My Dog Has a Nail Growing out Of Its Paw Pad! Why?

I’m convinced that the author of the phrase “expect the unexpected” was a seasoned dog owner. As a dog lover, the unexpected could look like coming home to meet a dead animal in your living room, your dog peeing on you on your couch, finding your home upside down after a tiring day at work, or a nail growing out of your dog’s footpad. Yup, you read that right.

The paw pads are the rubbery cushions at the bottom of your pet’s feet that help absorb the shock of movement, thereby protecting the bones and joints. The coarse nature of the paw pads also allows friction to increase when walking and running. It is no wonder why a nail growing in this part of the body is uncomfortable for your pooch and a weird sight to behold. If your notice a nail growing out of your dog’s paw pad, you’re dealing with a rare condition known as cornifying epithelioma or cornu cutaneum.

That’s quite a mouthful, right? Luckily this condition has a common name that is easier to pronounce- cutaneous horns. Cutaneous horns, just like the name implies, are thin horn-like projections that appear as nails in places where you shouldn’t find nails. While they can appear anywhere on the body, they are commonly seen on the tail, back, and digital pad. If you’d like to know more about this odd condition, keep reading.

Why Is My Dog’s Nail Growing out Of Its Pad?

Cutaneous horns are products of keratin overgrowth that erupt from a hair follicle. While cornifying epitheliomas can look a little like an animal horn or nails, they can also look or feel like hardened cysts. Recent studies suggest that this condition is related to B-catenin, the chemical that changes skin cells into hair follicles. Their claim suggests that when a dog’s system produces an excess of this protein, these horn-like growths form.

Cutaneous horns may be idiopathic (occur spontaneously) or be associated with conditions such as canine papillomavirus (oral warts) and squamous cell carcinoma. In most cases, a horned paw arises spontaneously. While any dog can have horned paws, it is more common in some particular breeds. These include the Lhasa apso, German Shepherd, Pekingese, Yorkshire terrier, Belgian sheepdog, and Old English sheepdog.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, dogs in middle age are most at risk of developing a cutaneous horn. Research also proves that it occurs more commonly in males. Cutaneous horns are rare in dogs but common in their feline cousins. On the paw pad, these nail-like projections are associated with lesions and cause pain and discomfort and eventually lead to lameness.

What Should I Do If My Dog’s Nail Is Growing out Of Its Pad?

Although cutaneous horns growing on other parts of the body can be left alone, you may need to treat a horned paw if it affects movement and causes pain. If this growth isn’t bothering your pet, you can leave it alone and trim it when you are trimming your dog’s nails. Generally, trimmed horns will regrow, so this isn’t an efficient way of getting rid of cutaneous horns. Note that you should never pull off a cutaneous horn unless you are a medical practitioner or an experienced groomer.

In some cases, if this growth is within reach of your dog’s mouth, your fascinated pooch will try to bite, lick or scratch it, leading to wounds and infections. If a cornifying epithelium is causing trouble for you or your pet, oral retinoids or surgical removal are the treatment methods. After surgical removal, histopathology will determine if the growth and its underlying cause are harmful, and your vet can proceed with additional treatment. Even after surgical removal, there is always a chance that a new mass will develop.

After the removal surgery, prevent your dog from licking or biting the area because this will prevent healing and lead to a secondary infection. In most cases, the removed growth is benign, and you will be sent home with antibiotics and analgesics (pain relievers). In the rare case of a cancerous lesion, treatment depends on the extent of spread and could range from intralesional implant chemotherapy and radiation therapy (for early stages) to further surgery. In summary, if your pooch has a cutaneous horn, see a veterinarian and follow the instructions given.

Is There a Way to Prevent This from Happening?

In a perfect world, I’d have the answer to this question. However, because most cutaneous horns occur spontaneously and scientists haven’t been able to trace the exact cause and progression of this condition, there is no proven way to prevent its occurrence in dogs. The best way to prevent a cornifying epithelioma is to prevent canine papillomavirus infection since this is normally its root cause. To do this, prevent interactions between your dog and dogs with oral warts and boost your pooch’s immune system.

We Recommend This Supplement to Help Boost Your Dog’s Overall Immune System.

Another method would be to take your pet for skin check-ups regularly and prevent UV radiation overexposure. Also, apply dog-appropriate sunscreen to the hairless and thinly-haired areas of your fur baby’s skin. This is essential, especially for lightly pigmented dog breeds like Norwegian Elkhounds, Dalmatians, Beagles, white Bull Terriers, and others. Safe dog sunscreen is paraben-free and contains tocopheryl.

Since the papillomavirus is transmitted through injured skin, make sure your dog’s skin is healthy. While it is difficult to prevent the first occurrence of a horned pad, you can prevent its regrowth. The best way to prevent a horned pad regrowth is for the vet to excise the base of the lesion.


If you’ve noticed a nail growing out of your dog’s paw pad, don’t panic. Take your pet to the vet clinic to get a definitive diagnosis and follow-up treatment. There is a big chance that it is a benign growth, and your pet’s life isn’t in danger. With the proper treatment and care, your dog should be back to jumping around the house in no time.


  • Brad

    Hi I'm Brad, the founder of Having been a vet of 6 years I work alongside our team to provide valuable insight into your dog's health. I have a frenchie myself named Senzu who is my pride and joy!