What is a dew claw?

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Most cats have four toes on each foot, and then higher up, on the inside of each of their front feet is an additional, shortened toe called a dew claw. If you were to look at an x-ray of a cat’s paw, you would notice that the bones of their front feet look very similar to human hands, with the dew claw looking like a very short thumb.

The dew claw is not really a thumb. It cannot be used to pick up things the way a human opposable thumb can do. However, cats do use the thumb to help them grasp prey. Anyone who has had their cat grab their hand and hold on tight will recognize this ability. You may also see your cat using his paws to grab toys in a similar manner.

The dew claw may not wear down as well as other claws when cats sharpen their nails, so pay careful attention to this claw to keep it properly trimmed. Occasionally, a dew  claw will grow too long and curl around, possibly piercing the cat’s skin or paw pad.

Use sharp nail trimmers and take off only the sharp, curved tip of the nail, staying clear of the pink “quick” to avoid causing pain. Choose a time when your cat is sleepy and relaxed. If you can’t trim all of their claws in one sitting, it is OK to do one paw, take a break and even wait until the next day to do the next paw. If your cat becomes stressed, frightened or aggressive, discontinue trimming his nails immediately.

Some cats simply will not allow you to trim their nails. In this case, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about safe, humane options for trimming your feline’s nails.

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