What is a Hyperkeratosis Dog Paw? (Plus Symptoms and Treatment Options)

Avatar photo

Published by I Love Veterinary

Updated on

I Love Veterinary blog is reader-supported, and we may earn a commission from products purchased through links on this page, at no additional cost to you. Learn more About Us and our Product Review Process >

Hyperkeratosis dog paw is a very common condition in dogs. It is progressive and can be very uncomfortable.

It is also known as “hairy feet” because it has the appearance of hair growing on the pads. Of course, it is not hair! Do you know what it is? It’s dead skin.

So, what is hyperkeratosis dog paw? Keep reading this article to the end to learn about this ailment.

Bull terrier dog

Hyperkeratosis Paws in Dogs

It is a condition that occurs in the skin of dog pads. The main characteristic is an increase in the thickness of the epidermal layer.

Nasodigital hyperkeratosis dog paw is its denomination when it also happens in the muzzle.

It can also occur on points of support, such as the elbows, where the skin is hairless.

How Does Dog Paw Pad Hyperkeratosis Occur?

We will review the normal anatomy of the skin layers first. Then we can continue explaining how dog paw pad hyperkeratosis occurs. 

The skin of humans and animals has three layers. The outermost, the epidermis, is the one we see and can touch. It protects against toxins, bacteria, and moisture loss.

Epidermis, in turn, consists of five sub-layers of cells called keratinocytes. Produced in the epidermis basal layer, these cells migrate to the skin’s surface. As they move, keratinocytes undergo a series of changes. They stop receiving nutrition and begin to form a complex protein called “keratin.” This process, called keratinization, gives rise to the most superficial epidermis corneum layer.

The corneum stratum comprises, on average, about 20 sub-layers of dead, flattened cells. These dead cells shed in a process known as desquamation.

Did you know that keratin is the main protein of animal hairs, feathers, horns, claws, and beaks?

Epidermal lipids link together the cells of the epidermis corneum layer. They create a protective barrier and lock the moisture. When lipids are missing, the skin can become dry and may feel tight and rough.

We are now ready to understand hyperkeratosis in dogs.

The epidermis cells, like all cells in the body, adapt to avoid injury. One cellular adaptation form gives rise to hyperkeratosis.

Keratinocytes multiply in excess, and the desquamation process fails in canine hyperkeratosis. The overproduction of keratin results in overgrowth and thickening of the skin tissue.

Melanocytes are the second type of cell present in the deepest layer of the epidermis. These produce melanin, which gives coloration to skin tissues.

In these unhealthy dog paws, we also see a pigmentation disorder. This includes an epidermal melanin decrease in the thicker areas of the skin.

Keratomas, also known as corns on dog paws, are a type of plantar hyperkeratosis in dogs. It is a benign keratin mass that causes pain. It is a more advanced stage than hairy feet.

The Triggers

According to their origin, the types of dog paw pads hyperkeratosis are:

Hereditary

These are disorders that usually appear at an early age (between 4 and 12 months):

  • Familial nasal-plantar hyperkeratosis of the Dogue de Bordeaux and Irish Terrier
  • Nasal parakeratosis of the Labrador Retriever
  • Ichthyosis of Golden Retriever, West Highland White Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Pinscher, Jack Russell Terrier, and Yorkshire Terrier

Secondary

When it manifests as a symptom of underlying infections:

  • Parasitic: Leishmaniasis
  • Infectious: Distemper – papillomavirus
  • Autoimmune: Systemic lupus erythematosus – Pemphigus foliaceus
  • Metabolic: Hepatocutaneous syndrome (superficial necrolytic dermatitis)
  • Neoplastic: Cutaneous lymphoma
  • Alimentary: Zinc-sensitive dermatitis. Occurs in:
  1. Alaskan dog breeds, like Huskies or Malamutes, are unable to absorb enough zinc from their diets
  2. Fast-growing dog breeds like Great Danes when their diets include too much supplementation with minerals that bind zinc
  3. Dogs with zinc-deficient diets can also suffer from this condition
  • Mechanical:
  1. Nasolacrimal duct blockage: Does not assist in lubricating the nose
  2. A healthy dog’s nose or paw pad has a fine papillate appearance with little keratin. Normal microtraumas, as they eat, drink, or walk, remove keratin from the surface
  3. In dogs with short snouts, the nose does not touch dishes, and keratin will accumulate on the muzzle dorsum. Examples: boxers, Boston terriers, or English bulldogs
  4. For dogs with long nails or crooked/deformed legs, keratin will accumulate in the non-wearing part of the pad. Example: English bulldog

Idiopathic

When it develops ‘spontaneously’ in animals without underlying pathology, it usually occurs in aged dogs in both the plantar pads and the nose. Predisposed breeds are:

  1. Cocker spaniels
  2. Basset hounds
  3. Beagles
  4. Boxers
  5. Bulldogs

Keratomas or horns can appear in any breed, but Greyhounds are more susceptible. They have a less adipose cushion between the toe bones and the epidermis of their plantar pads. Also, they are dogs designed to run hard and fast. So, their footpads are more prone to chronic micro-injuries. This damage causes the hyperkeratosis necessary to develop the cutaneous horns.

