What is the Dewclaw on Cats?

Last Updated on October 8, 2021 by Julia Wilson

What is the dewclaw?

The dewclaw is a rudimentary claw attached to a short digit located on the inside of the cat’s front leg at the wrist. Unlike the other four claws, the dewclaw is non weight bearing and doesn’t make contact with the ground.

While some dog breeds such as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Cao Fila de Sao Miguel, St Bernard, East Siberian Laika and Estrela Mountain have a rear dewclaw, cats don’t. Unlike the front dewclaws, rear dewclaws are poorly connected to the leg and more vulnerable to trauma. These extra digits on dogs are known as hind-limb-specific preaxial polydactyly.

Anatomy

The dewclaw is made up of two bones, the proximal phalanx and the distal phalanx. The distal phalanx contains a pointed ungual process, which is surrounded by the claw. Tendons attach the dewclaw to the inner wrist.

What is the function of the dewclaws? 

The dewclaw is similar to the human thumb, although not quite opposable. It gives the cat additional grip as it climbs up or down a tree and is used to hold prey.

The circled dewclaw on this cat can be seen making contact with the tree which gives the cat extra grip as it descends.
Notice the cat using its dewclaw to grip the head of the toy.

Can cats extend and retract their dewclaw?

As most cat lovers know, cats can partially retract their front claws when not in use which reduces wear and tear. The dewclaw is always extended.

Dewclaw injury

Dewclaw injuries are less common in cats than dogs but they can potentially rip or tear if the claw gets caught and torn off on something.  While not life-threatening, damage to the dewclaw is painful and will need to be treated by a veterinarian who will trim the damaged nail, apply a bandage and may also prescribe pain relief and antibiotics to prevent infection.

Dewclaw removal

Some hunting and working dog breeds have their dewclaw removed to reduce the risk of trauma. It is not necessary to remove a cat’s dewclaw unless it is deformed.

Care

Because the dewclaw doesn’t make contact with the ground, it does not naturally wear down and can grow long enough to curl back into the footpad. Senior cats are at increased risk due to inactivity and loss of flexibility.

Pet owners should check their cat’s claws every 4-6 weeks and trim as necessary, being careful to avoid the quick inside the claw which has a rich blood supply will bleed if nicked.