Toe Horns

The toe horn is not some wacky new instrument… I definitely would NOT want to play one.

I saw my first toe horn at the cats-only boarding facility where I work part time. A coworker and I were doing a toenail trim for a guest (it’s often easier with two people!) when we noticed a strange growth on one of the cat’s toe pads. It looked sort of like the toenail had grown into the pad, or like a toenail was growing out of the pad itself. It definitely looked weird, and we left it alone.

My coworker asked one of the vet techs next door, and learned that it was a toe horn. Also known as an overgrowth, this is similar to a corn or callus in a human. It is a thick protrusion of the foot pad itself!

Toe horns can look and feel like toenails (like the one I saw) or they can be soft.

What causes toe horns? An irritation to the foot pad can cause an overgrowth. So can an injury! Some animals seem to develop them without an irritation or injury, and vets suspect there may be a hereditary tendency to grow toe horns in those animals. In general, dogs tend to get toe horns more often than cats do.

If your pet has an overgrowth on his or her paw, you probably don’t have to worry. Many toe horns wear away and/or drop off without treatment. Your vet or groomer could trim the excess tissue away if the toe horn seems to cause your pet discomfort. But often, an overgrowth looks much worse (or much weirder) than it actually is.

If you’re worried about the condition of your pet’s paws, it doesn’t hurt to ask your vet — maybe at your next annual exam! Or, if you regularly visit a groomer, you could ask about the toe horn there.