What are the Symptoms of Canine Hyperkeratosis?

Dog Paws are Rough, Thickened, and Have Dry Skin

Growth on dog paw pads is the most characteristic symptom of this condition. This excessive keratin deposition may also occur on the muzzle of the animal. It may occur on both structures or only on one of them.

Often, this growth happens on the outer margins of the paw pads and the top of the nose. This abnormal skin appears feather-like. It is thicker, tougher, and drier than normal skin. In the case of keratomas, the keratin skin growths have a warty appearance.

 Also, coloration changes occur: The thicker the hyperkeratosis, the less melanin is present.

Cracks, Fissures, and Erosions

The normal protective barrier is ineffective in hyperkeratotic skin. As a result, it is more prone to external trauma, and cracks, fissures, and erosions are common.

Fungi and bacteria that exist in small amounts on the skin can begin to multiply. As a result, secondary bacterial and/or mycotic infections appear.

Pain and Difficulty Walking

In severe cases, the abnormal and proliferative tissue can cause pain and discomfort. This can lead to various manifestations, such as claudication, whining, difficulty sitting up, etc.

Bleeding

When the skin cracks and fissures, bleeding is likely to occur. Consequently, pain and an extra pathway for opportunistic bacterial infection entry arise.

Great dane portrait

How Vets Diagnose the Occurrence

The diagnosis of nasodigital hyperkeratosis can be simple or very complicated. Although it is a local condition easy to recognize, it could be evidence of a more severe disease.

The breed, age, and characteristic lesions tell us much about what type of hyperkeratosis it could be.

A veterinarian needs to perform a complete physical examination and run specific tests. And only then prescribe an adequate and effective treatment.

A skin biopsy is a specific test to diagnose hereditary and idiopathic hyperkeratosis.

We can infer that we are dealing with hereditary-type lesions if a puppy of a predisposed breed presents cutaneous characteristics of hyperkeratosis on plantar pads and/or muzzle.

Nasodigital hyperkeratosis may be another symptom of a primary, usually severe, disease if present in conjunction with other skin lesions or systemic symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, etc.).

Finally, we must consider the patient’s age and breed predisposition if we are in the presence of idiopathic hyperkeratosis. Typical lesions occur in the absence of other skin or systemic problems.

What are the Available Treatment Options?

Secondary hyperkeratosis is the one that requires more and faster medical attention. This is because it could be life-threatening due to the primary disease.

Hyperkeratosis dog paw pad treatment depends on the severity of the lesions as follows:

  • Mild and/or asymptomatic cases generally do not need treatment
  • In patients with moderate hyperkeratosis, the owner performs a local treatment. The goal is to prevent keratin overgrowth and progression to a more advanced stage. The therapy aims to soften and lubricate the affected skin. It also helps repair the skin barrier. It consists of the following:
  1. Warm water or English salt (magnesium sulfate): They favor the penetration of other active ingredients. You can soak or place compresses for five to 10 minutes.
  2. Keratolytic agents: They dissolve keratin and increase the acidity of the pad –examples: salicylic acid, urea, and lactic acid.
  3. Emollients: Regenerate and protect the skin—examples: fatty acids, essential oils, or waxes.
  4. In some cases, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and/or antifungal creams may be necessary.

Choosing the correct products is an important step. Remember, dogs tend to lick everything! The speed of penetration and their innocuousness are critical features. The success or failure of the treatment depends on this.

Initially, it is necessary to apply treatment two or three times a day. After symptoms are under control, a daily application will limit recurrences.

Although petroleum jelly is a non-toxic accessible product, it is not the best choice for this condition. Vaseline is a crude oil derivative, so the dog should not have long-term access to licking it off. Besides, it will not cure hyperkeratosis of the paw pads.

In severe cases of hyperkeratosis, the dog is in pain. First, the veterinarian should perform surgery under general anesthesia. The goal is to remove excess keratin or horns. Then, start local treatment with moisturizers and emulsifiers. Antibiotic treatment is necessary until healed.

In most cases, trimming is necessary only at the beginning of treatment. It will allow the creams and balms to take effect.

Treatment with preventive balms should be lifelong. As keratin formation does not stop, the aim is to soften and remove excess keratin. 

