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Hyperkeratosis in Dogs: Causes and Prevention

Dogs at the Vet

Hyperkeratosis, informally known as “hairy dog feet,” is a non-fatal skin condition caused by a genetic immune system disorder that can be painful and cause secondary infections in certain dog breeds. As of now, hereditary keratosis is untreatable, but some measures can be taken to help manage it.

What is Hyperkeratosis?

If it does develop, it will manifest on your dog’s nose and paws. Fittingly, the names given to the different forms of canine hyperkeratosis are Nasal Hyperkeratosis and Foot Pad Hyperkeratosis. 

Hyperkeratosis is an overproduction of skin cells, causing the area to thicken and harden. When it forms, it resembles tiny hairs that appear to be growing on your dog’s nose or paw pads, when in actuality, it is dry skin. If it is left untreated, it can lead to painful skin cracking, creating the perfect environment for secondary infections. Dogs use their noses to guide them and their feet to explore, so having an open wound like cracked skin on such heavily contracted areas is not ideal. 

What Breeds are at Risk?

Dog breeds at genetic risk of developing hereditary hyperkeratosis include: 

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Irish Terriers 
  • English Bulldogs 
  • French Bulldogs 
  • Boxers 

As these breeds age, the risk of developing hyperkeratosis rises exponentially. 

Other Causes?

While hyperkeratosis is a genetic condition, it can also be caused by outside influence. Any dog or dog breed can technically develop a form of hyperkeratosis, but it is less common. 

These additional factors regardless of breed, include: 

  • Canine Distemper (Disease that is avoidable through vaccine)
  • Leishmaniasis (Disease caused by sand-fly bites)
  • Zinc deficiency 

Symptoms: What to Look For 

When your pup has developed some form of hyperkeratosis, there are a few signs they might display, other than the visual overgrowths and physical hardening of the skin. If your dog has developed footpad hyperkeratosis, it will likely be painful for them to walk or stand up. If they appear to avoid standing up or are whining in pain each time they stand up, check their paws for irregularities. A similar approach should be taken when nasal hyperkeratosis is suspected. 

ElleVet Dog in Apartment

Prevention & Management 

There is no “cure” for hereditary hyperkeratosis, but there are some methods we can take to lessen or eradicate discomfort. 

If your dog has hyperkeratosis, your veterinarian can help remove excess skin when it does develop on the paws or nose. You can attempt this yourself if you feel capable, but it is recommended to leave it to a professional. At the very least, you can learn a technique from your veterinarian when veterinary care is not a viable option. It can also be beneficial to use a daily ointment or balm on your dog’s affected areas, whether the footpads or nose. 

Although intimidating in name, hyperkeratosis is an extremely manageable condition when treated proactively. The risk of real pain and further infection comes with negligence. Monitor your dog’s condition and do what you can to help comfort them. If you think your dog is showing signs of newly formed hyperkeratosis, visit your veterinarian to discuss the next steps!

The ElleVet Team
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