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Dog Hyperkeratosis: Top Ways to Prevent and Treat It

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Picture of Dr. Rick Coufal, DVM

Dr. Rick Coufal, DVM

Dr. Rick Coufal is the founder and lead veterinarian for Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic. Coufal graduated from State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in May of 2000.

You walk into the living room to see your adorable pup laying on his side, fast asleep. As you sit on the couch next to him, you notice his paw pads appear hard and crusty. Upon further examination, you find that his nose is also dry and crusty. Both of these are common signs of hyperkeratosis in dogs. The most common causes for hyperkeratosis in dogs includes genetics, age, autoimmune illnesses, infectious diseases and a protein deficiency.

At Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic, we know when this pesky skin condition arises, your dog is bound to be uncomfortable and sensitive. Along with this, your pet is susceptible to infections if the problem is given time to worsen. To help protect your dog’s health, we are here to educate owners about how they can identify, treat, and prevent hyperkeratosis in dogs.

Canine Hyperkeratosis

Canine hyperkeratosis is a condition that causes your dog to produce too much keratin. Keratin is the main protein that holds skin cells together and creates a barrier from the surrounding environment. Unfortunately, when keratin is produced in excess, it can cause more harm than good.

The extra keratin is what creates the hard, crusty layer on your dog’s paw pads, nose and even ears. This cracked version of skin is vulnerable to infection as various particles and bacteria can find their way under the skin. If left untreated, this skin condition will cause your dog discomfort and likely force him to reduce activity. In the case of a serious infection, your dog’s overall health is at risk, and in the worst cases, can cause fatality.

Dog Paw Hyperkeratosis Causes

Although dog paw hyperkeratosis is the most common variation of this skin condition, it can also develop on your dog’s nose, ears and even the stomach in some cases. There are various factors that may be the cause of your dog’s excessive keratin production, including:

  • Genetic and hereditary factors – Some dog breeds, including Irish terriers and Labradors, are more susceptible to hyperkeratosis. In some cases, dogs can develop this skin condition as young as four to nine months.
  • Age – As dogs get older, their skin tends to thicken. Also, issues like chronic liver disease and pancreatic tumors in older dogs are often associated with paw pad hyperkeratosis.
  • Parasites – Some parasitic diseases, like Leishmaniasis, a disease caused by a biting sand fly, can cause rampant keratin production.
  • Autoimmune diseases – With these diseases, the immune system attacks the connection between skin cells, which can lead to the dry and cracked skin presented in hyperkeratosis.
  • Infectious diseases – Hyperkeratosis is often a symptom of infectious diseases, including canine distemper.
  • Zinc deficiency – Zinc is a key player in the proper function of proteins in your dog’s body. Therefore, a lack of zinc can cause the keratin to ramp up production.

Signs of Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

With such a wide range of factors that can prompt hyperkeratosis in dogs, it is imperative owners are aware of their dog’s behavior and appearance. This way, they are able to identify the presence of hyperkeratosis. When examining your dog’s paw pads, nose, ears and behavior, the most common signs of hyperkeratosis to look out for include:

  • Rough, dry appearance 
  • Crusty layer
  • Cracks and bleeding (generally on paw pads)
  • Limping
  • Reduced activity
  • Frequent licking of paws
  • Sensitivity to paws, nose, or ears

Whether you are certain your dog is showing signs of hyperkeratosis or you only have a slight suspicion, it is important to take your dog to the vet. The sooner you visit the vet, the quicker you can manage the problem and your dog’s discomfort.

Dog Hyperkeratosis Treatment: Prevent and Manage

Although dog hyperkeratosis isn’t curable, there are numerous things your vet and you can do to manage the issue to prevent further discomfort. Treatment options will vary based on the cause of your dog’s skin condition.

How a Vet Can Help

Upon taking your dog to a veterinary clinic, the vet will complete a thorough exam to identify the underlying cause of the hyperkeratosis. This can include running blood work to determine if parasites, infectious or auto-immune diseases are present. The vet will also check if cracked paw pads led to any other infections. If one of these things is identified as the source of the problem, antibiotics will be the solution in most cases. Along with this, your vet may suggest an ointment to soothe the cracked areas.

Preventative Measures Owners Can Take

As this skin condition is not curable, the best way to battle the issue is to take preventive measures. Owners can do a variety of things to limit their dog’s vulnerability and discomfort.

  • Take your pet for annual checkups
  • Protect your pet from the environment
    • Keep your yard clean
    • Consider using vet-recommended parasite defense
    • Avoid dirty water
  • Ensure your dog has a balanced diet
  • Don’t make your dog walk through the discomfort of paw pad hyperkeratosis
    • Shorten walks
    • Take breaks
    • Buy a stroller

Overall, it is important to always be aware of your dog’s behavior and appearance to catch any issues early on.

How Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic Can Help

Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic knows it’s devastating to see your dog unhappy or experiencing severe discomfort. Our compassionate team is dedicated to providing prompt and thorough care for pets in Colorado Springs. We offer wellness exams and lab work to ensure your pet is safe and healthy. If you are concerned that your dog may have or be susceptible to hyperkeratosis, schedule an appointment today.

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