Canine hyperkeratosis (hai-pr-keh-ruh-tow-suhs) is often referred to as ‘hairy dog feet’ due to the physical nature of the skin condition.
Hyperkeratosis is caused by high levels of keratin, a natural protein produced in their body. Keratin is the protein that protects skin cells and holds them together to create a strong boundary between their internal cells and the harsh outside world. When their body starts to produce too much of this protein, the skin cells that were once a strong, protective layer becomes dry and cracked. When their skin begins to crack it causes pain and discomfort in the areas affected, such as the nose, paws, and even the ears. If hyperkeratosis is left untreated, it can allow infections to enter into the dog’s body and cause further harm to their well-being.
There is no known cure, but there are treatments to ensure your dog is in the least pain possible.
Symptoms of Hyperkeratosis
Knowing what to look for and catching it early can prevent dogs from being in pain when they don’t have to be. Here are the most common symptoms of hyperkeratosis.
- Dry appearance on the skin
- Flaking skin
- Changes in mood
- Excessive itching
- Increased licking
- Reduced activity
- Not interested in toys
- Cracks and bleeding
- Aggressive behavior when skin is touched
It can often appear as though there’s thick hair growing on the dog’s paw pads or on the dog’s nose. Hence people calling it hairy dog feet disease!
Causes of Hyperkeratosis
Canine hyperkeratosis is often genetic and thus has no preventive vaccine.
Dogs that commonly get hyperkeratosis included, but are not limited to, the following breeds:
- Irish Terrier
- Iris Terriers
- Dogues de Bordeaux
- Golden Retrievers
Other breeds are still able to have the disease due to dogs crossing throughout breeding. Dogs will be born with the gene in their body, though the symptoms may not appear until they are older or even a full adult. Some puppies may have symptoms that appear as early as under a year of age.
Hyperkeratosis can also be a symptom of other diseases.
- Zinc Responsive Dermatosis
- Pemphigus foliaceus
- Canine Distemper
- Auto-immune diseases
- Infectious diseases
- Pancreatic tumors
The above diseases and illnesses may be able to be treated with medication that can cause hyperkeratosis symptoms to decrease or disappear.
When in doubt, call a professional!
If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms or is in visible pain, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
When your dog is brought to the vet, there are multiple treatments and tests that they may be given. A skin impression may be taken from them to be looked at under a microscope. The dog may also have to have other lab work done to ensure the correct diagnosis is given. Labs such as blood testing, urine analysis, and a skin punch biopsy are options.
Professional treatment can include the use of immunosuppressive drugs, steroids, and/or topical ointments. Using topical treatments can help keep the skin soft and prevent cracking from hyperkeratosis while oral medicine works from the inside to tackle the underlying issues.
Trust your veterinarian and ensure you stick to the treatment plan to give your dog the best chance at recovery.
For some dogs, the symptoms are only mild and can be treated at home after an initial check from the veterinarian. There are tons of topical treatments that can help reduce the pain that hyperkeratosis can cause.
Paw Soother from Natural Dog Company can reduce redness and inflammation to help soothe and moisturize their skin . With 4.8 stars and 380 reviews, Paw Soother is one of our highest recommendations for your pup.
Dermapaw Dog Skin & Paw Treatment is sold on Chewy.com and can reduce itching and pain caused by various skin issues. It is made with all-natural ingredients (shea butter, jojoba oil, emu oil, and beeswax) so even if they lick it, it’s still safe for them!
Vets Preferred Advanced Pad Protection is sold on Amazon and is designed to soothe and protect the dog’s paw pads. With two-day shipping, you can have your pup feeling better in no time!
Some vets will make the recommendation that Neosporin on dogs can be used on open cuts on their skin. Check with your vet before applying any unapproved medication not designed for pets.
Doing topical treatments with your pup can help reduce the pain and discomfort they are in, as well as protect them from bacteria entering their body through the cracks.
Make a routine of putting the ointment on your dog at specific times to make sure you do not forget to do it and to make the dog more comfortable with the application. A good example would be to do an application of the topical medicine after returning from their walk or in the morning before you leave for work!
