Many pet groomers have been surprised to be working on a pet and suddenly discover what looks for all the world like a claw growing out of the dog's skin. Sometimes the claw-like discovery is very thin; other times, it has a thicker base and tapers towards the tip, like a tiny horn. Most commonly found on the back, tail, and legs, these odd growths are widely called cutaneous horns.
Cutaneous horns, or cornifying epitheliomas, are more commonly found in some breeds, such as Lhasa apso, Norwegian Elkhounds, Belgian Sheepdogs, and Bearded Collies, but can occur in any breed. In the grooming environment, we sometimes find that they are only lightly attached to the skin and pop right off while brushing or combing the dog. In some cases, they are deeply rooted in the skin and require surgical removal. The horn feels quite tough. It is made by an overgrowth of keratin, a structural protein found in hair, skin, and claws. In some cases, the pet is irritated by the growth and will lick and chew at it, causing damage to the surrounding tissue.
Cats often have similar growths on their paw pads. This is sometimes referred to as a "horned pads." They are commonly found on the toe pads, growing toward the claw. They generally do not cause the cat any discomfort, but because they can grow quite long, it is possible that they may begin to snag on carpet or furniture. Depending on the location, veterinarians may trim the overgrowth back. They will generally regrow, but since they tend to be slow to form, they may not need future trimming for some time. If the growth is deep or causing lameness in the cat, the veterinarian will potentially recommend permanent surgical removal.
So, if you happen to be brushing a dog and find an odd-looking claw or horn growing in a place where no claw or horn should be, it is most likely an innocent cutaneous horn. Let the pet owner know of your discovery and monitor it on future visits to ensure it is not becoming irritated or inflamed. Likewise, alert cat owners to the growths if you find them while trimming the pet's claws so they can be aware of their existence and check on them to ensure they are not causing the cat discomfort.
By Daryl Conner, MPS, MCG
Daryl Conner has been devoted to making dogs and cats more comfortable and beautiful for almost 40 years. You can find her happily working at FairWinds Grooming Studio with her daughter and infant granddaughter, or typing away at her latest grooming-related article. Daryl was awarded both a Cardinal Crystal Award and Barkleigh Honors Award for journalism. She shares her meadow-hugged antique Maine farmhouse with her practically perfect husband and too many animals.