Horned Paws on Cats What to Do About Cutaneous Claws

Horned Paws on Cats: What to Do About Cutaneous Claws

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 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?

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.

Surgical Procedures

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.

16 thoughts on “Horned Paws on Cats: What to Do About Cutaneous Claws”

  1. My 17-year-old cat has these callous type growths on his toe pads, and my vet suggests that often it’s as a result of not having enough Omega 3/6/9 content in a cats diet, so to introduce that particular oil by squeezing a capsule of oil onto their food. They’re not causing Willum any ‘issues’, and they certainly don’t affect his walking.

    1. My 18 year old short haired lady has lately grown these horns on her head…sticking out from the top of her skull. Very strange. But our vet today said as you have they can be trimmed, but she is probably too old to benefit from surgical removal. I’d prefer to refer to them as antlers, but probably not appropriately because of her gender….though these days that might be OK?

  2. Hi Phil, thank you very much for the information. We just noticed our 10 year girl Charlie , when we trimmed her nails, had on two toe pads near the nail growths like those described and in the photo. They have only recently developed. I was very worried until I found your article. She isn’t bothered by it at all when touched but will definitely book an appointment first available to get it checked out. She’s the light of our lives and hope, although there are never guarantees, that it is a manageable condition related to the possible causes suggested. Your article was very much appreciated.

    1. That’s good to hear, Pamela.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave that message. I’ve spoken to a few owners, it’s always a surprise when you see growths and makes the mind wander.

      I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about though, feel free to drop back and let me know how she gets on.

  3. Thank you for your fabulous article on this! I rescued a cat 3-1/2 years ago at 6 months who had horrible abuse and apparently from a hoarding situation so when I first saw those 3 horned paws on him today, I wondered if in-breeding was a cause. He is healthy and happy, although I’m still the only person that can touch him. He’s a big love-bug with me, such a doll, and I was really freaked when I trimmed his nails today and saw that for the first time.
    I so much appreciate your putting my mind at rest and will keep this on file, also the helpful comments from others.
    Once those fur-babies are in our hearts, they are there forever 🙂

  4. Nancy henderson

    I just had the horns removed from my cat’s front paw pads. She(Polly) has six toes on the back feet. The four front toes are big fat toes. When I first felt the horns, thought that maybe she should have had six on the front and they just didn’t develop . The reason I had them removed was because they were on the weight bearing part of her foot. Your article was interesting.

    1. If you don’t mind me asking about how much does this procedure cost? I would be removing only 1 from my kitten. Is it like the cost of a nail clipping or am I looking to have to save up for this? Thank you so much for giving me reassurance knowing at least that it’s possible to remove them!

      1. It’s been 5 weeks, since the surgical removal of our cats front pas horn. He was ok for the first two weeks, then started to limp after the second week. We thought he may have injured his pa running around & we took him to the vet. The vet couldn’t see anything… He is steel holding his left pa up and limps when walking. The limping has not improved and I am concerned..
        Will appreciate any feedback from those who had similar experiences.

  5. Just read your article. My rescue cat has these ‘horns’ growing on all her paws. They grow quickly and have to be trimmed every 2 months to three months. Her normal claws are very thick . She is ten and suffers from hypertrophic cardio myopathy. Had been on medication since 3yrs. Has tested negative for feline leukaemia. My vet had seen them before but only one or two growths not like those on Pepper.

  6. Thanks for the article, appreciated all your stories and notes! I rescued a cat about a year ago and noticed she had extra pads nails and corns, all new to me as none of my previous cats had this. I recently took her to the vet and they were surprised by how many corns she has, some of them they said I can remove but there’s some deeper ones that need to be left. I’m going to have to keep a closer eye on her paws to make sure they don’t get too bad.

  7. I have two 8 1/2 year old unrelated female rescues (have had them since they were 3 months old). Daisy is a very active, athletic 10 lb cat. She is always running, jumping, climbing, chasing, etc. Very focused, too. I call her my little “bug cat”. She finds and kills anything (insect wise) that comes into the house when a door is open. If she can’t reach it herself, she cries until I come see what’s wrong, then she stares at the wall or ceiling until I take care of it for her.

    Starting in late 2017, she has occasionally been turning up lame, always limping on (or holding up) a front leg/paw. I thought she’d hurt herself jumping off something or caught a nail in a carpet. The Vet prescribed pain medicine for her, since she would sometimes be limping for a few weeks. Then this year, I noticed her biting and licking at her front foot pads, sometimes almost incessantly. She is very stubborn, and refused to let me examine her feet, so I noted it for her next Vet visit. I assumed she needed a nail trim.

    I took them both in today for a check- up, nail clip, and Rabies shots. I told the Vet about Daisy biting at her front foot pads, so she got a Tech to wrap her in a towel and hold her while she examined her feet. Turns out she has developed horns on her front toe pads, and one up near her a dew claw. She is mostly pure white with pink pads. The white horns were hard to spot down in the fur between her pads. The Vet is now wondering if all those times she appeared lame, she was really in pain from the developing horns, and that is what she is biting at on her front feet now. She refilled the pain medicine for her, did some quick research, and told me the horns can be filed and/or clipped. She does not recommend surgical removal except as a last resort, since it would mean cutting her toe pads. She said she can’t put stitches in a toe pad, so it just has to stay an open wound until it heals naturally. That’s very hard on everyone (owner and cat alike), having to keep it clean and disinfected until the wounds close on their own.

    So, for now, I’m going to monitor Daisy and her behavior. If she keeps biting her paws, I’ll bring her back in for a horn trim in the near future. The Vet did not think they were long enough to be a problem for her yet, but she agreed that Daisy knows they are there, and they obviously bother her, or have become her version of nail biting. The unknown is if they actually do hurt her, or if they only hurt her after she bites them and aggravates the situation. Either way, I expect to make the follow-up in the very near future.

  8. Strange! My cat has ONE on one of his toes. He’s 14 and this showed up about 5 years ago. My Vet sounded like it would be keratin and when he comes to trim his nails he trims it every other time. I’ve never heard of this! Thanks!

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