Do Dogs Have Retractable Claws? (All You Should Know)

Can Dogs Retract Their Nails?

When we compare our pets’ paws and claws, they initially appear to be quite similar. You may feel that these animals’ claws are flat, hard, keratin pieces that protect their paw tips, but pets’ claws offer more than protection. Dogs and cats are digitigrade four-footed mammals, which implies that they stand and walk with their toes touching the ground.

Both animals have four toes on their hind paws and five toes on their forepaws, the fifth being the dewclaw — a small, vestigial toe located towards the inside of their forelegs. However, these animals have dissimilar claw anatomy. Cats are known to use their claws more effectively than dogs; cats climb, scratch, and grab things with their claws, while most dog breeds seem not to use their claws at all.

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Concerning the above, many have tried to understand the dissimilarity between both animals’ claw anatomy, why cats use their claws than dogs, and why most dog breeds’ claws seem useless.

The main reason for this dissimilarity is that cats have “retractable claws.” We’ll take a close look at topics regarding retractable claws in this article. (i) Do dogs have retractable claws? (ii) What dog breeds have retractable claws? (iii) Reasons for the retractable claw anatomy, and (iv) care for retractable claws.

Can Dogs Have Retractable Claws?

To best understand the article, let’s briefly consider its primary term, “retractable claws.” Retractable claws are claws that draw when the paws are relaxed; they’re enclosed within the skin and wrapped around the toe pads. This process aids sharp claws since the claws don’t wear from touching the ground and other rough surfaces.

One of the primary differences in cat and dog claw anatomy is that cats have retractable claws, and dogs do not. Cats’ claws are protected. They are longer and stay sharper since they are retractable. However, most dogs’ claws are protracted, which implies that active outdoor dogs will have short claws because they often get worn down.

While cats can effectively utilize their claws for several purposes, dogs’ claws are a blunt and almost ineffective appendage.

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What Dog Breeds Have Retractable Claws?

As stated, most dog breeds do not have retractable claws because they would be ineffective. However, some dog breeds have different claw anatomy. Most of these dogs are sled dogs, and they have retracted claws that help their movement in the snow.

Below are examples of dog breeds with retractable claws.

Alaskan Malamute

The Alaskan Malamutes are a unique sled breed. They are known for their strength and endurance to pull heavy carriages as sled dog. These dogs have stocky and muscular legs, which are genetically modified to face harsh weather conditions. Malamute paws are like snowshoes, and their claws are like cats’.

Their movement in the snow is a significant reason for their bear-like paws and retractable claw anatomy. Their claws offer a firmer grip in the soft snow. Furthermore, they act like cats, grooming themselves regardless of regular baths.

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Siberian Husky

You might mistake a Siberian Husky for an Alaskan Malamute because of their genetic and physical similarities. Siberian Huskies are medium-sized working dogs a bit smaller than the Alaskan Malamute. They are also bred to pull heavy carriages as sled dog and are characterized by their strength and endurance.

They are physically distinguishable from Malamutes by their thickly-furred double coat, unique markings, and erect triangular ears. Like the Malamute, Siberian Huskies have the retractable claw anatomy like cats. Their retractable claws aid their movement in soft snow.


Samoyeds are physically similar to the Malamutes and Huskies but are known to be bred for different purposes — herding. They are strong and persistent dogs that can survive in icy weather conditions. Their genetic claw anatomy is similar to the Alaskan Malamute and Serbian Husky, with retractable claws.

These claws primarily help the Samoyed move in the snow but aids its hunting and defence abilities.

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Reasons for the Retractable Claw Anatomy

Animals with retractable claws effectively utilize their claws. As stated, cats are known to use their claws more effectively than dogs; cats climb, scratch, and grab things with their claws. Retractable claws aren’t just claws; they’re tools. As to this effect, we’ll consider the reasons for the retractable claw anatomy.