Keeping your dog calm during application will make the topical treatment easier for both you and your pup! Make sure you are talking softly to them and not getting stressed when applying the treatment. Remember that hyperkeratosis is often a painful thing for your dog to go through. Give them dog treats and belly rubs when they allow you to apply the balm without forcing them. Over time, they will learn that the balm is a good thing and they will not fight you too hard to give them their paw pads. Just take your time and stay patient!
Staying Ahead of Hyperkeratosis
There are steps you can take to ensure you catch any health issues early and can react quickly! Taking your dog for their annual check-up and getting a full body check can make sure health issues are less likely to be missed.
Trimming nails using dog nail grinders and other at-home physical checks is a great way to spot medical issues before they become serious. Doing weekly or biweekly checks of all dog’s paws can prevent any injury and infections from spreading. Checking your dog’s paws regularly will force you to always have an updated status on their paw health!
Putting dog boots on your pup when going on rough terrain or rocky areas can help prevent them from cutting their paws or further damaging their pads. The first step to treating any skin issue is protection! Better to protect rather than have to treat!
Keeping your yard clean of debris and free from any standing water can help decrease the likelihood of your dog cutting its paws or getting into bacteria-infested areas. Standing water allows for bugs, such as mosquitoes, to breed and populate within the dog’s area. These bugs can carry diseases and bacteria that can harm your pup if they step into that water or drink it. It is also important to clean up after their bowel movements and discard it in a safe manner to prevent them from stepping in it, rolling in it, and it ensures you do not step in it then track it into your home.
If your dog is suffering from cuts and cracks on their paw pads, reducing the number or length of walks can encourage their paws to heal. Walking them on the grass instead of on hot pavement can also help protect their paws from further damage.
A Healthy Dog is a Happy Dog
Giving your dog a healthy and happy life should be the number one priority for all pet owners! Even with hyperkeratosis, dogs can live a full and active lifestyle. Staying ahead of their treatment, keeping track of their skin’s health, and keeping the vet updated is the best way to keep their skin as healthy as possible.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! The internet is your best friend and your vet’s primary concern is keeping your pets healthy. Tons of pet owners before you have treated their dog’s hyperkeratosis and are always willing to share their wisdom.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How is hyperkeratosis treated in dogs?
Treating hyperkeratosis all depends on the severity of the dog’s skin and the cause of it. Mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter topical ointments and other home treatments after a quick visit to the vet. More serious cases require specialized treatment from your veterinarian and may include oral medicine, as well as a prescribed topical treatment. Stay dedicated to the treatment plan and keep your vet up to date on any changes or concerns.
2. Is hyperkeratosis in dogs serious?
Yes, hyperkeratosis can cause serious pain and continued health issues when not treated. Allowing the paw pad or nose to crack allows bacteria to enter the dog’s body, increasing their chances of more health issues down the road. Treating hyperkeratosis is the key to success to prevent your pet from being in pain. When treated properly, hyperkeratosis is manageable and not a deadly disease for dogs.
3. How do you get rid of hyperkeratosis?
Sadly, hyperkeratosis does not have a known cure (yet!). Once a dog starts showing the symptoms of it, it more than likely will continue to suffer from the symptoms. The best thing you can do is to give them a treatment that will reduce the cracking, itching, inflammation, and bleeding on their skin. Keeping the skin that is affected moisturized and clean will allow the skin to heal and reduce pain.
4. What causes dog paw hyperkeratosis?
Hyperkeratosis in dogs is a genetic trait that is given to them through their parent’s bloodline. Certain breeds are more prone to have hyperkeratosis in their lineage, yet all dogs may have it in their genes due to cross-breeding of dog breeds. Hyperkeratosis can also be a symptom of other canine illnesses and can be healed through the treatment of the underlying health issue.
5. Is hyperkeratosis contagious?
No, it is a genetic disease that is passed down through the dog’s bloodline from their parents and can be passed to their puppies. It can not go from dog to dog from blood or other body contacts. If your dog has hyperkeratosis, you do not have to worry about them giving it to other dogs. They can still go to the dog park and play with all of their friends!