Dewclaw in Cats

Caitlin Dempsey


An orange tabby cat lying in a green window bed in the bright sun.

The dewclaw (also written as dew claw) is a digit, or claw, found on the inner side of the front legs of some mammals, including dogs, cats, and deer.

Where did the word dewclaw originate from?

Dewclaw has its origin in Old English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, dewclaw was first written in 1575 when George Gascoigne noted in The noble arte of venerie or hunting, “Some other haue taken marke by the hynder legges, by the dewclawes.”

The word is believed to have originated from the fact that the dewclaw doesn’t touch the ground and instead the claw scrapes along the dew forming on plants as the animal walks.

What is a dewclaw on a cat?

The dewclaw is roughly similar to a thumb in humans and is the fifth digit on a cat’s front paws. The other four claws are located on the digital pads of the feet of a cat.

So, in a typical domestic cat, there are four toes and one dewclaw on the front feet, and four toes on the rear. This makes for a total of 18 claws on a cat.

The dewclaw is located higher on the leg than the other claws and is not in contact with the ground when the animal is standing.

Close up of the underside of a cat paw and claws with labels for each part.
The parts of a cat’s paw and claw. Photos © sonsedskaya and Undy / Diagram by Caitlin Dempsey.

Dewclaws in polydactyl cats

In polydactyl cats, which are cats that have more than the typical number of toes, dewclaws may be more prominent or more fully formed than in cats with the typical number of toes. Polydactyl cats may have dewclaws on their front or hind legs, or on both.

What is the purpose of a dewclaw?

Both wild cats and domestic cats have dewclaws. Wild cats, like lions, will use the dewclaw during hunting to catch and hold on to prey.

The dewclaw in domestic cats mostly serves no functional purpose, but can be used for grasping or grooming.

In some cats, the dewclaw may be more developed. In general, dewclaws are not essential for a cat’s physical function and do not serve any important purpose.

An orange tabby cat lying in a green window bed in the bright sun.
This orange tabby cat is using his dewclaw to hold his paw on to the edge of the cat window bed. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Trimming dewclaws

It’s important to regularly trim the dewclaws on a cat. As these claws don’t touch the ground when a cat walks, they don’t get worn down with normal cat activity. If you leave the dewclaw untrimmed for too long of a period, the claw can grow in a circle and embed itself into the cat’s skin.


“dew-claw, n.”. OED Online. December 2022. Oxford University Press. 


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Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.