Dog breeds (example: Alaskan Malamute) and pets (cats) with retractable claws use their claws for movement. Alaskan Malamutes are genetically modified to face harsh weather conditions, like extreme cold. The Malamute’s retractable claws aid its movement in soft snow. Similarly, cats would often get stuck to objects if they didn’t have retractable claws.

They move on carpets, tree branches, and slide down items; retractable claws are like Velcro, providing traction to animals that have them so that they don’t fall. Besides, dogs do not climb trees, unlike cats.


Ever wondered why dogs do not hunt with their claws? Well, protracted claws are almost useless when it comes to hunting. Contrastingly, retractable claws are handy for hunting, catching, and gripping prey; they are curved, sharp, and extended. Most dog breeds use their teeth instead of their claws to hunt because their claw anatomy doesn’t support hunting.


Instinctively, cats defend themselves with their claws while dogs use their teeth. That’s basically because of their claw anatomy. Retractable claws help to boost pets’ defense abilities.

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What Claw is Common with Most Dog Breeds?

Dewclaws are more familiar with dogs than retractable claws. Dewclaws are not common to only dogs as birds, reptiles, and other mammals also have dewclaws. Dewclaws are small, vestigial claws located towards the inside of the forelegs in dogs and cats; they don’t touch the ground when the animal is standing.

Occasionally, a dewclaw can be found on a dog’s hind legs. However, these rear dewclaws may have little bone or muscle structures in most dog breeds. Sometimes, some dog breeds have more than one dewclaw on a single paw, genetically normal. Dogs with more than one dewclaw are referred to as “double dew clawed” dogs.

Unlike retractable claws, dewclaws cannot be extended for specific purposes. Pet owners are encouraged to trim these claws at a safe length.
While many may view dewclaws as dead appendages, it is noteworthy to know that dewclaws are ineffective.

Dewclaws are occasionally called to action; they can grip bones and other things that dogs hold with their paws. They also help dogs maintain balance in some instances.

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How To Care for Retractable Claws

Like protracted claws, retractable claws require care. If your dog breed has retractable claws, its claw cleaning is one of the essential facets of its general welfare. Here are steps to ensure that your dog’s retractable claw is well cared for.

Dogs with Retractable Claws
Retractable Claws being viewed by an owner
  1. Please make sure the dog is accustomed to you touching or holding its paws. In instances whereby the dog refuses to be convinced that you mean no harm when holding its paws, it is advised to use organic oral or injectable sedatives by the vet’s prescription.
  2. Firmly but tenderly place a thumb on the dog’s toe without any fur blocking the nail’s view. If a fur blocks the nail’s view, you may accidentally overcut the dog’s nails.
  3. Clip the nail’s tip horizontally across, repeating the action on each nail, including those on the dewclaws (claws situated at the inner side of the paw).
  4. There is always an urge to clip a bit deeper; avoid doing so, especially past the curve on the nail. Clipping past the nail curve may result in overcut nails or cutting into the dog’s quicks.

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Please take note of the following:

Inexperienced owners may purchase nail-clippers with sensors or guards to avoid overcut nails or quicks. For those with nail-clippers without guards, your finger may act as a guard. Place the finger below, across the tip of the nail, and clip. The finger must be placed at a distance that would prevent overcutting.

It is best to cut the nails in small bits than as a whole; this action will prevent overcutting.
Forcefully restraining a dog to cut its nails may result in biting, scratching, or destructive responses. Under the influence of animalistic instinct, the dog may feel threatened and might do anything to defend itself.

If a non-sedated dog begins to show signs of irritation, it is best to stop the nail grooming session. Conducting nail grooming sessions at short intervals may be more productive and stressful than at lengthy intervals.

Can Dogs Survive With No Claws Or Permanently Retracted Nails?

Dogs can actually survive with permanently retracted claws or without nails but the truth is it’s not going to be easy as this can take some extra care and adjustment to fill in the needs for natural claws. Truly, dogs can survive with no nails and, in most cases, they are even happier.