What is the Severity of Hyperkeratosis Dog Paws?

In secondary hyperkeratosis, the underlying pathology can be severe. Require immediate medical attention with a guarded prognosis.

The severity of the hereditary or idiopathic manifestation is the pain it causes. It can lead to claudication or impediment to standing up.

Bacterial and fungal infections in nasopodal hyperkeratosis can cause further complications.

Does Hyperkeratosis Hurt Dogs?

The answer is yes! It is important to note that hyperkeratosis in dogs is not a cosmetic problem. It is an uncomfortable and painful condition.

It is necessary to check your pet’s pads for areas of hard, thickened, and dry skin, especially if discomfort when walking occurs in the case of predisposed breeds.

How to Trim Hyperkeratosis Dog Paws

Dogs with mild to moderate hyperkeratosis can have excess keratin removed with scissors. After learning this process, owners can do this trimming at home. It is a treatment option for asymptomatic dogs.

It is essential not to cut keratin in excess. Overtreatment can remove the standard protective coating predisposing to lacerations and friction ulcers.

In severe cases, trimming is necessary at the beginning of the treatment. Afterward, moisturizing and keratolytic agents will reduce the accumulation of keratin.

In keratomas or horns, the vet has to remove the excess visible keratin plus its deep root. After surgery, the owner continues with local medical treatment. Predisposed breeds usually present recurrences.

In Which Canine Lifestage Can This Condition Occur?

Genetic hyperkeratosis may appear within the first year of a dog’s life. On the other hand, idiopathic hyperkeratosis occurs, in most cases, in geriatric animals.

Notably, secondary hyperkeratosis arises as a symptom of another pathology. Thus, it appears in the age range in which the primary pathology manifests itself. 

Available Prevention Methods

Hereditary and Idiopathic Hyperkeratosis

Although there is no cure, preventive measures are:

  1. Check your dog’s foot pads for inflamed, hard areas or abnormal keratin growth. Starting preventative treatment before developing scabs, fissures, and infections is best.
  2. Wear special socks or booties for dogs if you live in extremely cold or hot weather. Your puppy may not like it at first, but it’s all a matter of patience.
  3. It is healthier that our friend gets used to sleeping in soft places such as dog beds. Hard floor predisposes to dog paw pad callus.
  4. Keep nails hygienic and short. These will help to distribute the pressure on all points of the paw pads when walking. Dogs with long nails tend to have keratin overgrowth on the small toe pad.
  5. Hyperkeratosis dog paw home remedy does not exist. But there is a wide variety of commercial balms made with organic ingredients. They have moisturizing, hydrating, soothing, and nourishing effects. Their components are essential oils, fatty acids, and vitamins. They absorb fast and do not stain surfaces after rubbing onto dogs’ paws. Some even have sunscreen to apply on the nose. Used for curative and preventive treatments

Secondary Hyperkeratosis

Prevention is the key to avoiding primary diseases. Then:

  1. Adequate vaccination schedule for puppies: Canine distemper can be a fatal disease for dogs. Hyperkeratosis is the most benign symptom of this devastating disease
  2. Good quality balanced food: This tip is important for owners of breeds predisposed to zinc deficiency dermatitis

As for immune-mediated diseases, there is no preventive treatment. So, the owner must be attentive to the appearance of symptoms and start treatment as soon as possible.

Notably, leishmaniasis is not common in the USA. However, the Lutzomyia mosquito is the transmitter, and its worldwide distribution is increasing. There is no effective curative treatment so far. For this reason, preventive medicine is very important. Some countries have a vaccine against Leishmania available.

Is the Condition Dangerous?

Hereditary and idiopathic conditions, although not curable, have a good prognosis. Thus, we can conclude that these conditions are not dangerous.

However, pathologies that cause secondary hyperkeratosis are dangerous, even fatal. If the animal recovers, the signs of hyperkeratosis reverse.

Boxer dog in the garden

Other Areas Where Canine Hyperkeratosis Can Occur

 Canine hyperkeratosis can affect other areas of the body, such as:

  • Elbows: When lying on hard surfaces, the friction causes calluses
  • Tips of the ears: In breeds with long and pendulous ears due to constant rubbing against objects 

The Bottom Line

Although this condition is not life-threatening, it is a very common one. Knowing that it exists and how to prevent it is the best gift we can give our friend to avoid pain and discomfort!

Sharing is caring!

Avatar photo

AUTHOR

Project dedicated to support and help to improve Veterinary Medicine. Sharing information and raising discussions in the veterinary community.

Recomended

pedialyte for dogs

Pedialyte for Dogs: 2024 Updated

8 min read

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Drop your email below to join I Love Veterinary squad and enjoy regular news, updates, exclusive content, new arrivals and more!