Nail-Like Growth On Dogs

Finding a lump or bump on your dog is worrisome, even though most of them are harmless. If you find something that looks like a nail or horn, don’t panic. These growths and lumps can occur as your dog ages and are more prevalent in specific breeds. The growth is usually benign, but your dog might bite or scratch it, leading to an infection.

If you find a nail-like growth on your dog, take it to the vet for diagnosis and treatment options. There is more than one condition that can cause nail or horn-like growths. Keep reading to learn more about what a nail-like growth indicates.

Cutaneous Horn

The most common explanation for a nail-like growth on your pet could be a cornifying epithelioma or “cutaneous horn.” It also has other names, including keratoacanthoma and infundibular keratinizing acanthoma. This growth is harmless and nothing to worry about. Cutaneous horns can look like a little horn or nail and feel like a hardened cyst. A cornifying epithelioma usually has tough layers that stick up from the skin surface.

“Cornifying” means having an appearance similar to a horn, while “epithelioma” refers to skin tumors. These can grow anywhere on your pet’s skin but appear mostly on the tail, back, and legs. Sometimes, they might even ooze pus or blood. They usually arise from hair follicles, and treatment is optional. Middle-aged dogs and certain breeds such as Norwegian Elkhounds, Belgian Sheepdogs, Lhasa Aspos, and Bearded Collies are prone to developing this condition. In contrast, widespread tumors can occur in Norwegian Elkhounds and Lhasa Aspos.

Treatment is optional since this nail-like growth poses no risk, and tumors can grow back after surgical removal. If your dog is biting or scratching the area, it can lead to infections or ulcers. In this case, your veterinarian can recommend surgical removal and oral retinoid medications to prevent future recurrences.

The causes for their development are uncertain, but certain breeds are higher at risk. A cutaneous horn is usually an overgrown hair follicle. Some dogs can secrete a chemical called B-catenin, turning skin cells into hair follicles. The overproduction of B-catenin can lead to cutaneous horns.


If your dog has nail-like growth on its paw pads, it could be a keratoma. A keratoma is a benign growth caused by the cells that produce keratin. They are also called corns and calluses. Keratomas, also known as calluses, result from pressure or friction to a certain area for a long time, which is why they usually occur on the paw pads. Accumulating scar tissue or infection with papillomavirus can also cause keratomas. Although keratomas are benign, they can be painful to walk on.

This condition is common in greyhounds, and symptoms include lameness. If your dog has a keratoma on its paw pads, it will be reluctant to put pressure on the affected paw.

There are various treatment options, but it can be difficult since the exact cause for this condition is uncertain. Keratomas are removable mechanically or surgically. Pumice stones, nail files, and soaking the foot in warm water to remove the corn are common treatment methods. Your veterinarian will probably recommend surgical removal of large and painful growths. Topical treatments such as emollients and keratolytics can aid the prevention of corns in the future.

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Basal Cell Tumors

We all know that the skin has various cell layers. Basal cell tumors are usually benign on the topmost layer of the epidermis. Older dogs and breeds like the Wirehaired Pointing Griffons, Kerry Blue, and Wheaten Terriers are at risk for basal cell tumors. These tumors usually appear on the head, ears, neck, and forelimbs. They are firm, elevated, dome-shaped, sticking out from the skin surface. They can vary in size and sometimes may also be dark in color.

Although basal cell tumors pose no health risks, they are large and can be uncomfortable for your pet. Some basal cell tumors also ooze pus or blood. Scratching and biting the tumor can cause infection and inflammation. If your dog suffers from a basal cell tumor, your veterinarian will recommend surgical removal in case of inflammation or ulceration.

