Have you recently noticed a hard growth on your cat’s paw pad? Finding any growth or lump on your cat can be a very stressful and nerve-racking situation. One of the most common causes of a cat paw callus or horn-like growth is a condition called hyperkeratosis, or “horned paws”.
I can still clearly remember the day that I first saw a growth on my cat Pippen’s paw. I had never heard of horned paws. It wasn’t until after I had a good talk with my veterinarian that I was able to relax.
In this article, I’m going to shed some light on what causes this condition and what you should know about this hard growth on your cat’s paw pad. I’ll also answer some of the big questions that are probably on your mind including: “Do horned paws hurt cats?” and “What should I do about these hard growths?”.
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What Is the Hard Growth or Callus on My Cat’s Paw?
Hyperkeratosis refers to an overproduction of the protein keratin. This is the same fibrous protein that makes up our fingernails. As your cat’s body starts to produce large amounts of this protein, it can build up and form a growth, or horn.
Horned paws can range from minor cat paw pad calluses to long, hard growths that resemble a small horn or an additional nail growing from your cat’s paw. They are often seen at the front of the toe pad, just below the natural nail. In some cases, they can form on the bottom of a cat’s paw pads creating a hard growth or lump that they put pressure on with each step.
If this is your first time witnessing this type of growth, you may be surprised to learn that they are relatively common. In addition to horned paws, hyperkeratosis can also cause growths on your cat’s face or other parts of their body.
What causes these growths? The exact cause isn’t always known, but there are some conditions that may trigger a growth to begin.
“Cats will develop cutaneous horns spontaneously but may also develop in association with papillomavirus infection, FeLV infection, and cancer called squamous cell carcinoma,” explained Dr. Michelle Burch DVM, a veterinarian with Paramount Pet Health and associate veterinarian with online veterinarian and virtual care service Vetster. “If a horn is noted on a cat’s paw, I recommend testing for FeLV and biopsy to rule out cancer.”
These conditions can cause bleeding from the mouth, increased or decreased appetite, weight loss, fever, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, and weakness. Left untreated, this could be fatal. Contact your veterinarian to discuss your concerns and arrange for an appointment for testing.
Many cat parents will discover horned paws while trimming a cat’s nails. But they aren’t always obvious if you aren’t actively looking for them. For this reason, we recommend doing a regular cat body scan, examining your cat’s body from head to toe and nose tip to tail. Doing so will help you spot any lumps, bumps, growths, or other areas of concern. The earlier that you spot a growth on your cat, the sooner you can address any potential health problems.
Do Horned Paws Hurt Cats?
In most situations, the hard growth on your cat’s paw pad isn’t going to cause any discomfort or difficulty with mobility. They may, however, make a clicking sound when your cat is walking. Pay careful attention to your cat’s gait to make sure that they aren’t compensating for the presence of the growth.
In the wild, the growth will often come off naturally from climbing trees or scratching. Most indoor cats, however, don’t have the same opportunities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many cats will live with these small growths for the duration of their lives with no complications. The decision of whether to remove the growths will depend on your cat’s unique situation. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Dr. Burch advised, “Cutaneous horns that are not causing pain or irritation are often ignored. The horn can be trimmed if growth is extensive but will regrow. If the horn is causing annoyance or lameness, I recommend surgical removal.”
Before making any attempt to remove the growth at home, your veterinarian should confirm that it is a horn and not an extension of healthy or diseased tissue. Cutting into the “growth” and hitting tissue can result in pain or discomfort, bleeding, or infections.
Whether your cat’s growth will need ongoing care will depend on their individual situation. In some cats, the horned paw will remain small and won’t require any maintenance. However, others experience ongoing growth. This can lead to an uncomfortable situation if they aren’t kept trimmed back or surgically removed.
While horned paws aren’t usually a cause for concern, you should always investigate a hard growth on your cat’s paw pad. If it is something more serious, early discovery will allow you to address the problem as soon as possible. Either way, this will allow you to work with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your cat’s quality of life.
Have you ever seen horned paws on a cat before? If so, what steps did you have to take to give your cat a happy, healthy, and comfortable life?
A regular body scan is the best way to spot horned paws on your cat, along with any other growths that you should be aware of. This is why body scans are one of the five important health checks that we encourage cat parents to perform each month. Not only will body scans help you to identify possible health concerns early and stay on top of your cat’s health, but they will also help you to build a stronger bond with your cat.
Join us in our Pet Health 5 Movement and we will help you get started tracking your cat’s health. It’s super easy! On the 5th of each month, we will send out a reminder with a checklist of what to do and how to do it. All you need to do is take 5 to 15 minutes each month to work through the list, check your cat’s health stats and log them.
Cat health is an important aspect of helping our cats live long and happy lives. You can start today by doing a complete body scan on your cat and signing up for Pet Health 5.
About the Author: Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.