Claws are a very important and useful part of the dog and having to lose them is a crazy situation no one should wish for his or her pet. This is why it is very important to learn how to identify and deal with dog nail issues immediately when they show up.

Signs A Dog Is Having Issues With Their Nails

You don’t need to be a vet to quickly detect that your dog is having issues with its nails. Some very early signs to look out for include: Tenderness around the affected nails, difficulty in walking, limping, swollen nailbed, bleeding, frequent licking of the affected part of the claw, discomfort, crying, visible sore, and oozing smell, etc.

These signs and symptoms need to be dealt with by an experienced vet right away, to tackle any underlying cause on time.

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Why Don’t Dogs Have Retractable Claws?

One major difference between a cat’s claw and a dog’s claw structure is that cat claws can retract and a majority of dog claws do not retract except for some breeds mention above. When it comes to the retractability of claws Cats have an advantage and their nails are highly protected and this helps them stay sharper.

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Why Does My Dog’s Paw Look Hairy & Covers The Claws?

A skin disorder is known as Hyperkeratosis the culprit that makes your dog’s pads look hairy, crusty, and thick. This condition in the severe stage can obscure the claws and make it look like the dog has retractable claws_ a situation often called “hairy dog feet”. It presents the dog’s paws with a kind of appearance that makes it seem like an abnormal layer of hair growing on the paw.

What Are The Difference Between Dog Claws And Cat Claws?

I will be showing you what some experienced owners, trainers, and professionals got to say about the differences between dog nails and cat claws.

I will be quoting exactly as they have written it in their respective comments below.

So the first person here goes:

Jens Böttiger.

Cat claws grow in layers and shed.

Difference between dog and cat nails
Difference between dog and cat nails

When the point on a cat’s claws becomes dull (or you trim it off), they scratch until the layers peel off and they work their way down to one where the razor-sharp point is intact.
Dog claws just grow in a single constant piece just like the human nail and wear down as they walk.

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C.S. Friedman.

The primary difference is that cat claws are retractable, while dog claws are out all the time. This allows the cat claws to stay needle-sharp because they are not worn down by walking.

Difference between dog and cat nails
Difference between dog and cat nails

Fun Trivia: Cheetahs are the only cats whose claws are permanently extended, to give them traction while running.

Nico Ferrer.

Dogs are more like nails because they are not retractable and are pretty dull because they are easily worn down by walking and because dogs don’t really use their claws, unlike cats who use them to hunt.

Difference between dog and cat nails
Difference between dog and cat nails

Cats sharpen their claws and their claws are retractable and extremely sharp..for you know, hunting. Yeah, that’s pretty much the difference one is sharp and is used for hunting and one is dull-ish and used for running. Hope that helped.TSCHÜSS!

Brett Kliethermes

Dog claws are always out they are un-retractable dogs can not climb with their claws and a dog does not know how to use their claws as a weapon a cat’s claws are everything opposite as I just explained about the dog’s claws…A cat can retract its claws it can climb quite well and knows how to use their claws as weapons very very well.

Difference between dog and cat nails
Difference between dog and cat nails

Tom Morganti (Vet).

Retraction in cats. Cats are also obligated to “sharpen” their claws. This is a method of wearing the surface layers away. Without it, the claws will bend around and grow into the pads.


Retractable claws are claws that draw when the paws are relaxed; they’re enclosed within the skin and wrapped around the toe pads. This process aids sharp claws since the claws don’t wear from touching the ground and other rough surfaces. Animals with retractable claws use their claws for hunting, movement, and defense.

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Cats are the most prominent pets with retractable claws; examples of dog breeds with retractable claws are Alaskan Malamute, Serbian Husky, and Samoyed — they use their claws primarily for movement in snow. If your dog has retractable claws, please ensure that you properly and regularly clean and groom its nails.

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