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Wolf claws: What Are Wolves’ Claws Used for & How Are They Built?

Wolves do have claws, but they’re not used for hunting. Instead, they’re used for digging, and to provide traction when running. Wolves also have dewclaws.

Wolves are ferocious predators, known for their ability to kill large prey. While they live off of the prey they hunt, they don’t use their claws for hunting.

All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts) x
All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts)

Their claws are long and sharp but used for other purposes than hunting.

In this article, we’ll explore why wolves don’t use their claws for hunting, what they’re really used for, and how they’re built.

Do Wolves Have Claws?

Yes, wolves do have claws, both regular and dewclaws, which are used for digging and to provide traction when running. They don’t use their claws when hunting, as they use their teeth instead.

Dewclaws are a vestigial digit on the wolf’s hind leg that is located above the ankle. 

There is some debate over whether or not dewclaws serve any purpose, but most scientists believe that they do have a function.

Dewclaws are more prominent in wolves than other canid species and may help them grip snow and ice when running or hunting in cold environments.[1]

Wolves also use their claws to dig into the earth to create dens and search for food. The claws can be effective tools for excavating rabbits, voles, and other small animals from their underground burrows.

Wolf walking in the forest

What Do Wolf Claws Look Like?

Wolves’ claws are long, sharp nails that curve back towards the paw. They are typically black or dark brown in color, but can sometimes have lighter markings near the tips. 

Wolves have four toes on their front paws, with two dewclaws, and four toes on their back paws. All of the wolf’s digits have claws.

Even though they lack opposable thumbs, wolves are still able to grasp objects quite well with their front paws. They use this dexterity when gripping prey during a hunt.

Dewclaws are non-weight-bearing toes that some animals have. 

wolf claws close up

What Do Wolves Use Their Claws For?

Wolves use their claws for figging and for traction when running, which enables them to reach higher speeds. Wolves don’t use their claws for hunting, as they use their teeth instead [1].

Wolves are known for their sharp teeth and claws. These features help them to survive in the wild. 

While their teeth tear through meat, their claws dig into the earth to unearth prey or scramble up steep cliffs in search of food.

The wolf’s dewclaws are located higher on its leg than its other toes. This claw doesn’t touch the ground when the wolf walks, so it doesn’t wear down as its other claws do. 

These claws also provide traction when running. It helps them stay fast and agile while chasing prey or escaping danger. The dewclaws dig into the ground when turning or cutting corners.

Digging

Digging is an important activity for wolves. They use their claws to dig for prey. They also dig when making dens, which provide shelter on very hot or very cold days.

wild-wolf-in-forest-using a sense of smell

Claws Provide Traction When Running

Claws provide traction when running, which is important for wolves who need to travel quickly and cover a lot of ground. 

Wolves have dewclaws on their hind legs, just above their ankle, that provide extra traction when running and turning.

Related: How fast can a wolf run?

wolf running

Wolves Don’t Hunt With Their Claws

Wolves don’t use their claws when hunting, as they use their teeth instead. 

While wolves’ claws may look dangerous, they’re not typically used in hunting. Instead, wolves rely on their sharp canine teeth to take down prey. 

In some cases, wolf claws can be helpful in trapping prey – but this is rare. For the most part, wolf jaws do all of the work when it comes to capturing food.

Related: How do wolves hunt?

wolves hunting as predators

How Big Is a Wolf’s Claw?

A wolves’ claws measure 2-3 cm long and 0.5-0.75 cm wide.

Wolf claws are relatively small compared to other animals’ claws. This is partly due to the fact that they aren’t used as weapons, as lion’s claws, but rather as tools for digging and gaining traction when running. 

They’re only about 0.8-1.2 inches long (2-3 cm).

Dewclaws are another matter altogether. Wolf dewclaws are larger than the others. As they’re not weight-bearing, they’re not used for walking or running but play an important role in providing traction when running at high speeds or on slippery surfaces. 

wolf claws mark on the snow

How Powerful Are Wolves Claws?

Wolves have powerful claws that help them survive in dangerous environments and difficult situations [2]. These wolf claws aren’t sharp enough to kill large prey quickly though.

While wolves have powerful claws, it’s a question of the animal they intend to use it on. They can’t slash through tough skin, but would easily be able to do damage to humans or small animals.

The wolf dewclaw helps provide traction while running or for digging dirt by giving the wolf an extra thumb-like bone at the end of each paw. 

Overall, these wolf claws are fairly important tools used to ensure successful survival for wolves worldwide.

Wolves Don’t Have Retractable Claws

Wolves do have claws, but not retractable claws [3]

As wolves’ claws are used for digging and to provide traction when running, and not for climbing, they don’t need to be retractable. They don’t use their wolf claws when hunting as they tend to rely on their teeth instead. 

Unlike most cats, who use their claws while hunting, wolves rely primarily on their teeth when taking down prey. Hence, their claws are built differently.

While wolf claws may not always be the primary weapon of choice, they definitely pack a punch.

wolf-eating-meat-in-the-snow

Are Wolves Claws Sharp?

Yes, wolves’ claws are very sharp. 

While the wolf’s claws are not used for hunting, they’re still very sharp. They’re actually part of the wolf’s paw and can be found on both front legs as well as back ones, making it a total of four claws that wolves have. 

Can Wolf Claws Cut You?

Yes, wolves’ claws can cut you. Wolves have a pair of dewclaws on their front paws which are used for digging and provide traction when running. 

While they’re not used for hunting, the sharpness of the wolf claw is still important to wolves. 

In fact, wolf claws are so sharp they can pierce leather boots.

Do Wolves Have Sharper Claws Than Dogs?

Yes, they generally have sharper claws than dogs. Dogs have claws too, but wolves tend to have a bit more of an edge when it comes to the sharpness of their nails. 

This is because wolves use them for different activities than dogs – primarily running and digging as opposed to hunting. Wolves are also bigger, often resulting in tougher and hence sharper claws.

Conclusion

Wolves have claws on their front and back legs that are used for digging and to provide traction when running. They also have dewclaws. Dewclaws are vestigial toes and are not weight-bearing. They help the wolf grip the ground while running or fighting. 

Claws play an important role in a wolf’s life, but they are not used for hunting like their teeth are. Instead, they use their claws to dig into the earth when looking for prey or to create dens. 

Claws also help wolves grip the ground when running, making it easier to chase down prey.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.