Do Dogs Have Retractable Claws? [Claw Anatomy]

Most dogs do not have retractable claws. Retractable claws are only found in a few breeds originating from cold climates. Unlike cats, dogs rely on their claws for balance and stability. If the claws retracted, dogs would not dig or climb rocks as easily.

So why don’t all dogs have retractable claws? Unlike their feline friends, dogs don’t use their paws for defense or hunting. They use them in more subtle ways, like movement and grip.

To better understand why most dogs don’t have retractable claws, it will be beneficial to examine the anatomy of their claws.

What are Dog Claws Made of?

There is a misconception that dogs have nails, but in reality, they have claws (much different than nails). Their claws are made of keratin, much like our nails (although that’s where the differences end).

Keratin is a fibrous protein that forms the main structural component of hair, feathers, hooves, and claws. Claws are often oval-shaped, but unlike our nails, claws are attached to their bones.

Claws protrude from the phalanx bones at the end of their toes, possessing many nerves and blood vessels which makes them highly sensitive.

Dogs also have dewclaws, coined as “the extra claw” on your dog’s paw. It grows on the higher part of the foot and does not touch the ground when the dog is standing. They are similar to a thumb for humans.

Although dewclaws are often removed, they are not entirely useless. Dogs in the wild rely on dewclaws to help grip and balance, especially when climbing on rocky terrain.

Why Do Cats Have Retractable Claws But Not Dogs?

Dogs use their claws to move around more than cats do. Despite being sensitive, they are much stronger than cat claws. Dog claws are used to dig, climb, maneuver, and provide traction. They are also used for holding/ gripping items/food and catching prey.

Retractable claws (like those found on a cat) are used to climb, catch prey, and for self-defense. Cats still have their retractable claws to do all that and more.

Cats rely on their paws when hunting prey (dogs rely more on their strength, teeth, and jaws). A cat’s claws are retractable because it prevents them from becoming dull from wear or tear. The sharper the claws, the easier it will be for them to hunt.

Some Dogs Breeds Do Have Retractable Claws

Retractable claws are found in a few dog breeds. Their environment makes them more dependent on claws than their counterparts. These breeds include the Siberian Husky, Samoyed, and Alaskan Malamute.

Siberian Husky

Siberian Huskies are hard-working dogs bred from Serbia. They were used as sled dogs back in the day (and sometimes still are!).

It is common for them to be mistaken for Alaskan Malamutes because of their similar physical characteristics. The best way to tell them apart is by their fur and erect triangle ears.

Siberian Huskies have retractable claws because they are often on ice. They use their claws to grip the ice and move through the snow swiftly with ease.

Samoyed

Another hard-working dog breed that has retractable claws is the Samoyed. Like the Siberian Huskies, they are native to Siberia. Unlike Huskies, however, their coat is usually all white. They use their retractable claws to move through the icy terrain with ease and for self-defense.

Alaskan Malamute

Like the Samoyed dog and Siberian Husky, these dogs thrive in cold habitats. They are similarly used as sled dogs but are from the Arctic region rather than Serbia.

Their strong build allows them to withstand the harsh winter weather and survive in the most challenging conditions. They can withstand temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you ever get stuck in a blizzard, these are the dogs you want to keep you company or lead you to safety. Their retractable claws are used to move swiftly in harsh conditions and catch prey like seals and polar bears.

Closing Thoughts

Though most breeds don’t have retractable claws, a few do. The ones that do are hunters and sled dogs that work in icy conditions. They use their claws for self-defense, hunting, and moving through the snow swiftly.

Care for these claws is no different than caring for regular claws. They both possess nerve endings and blood vessels you must look out for when grooming them. If you are an owner of one of these breeds, enjoy the fact that they are a little different…perhaps a little on the “wild side.”

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