Lulu, a 2 year old cross-bred terrier who injured her dew claw.

Lulu has a favourite game: she loves chasing her tennis ball in the back garden. There’s nothing complicated about it: Ashling throws the ball, Lulu chases it, brings it back, and Ashling throws it again. Lulu happily continues to play this game for hours on end. It’s a simple effective way of burning up the excess energy that all terriers possess.

One week, Ashling threw the tennis ball down to the end of the garden in the normal way, and Lulu bolted after it, running as fast as her little legs would carry her. The ball had gone into dense bushes, and when Lulu emerged, carrying the ball in her mouth, she was carrying her right paw in the air, as if she’d hurt it. At first Ashling thought that she might have just banged it, so she threw the ball another time. When Lulu came back this time, she was still carrying her paw, so Ashling had a closer look to see what was going on. She could see some blood on the inside of the lower leg, so she knew it was time to go to the vet.

When I saw Lulu, I was able to pinpoint the cause of her problem at once: she had injured her dew claw. This is the canine equivalent of the human thumb. The dew claw isn’t a full digit, like a human thumb. Instead, it’s just a remnant of a full scale toe, with a small nub of fleshy tissue covered by skin. A small claw-like nail grows out of it.

The dew claw doesn’t serve much of a function in the modern dog. It probably helps to grip when dogs run rapidly around corners, and perhaps when they’re digging. For most pets, however, it’s just a nuisance. The nail doesn’t wear on the ground, so it often becomes overgrown, curling back into the dog’s skin and causing discomfort. Many dogs need regular clipping of their dew claws to prevent this from happening.

Even when it’s clipped short, the dewclaw can still cause problems, like Lulu’s accident. The small nail must have caught in something as she rushed past; perhaps she’d bashed it against a rock, or snagged it in vegetation. The nail had been half torn off, so it was now the equivalent of a human fingernail which had been split and half pulled out of its base. Understandably, it was very sore, and there was only one possible cure: the entire nail needed to be removed to allow a new healthy nail to grow in its place.

Removal of a nail is a painful procedure, so I had to give Lulu deep sedation before I could do anything. After the injection, she was soon sleeping peacefully in Ashling’s arms. I then instilled local anaesthetic around the nail base, and I was able to quickly and smoothly remove the entire nail.  The bloody base of the dew claw was now exposed; in the short term, it needed to be protected, so I applied a light bandage. By the time Lulu came around from the sedation, the painful nail had been removed, and a bright blue bandage was on her leg in its place. She must have wondered what on earth had happened.

She’s been given pain relief and antibiotic cover to make sure that she stays comfortable and the wound stays clean, but I’m not expecting complications.


  • Dew claws – the small nails on the inside of dogs’ legs – are prone to being damaged
  • Regular clipping of dew claws is the best way to avoid such accidents
  • If the dew claw is damaged, veterinary help is nearly always needed

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