Farmcliff Jack Russell Terriers



Jack Russell Tail Docking/Dew Claw Removal

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By Bob Franklin, Farmcliff Jack Russell Terriers, CT

Every Jack Russell Terrier must have its tail docked and dew claws removed at an early age. Three to five days of age seems to be the best time-frame depending on size and vigor of the pups. Of course any veterinarian can perform these tasks. But, supervision by the breeder is required to avoid getting tails too short since most docked tails (Boxers, Dobermans, Spaniels, etc.) are cut much shorter. Also, some vets make a big production of tail docking by shaving the tails and stitching them because this is what they do with the shorter docked tails. Stitches often involve another trip to the vet for removal. Further, the bitch which whelped the pups, is either at home going out of her mind without the pups or she is going crazy at the vet office with all the “potential dangers” around.

I have been doing the tails and dew claws on my puppies at home now for 20 years and I will describe the way I do this job in this article. Most of you can do the job at home, but some may still prefer having your veterinarian do your puppies. However, if you share this article with your vet., it might make the whole process a lot quicker and simpler.

Two people, a “surgeon” and an “assistant”, are required. Necessary tools and supplies are as follows:
1. Two hemostat clamps (smallest and narrowest available – one curved and one straight). Hemostat clamps are sometimes called “hair clamps”. Hemostat clamps can be obtained through most vet. supply catalogs or at some department or drug stores.
2. Fingernail clippers – Cheap pocket type available at any drug or hardware store.
3. Magnification capability – You may need magnification to see clearly small toenails and dew claws. Various magnification devices are available through woodworking or model making catalogs.
4. Bottle of rubbing alcohol.
5. Small saucer and cotton balls.
6. Razor Blade.
7. Clotting powder in small squeeze bottle –available at most drug stores. Some people use steptic sticks instead of clotting powder.
8. Clean bath towel.
9. Vet wrap and a sterile gauze pad.
10. Tiny cuticle scissors.

First wash your hands thoroughly. Put a small amount of alcohol in the saucer and soak a couple of cotton balls in the alcohol. Clean all tools in disinfectant soap, rinse them and further disinfect working ends of tools with alcohol. Arrange supplies and tools in a convenient manner on a towel. Be sure that you are in a brightly lit location. Usually it is a good idea to do tails and dew claws in a room separated from bitch’s whelping box with a couple of doors in between so she cannot hear puppy noises during removal process. Sometimes it is even wise to put the bitch outside during the entire process.

Assistant brings a puppy which is examined to determine if only front dew claws exist or if there are rear dew claws as well (rare in JRTs but it does happen). Use fingernail clipper to trim pup’s toenails by cutting ends - being careful not to cut into the pink “quick” or they might bleed. If one does bleed, dust with clotting powder.

Most JRT puppy tails are between 1 ½” to 2”long. There are some rules of thumb for determining length in docking JRT tails. Some say remaining tail should just cover genital area on a female puppy. If this technique is used, do females first and then do male puppy tails the same length. Another good rule is to remove only 1/3 of the tail on shorter tails and 3/8 of the tail on longer tails. NEVER remove more than 1/2 of the tail!! Caution – most JRT puppies are about the same size at birth – yet adult sizes can vary considerably. Assess expected adult size of your pups and leave tails a bit longer on pups you expect to be larger so they don’t “outgrow” their tails. Of course, experience is the best teacher for determining correct tail length. I prefer to error slightly on the long side.

Have assistant hold puppy right side up so surgeon can have access to its tail. Soak entire tail or the tail area where removal will take place with alcohol using a soaked cotton ball. Use the straight hemostat clamp and tightly clamp it crosswise on the tail in one quick movement so portion of tail you plan to keep ends where edge of the clamp begins. The pup will probably cry out once when this happens. Lock clamp in its tightest position and leave it there while “dew claw” removal takes place.

Turn puppy upside down and around so surgeon has access to its front paws being careful to move the tail hemostat clamp with the pup so as not to put too much stress on the pup’s tail. Assistant holding puppy places a finger behind one of the pup’s elbows so it cannot pull its foot away from the surgeon. Soak dew claw area with alcohol.

Think of a dew claw as a thumb and as such it has a ball and joint connection. Place small, curved hemostat behind the dew claw with the outside of the curve against the pup’s leg and apply pressure in such a way as to cause the joint to bulge outward and then clamp the hemostat. Take razor blade or even your fingernail and scrape the dew claw right off against the hemostat clamp. Before you cut, you can actually roll the dew claw between your fingers to make sure you have successfully removed the ball out of the joint. Leave the clamp on for about 20 seconds before removing and rarely does it bleed. But, if it does bleed a little, just apply a small amount of clotting powder and usually bandaging is not required. However, if bleeding occurs even after application of clotting powder, take a 4 inch long, ½ inch wide strip of vet wrap and a small ½ inch square of gauze pad and place the pad against the wound and wrap the foot with the vet wrap. This will help stop the bleeding.

Some surgeons like to look at each dew claw incision and if a small point of bone is visible, this can be cut off with the small fingernail scissors before applying the clotting powder. After completion of the first dew claw removal, the assistant shifts the placement of his/her finger to the other leg and the second dew claw is removed repeating the above procedure. If preferred, a steptic pencil can be used instead of clotting powder – surgeon’s choice. If rear dew claws exist, remove them too.

After all dew claws have been removed, carefully turn the pup back top side up so the surgeon has access to the tail. Assistant should be careful that the hemostat clamp on the tail does not twist the tail too much and put unwanted stress on the tail. Surgeon holds the tail hemostat clamp in one hand and the tip of the tail in the other hand and simply twists off the tip of the tail. In only takes two or three turns to do this removal if the hemostat has been clamped tightly. Remove the clamp and apply a small amount of clotting powder if it looks like the tail is going to bleed, but usually no bleeding occurs. Assistant takes that puppy back to the bitch and gets another pup to start all over again.

During each trip to the whelping box, the assistant should look at pups already done to see if any bleeding is occurring. Occasionally some bitches will be so fanatical about cleaning the pup’s wounds that she will get the bandages off through licking and the wound may not have clotted. If any bleeding is occurring, take the pup out and re-apply the clotting powder and bandage. You may even have to leave the pup alone for a few minutes to allow the clotting to take place before the bitch resumes her licking. Dew claw wounds look black if clotting has already taken place. Ten minutes or so after all pups are completed, inspect them all for bleeding. Then check them again about 30 minutes later for bleeding and to remove any bandages that may still be on the pup’s legs. Also observe to see if any pups exhibit stress symptoms. Usually the puppies will all be back to nursing quietly within a few minutes after being brought back to mom.

Veterinary cost savings from just one litter of doing dew claws and tails at home easily pays for equipment purchases. Normally a litter of five or six pups can be done in about thirty minutes – considerably less time than would be required to take the pups to your vet. And, some vets insist on taking the pups to a back room for the surgery and you aren’t even allowed to witness the procedure. Also, the bitch is usually stressed far less at home because she is kept in a familiar place with her pups and often does not really know that the procedures are taking place. If any tails are too short or too long, you did it yourself and you can learn for the next time what lengths work best.

Keep in mind that this is a surgical procedure and any surgical procedure always has some element of risk involved. Do not attempt this procedure unless you are confident you can handle without veterinary assistance.



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