Have you spotted what looks like horned paws on cats and wondered what these growths are and if they are causing your cat any distress?
I can help by explaining what those extra claws are, what you should do about them, and everything else you will need to know.
Because, as you can see in the images in this post, one of my cats suffers from what’s known as cutaneous horn cat paws, or hyperkeratosis cat paws, so I have first-hand experience of this condition.
I must point out, however, that you should not take my advice over, or instead of the advice of your family vet. I’m not a professional, this is just my experience and everything I’ve been able to find out on the subject.
- What Causes Horned Paws On Cats?
- What Is Keratin and Why Does It Cause Horns on Cat Paws?
- What Does Hyperkeratosis Mean?
- Why Are They Also Called Cutaneous Horns on Cat Paws?
- Do You Need to Remove Cutaneous Horns?
- It May Be a Sign of Something More Serious….
- Cutaneous Horn Removal – What Are the Options?
- Can a Cutaneous Horn Fall Off?
- TL;DR – The Summary
What Causes Horned Paws On Cats?
There are three main causes behind a cat developing horns on their claws. These are:
Cysts – If the cat has a cyst and it’s slowly leaking fluid the fluid can harden up. Over time the fluid, along with dead skin cells, will build up to the point where you’ll see a hard horn shape developing.
Calluses – Cats can also develop calluses, just as we do from friction and excessive rubbing on their paw pads. Over time this can build up to the point where you see, or hear hard horn-shaped points on their paw pads when they’re walking.
Keratin – The most common reason, and the reason why my cat has those horns on her claws as you can see in the pictures, is due to an overgrowth of keratin.
What Is Keratin and Why Does It Cause Horns on Cat Paws?
Keratin is a structural protein that cats (and us) produce and is one of the key materials in skin, nails, hair, claws, hooves, and horns.
A lack of keratin can cause skin and hair to be more susceptible to breaking or damage. Just as overproducing keratin can cause hard growths, such as the ‘extra’ claws on cat’s paw pads I’m covering in this article.
What Does Hyperkeratosis Mean?
Hyperkeratosis is one of the skin conditions that causes the skin to thicken in certain places. Which causes growths on cat paws that look like horns, and is tied into them producing too much keratin as I explained above.
There are two main causes of hyperkeratosis. One is due to excessive friction or pressure on the area, which again, you can see how this ties into calluses being one of the causes of horn-like growths.
The other is just due to genetics. Much like we can have a wide range of skin issues from occasional irritations, to persistent eczema. Some cats are just going to develop hard growths on their paws due to their genetic makeup.
Why Are They Also Called Cutaneous Horns on Cat Paws?
Cutaneous is another word used to describe these abnormal growths on cat’s paws. Cutaneous is just an adjective that means; relating to or affecting the skin.
It’s a general term used to describe these growths. It doesn’t relate to any particular cause or condition, and there can be various cutaneous horn formations.
Do You Need to Remove Cutaneous Horns?
This is a question that’s best answered by your vet who is able to look at the growths and make a professional assessment based on a number of factors that are only visible in person.
With my cat, my vet told me that the growths were harmless and that I could simply trim them if they were becoming an obstruction and getting in the way of my cat’s movement. Or, if they were scagging on furniture etc.
I’ve trimmed them a couple of times over the years. My cat didn’t even notice (it helped that I was feeding her treats at the time). There is no feeling in these types of growths, it’s just hard skin basically.
It May Be a Sign of Something More Serious….
I don’t want to scare you, but there is a slim chance that a cutaneous horn is a sign of something more serious. The growths on my cat’s paws are all on her toe pads, these are typically nothing more than a build-up of skin.
If you see growths on your cat’s main pad, like what would be the palm on her foot, not the toes, then I’ve read that these can be related to FeLV, papillomavirus infection, and some other illnesses.
All the more reason to get them checked out by your vet. But from what I read this is very rare, so please don’t start thinking the worse. There is a quick and simple test that will hopefully give your kitty the all clear.
Cutaneous Horn Removal – What Are the Options?
If the horn formations are causing your cat some issues they are going to need to have them removed. Here are the main options you and your kitty are going to face:
Clipping / Trimming
The horns on my cat grow to the point where I need to trim them once a year or so. I rarely have to clip her nails, but I own some clippers so I give them a snip and trim them right down to the pad.
There are no blood vessels, nerves, or anything that can cause pain in abnormalities that are just hardened skin. Once you have the all-clear from your vet you can just give them a trim whenever they are getting too long.
I’ve seen pictures of some serious cases of cutaneous horns and it was completely different to what I’m dealing with. If it’s beyond trimming or there are some other complications, you’re going to have to hand it over to a vet to deal with.
I spoke with one owner whose cat when under the knife. She said there is some scarring, which is to be expected, and her cat doesn’t walk completely centered, but she’s fine. The horns have not grown back since and it resolved the problem.
Can a Cutaneous Horn Fall Off?
Outdoor cats are a lot more susceptible to growths due to hardened skin, calluses, and so on as they are using their pads a lot on uneven surfaces.
They will often keep them trimmed down through the same friction too. Indoor cats are much more likely to have longer growths due to their lack of activity.
Either way, if you’ve noticed a cutaneous horn formation on your cat’s paw and you’re wondering if it will just fall off if you leave it, it’s unlikely.
I haven’t seen any fall off. It’s possible with an active outdoor cat, but honestly, the best course of action is to do something about it rather than waiting for it to get long enough to fall off.
TL;DR – The Summary
If you have noticed horned paws growing on your cat, these are most likely cutaneous growths. The main causes are:
- Cysts Leaking
- Calluses Developing
- Keratin Overgrowth
The first thing you need to do is seek the advice of a vet. There is a chance of an underlying issue that needs addressing. But, most commonly the horns are going to be hard skin that can be trimmed off without causing any pain or distress to your cat.
I hope you found this article helpful and informative. If you’ve had a cat with this issue please share your experience with readers and myself, I always appreciate additional input.