, and digging ability.

The Anatomy of a Dog’s Claw

Let’s look closer at the claw of a dog. The exterior part you see is the nail. It’s a tough, hard layer that protects the delicate parts underneath. Underneath the nail is the quick, which is an extension of the dog’s circulatory system and is rich with blood supply.

Each dog’s quick might appear differently. If your pup has light-colored nails, look closely or shine a flashlight through the nail. You’ll see the quick underneath the nail surface or it might be visible on the underside of the nail. Dogs with dark-colored nails have a quick that is harder to see.

The nail and quick are connected to the foot bone of the dog, called the metacarpal and metatarsal. Yep, these are the same names as the paw pads, and the name given to the pads explains the bones the pads cover.

What Does Declawing Entail?

While all are separate parts, the claw, quick, and bones are connected as one. There is no easy or painless way to separate them. There is no real veterinary medical reason to do so.

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Declawing is a nice way to say amputation. You are cutting off a part of an animal’s natural form. The technical term for declawing is Onychectomy. Even the dictionary definition of the term doesn’t mention dogs as it’s so unheard of to do.

 onychectomy [on″ĭ-kek´to-me]: Surgically remove the distal phalange of each digit of the forefeet of a cat.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) discourages the act of declawing a cat in a statement that reads in part,

“The AVMA discourages the declawing (onychectomy) of cats as an elective procedure and supports non-surgical alternatives to the procedure.”

The Merck Veterinary Manual speaks to the ethics of declawing a dog,

“The ethical question is whether veterinarians should perform nonessential surgeries, such as tail amputation, ear cropping, devocalization, and declawing. There is evidence that some of these procedures, such as declawing, cause lifelong debilitation, especially if not performed correctly.” 

To declaw a dog would be like cutting a human’s finger off to the first knuckle.

What About the Dewclaw?

If a dog has a thumb, it would be the dewclaw, but it’s not as useful as the thumb of a human, as much as dogs would love to have real thumbs to open jars of peanut butter and doors on their own.

A practical discussion that happens between breeders and veterinarians involves removing the dewclaw of a dog. This is a claw on the side of the foot. Some experts argue the declaw helps with gripping and running. Others, like the American Kennel Club (AKC), say it serves no purpose.

“A “dewclaw” is essentially an extra claw on dogs that serves no function. These can get snagged or torn, causing great pain. Removing the dewclaw shortly after birth protects the dog from a more serious injury later. Tail docking and dewclaw removal are performed shortly after birth before a puppy’s nerves have fully developed and before pain is felt.”      – American Kennel Club

You should decide for yourself, after consulting your veterinarian and breeder, if the dewclaw should be removed from a puppy.

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There are laws around the world that ban the declawing of cats. While no specific mention is made of dogs in these laws, that’s more because it’s just not something that is routinely done due to how absurd it is.

The Humane Society of the United States issued its statement on the declawing of cats.

The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing except for the rare cases when it is necessary for medical purposes, such as the removal of cancerous nail bed tumors.

Another challenge with declawing a dog is that no responsible veterinarian will do it, again, barring extreme health situations that would mandate it.

The Difference Between Cat and Dog Paws

The biggest difference between these two popular pets is that dogs’ nails are always visible, while cats can retract their claws.

Cats can dig, scratch, and cause damage with their fine-pointed nails, while a dog’s nail is rarely the reason the couch pillow was destroyed.

There are supplemental ways to keep cats from scratching or to re-direct their behavior to something like a scratching post or catnip. This can feed their natural instincts without putting them through the painful procedure.

Dog Nail Maintenance

There’s a misconception that declawing is like giving a dog or cat a manicure. This is not the case. A dog manicure is when you trim the dog’s nails. It’s good practice to get your dog used to having their paws, ears, mouth, and underside used to contact from an early age. This will help when it comes time for a nail trim or ear infection check.

Trimming your dog’s nails should be a regular part of their maintenance routine. Nails that are too long can splinter or break, causing the quick to be exposed and causing unnecessary pain for your dog. If you get squeamish doing it or don’t want to risk hurting the dog, plenty of veterinarians’ offices or dog grooming services will safely do it for you.

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NAIL TRIM HACK: Put some peanut butter on a silicone mat while you are trimming your dog’s nails. They’ll be so excited about the peanut butter they won’t even notice what’s going on with their paws. 

If you are going to trim nails on your own, here’s some advice from the AKC:

  • Let the dog sniff the nail trimmer from puppyhood and get them used to the trimmer just touching their nails (do not trim at this time)
  • Start slow. Just trim the very top part off. You can always trim more, but you can’t go back if you trim too much.
  • For a skittish dog, you don’t have to trim all the nails at once. Maybe do 2-3 nails a day before you get all of them.

“If you’ve never clipped a dog’s nails before, you may want to have your veterinarian or vet tech give you a lesson on how to do it,” Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC’s chief veterinary officer, advises.

You can also use a nail grinder to trim the nails if the snip of clippers makes you shudder. Nail grinders also prevent any loose or jagged nails from catching on clothing and carpet.

While you’re trimming the nails, clip the excess hair in the dog’s paw. This will help keep dirt, mud, snow, and rock salt out of the paw pads.

Nailed It

We can’t say it enough. There is no real, practical reason to declaw a dog that isn’t humane for a healthy dog. Any veterinarian who would do it has questionable ethics. You wouldn’t want the top of your fingers removed, and your dog doesn’t either. Good nail hygiene is the best way to keep a dog’s nails in tip-top shape and less likely to do damage.

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