Benign Fibrous Skin Tumors

Fibrous skin tissues contain collagen fibers (protein) in bundles that lie amidst rows of connective tissue cells. Connective tissue cells are present throughout the body and support the function of organs and organ systems. Collagen and other fibrous tissues come from fibroblast cells.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, chronic irritation or trauma can cause a mass of fibrous tissues to form. These are called fibromas, which are slow-growing and harmless. Fibromas have other names like collagenous hamartoma and fibroepithelial polyps but are commonly known as skin tags. Fibromas can arise from skin cells or overgrown hair follicles. These tumors usually grow in areas affected by pressure and friction repeatedly. Pressure on certain joints, such as the elbows, can affect skin regrowth, leading to fibromas.

Fibromas will appear as raised lumps on the skin or right below it. Most veterinarians recommend surgical removal of small lumps. However, if left untreated, fibromas can grow large and become difficult to remove surgically.


Papillomas are benign tumors and the result of viral infection. They usually occur as multiple lumps and have a wart-like appearance. These tumors often disappear automatically as your pet heals and develops immunity to them.

Papillomaviruses function by infecting your pet and inserting their genetic information into the host cell’s DNA. As a result, cells divide more frequently and abnormally, leading to lumps and growths in various parts of the body. Many types of Papillomaviruses can cause tumors in different body parts. Some viruses cause wart-like lumps near the eyes, while others can cause them near the paw pads.

Papillomaviruses can survive a long time within your dog’s body and cause lumps. Puppies and dogs with weaker immune systems are especially prone to developing papilloma warts. They can appear as inflamed polyps or flat, scaly warts. In healthy animals, these warts resolve automatically as the animal develops immunity to them. They do not spread to other body parts and rarely grow back after surgical removal.

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Non-Viral Nail-Like Tumors

There are other wart-like tumors as well. But they are not caused by Papillomaviruses. They are easy to remove and pose no health risks for your pet.

These are epidermal hamartomas (nevi) which are dark, pointy bumps on the skin. They are rare amongst adult dogs and commonly seen in puppies. Some breeds such as Cocker Spaniels can also inherit this condition. Although they are harmless, dogs may try to bite or scratch them, causing a secondary bacterial infection, so it is best to remove them. Common treatment options include surgical removal or medications. If multiple hamartomas are present, drug treatment is a better option than surgical removal.

Warty dyskeratosis can also occur in dogs, usually near hair follicles or sweat glands. They appear as bumps with a dark spot in the center.

Actinic Keratosis

Keratosis is a general term for wart and horn-like growths. Actinic Keratosis usually results from sun damage and resembles a cutaneous horn. Ultraviolet light (UVL) damage can affect the growth of keratinocytes (or skin cells), leading to masses of skin cells. These lesions usually start as sunburn but can develop into individual or multiple firm plaques. They usually occur where exposure to the sun is greatest, like the flanks and abdomen.

Actinic Keratosis is generally a painful condition where a crusted or ulcerated area surrounds the lump. If your pet has Actinic Keratosis, you will notice a lesion in a certain spot with a nail-like growth surrounded by ulcers.

You should consult your veterinarian about the treatment options for your pet. The main treatment for this condition is reducing sun exposure and oral retinoids.

Hair Follicle Tumors

Hair follicles are complex structures that consist of eight different layers. Depending on the region of the hair follicle impacted, many types of hair follicle tumors exist.

Trichilemommas are a rare and harmless mass of hair follicle tissues that usually appear on a dog’s head. Poodles are prone to developing this condition. The hair follicle has a root sheath, and these tumors develop at the lower part. They can also extend to the top layer of the skin.

Trichoepitheliomas are cystic hair follicle tumors that affect all parts of the hair follicle. They also appear similar to cutaneous horns and cornification is present.

What You Can Do

In most cases, a nail-like growth on your dog is benign. However, if your dog bites or scratches the growth, it can lead to ulcers and bacterial infections. Most conditions resolve easily with surgical removal and rarely reoccur. Visit your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment options.

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Susan Dorling

I am a pet expert with years of experience working with a variety of animals. From dogs and cats to birds and exotics, I have a deep understanding of their unique needs and behaviors. I am dedicated to helping pet owners provide the best care for their furry friend.

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