How to Spot and Treat Dog Hyperkeratosis?

Pet Health


September 14, 2021

Few things can be harder for dog owners to deal with than a problem with their pup’s paws and skin. This is especially true in the case of something as dramatic as hyperkeratosis. Not only is it hard to see such drastic signs of your dog’s physical suffering, but it can be hard to know what, if anything, you can do to help them.

Thankfully, there’s actually quite a bit you can do, so let’s take a deep dive into the hyperkeratosis dog paw problem and see how you can help your four-legged friend emerge healthy and happy once more.

Hyperkeratosis 101

For those not in the know, hyperkeratosis is a condition when the skin begins to harden and stiffen to the point it loses its natural softness. As the condition worsens, it can lead to the skin beginning to crack. It is not unique to dogs (we get it too) but since dogs can’t treat themselves for these kinds of conditions, it’s up to you to help them.

The biggest macro cause of hyperkeratosis is an excess of keratin. We all need plenty of keratin, as it is vital for the production of hair, skin, beaks, horns, and other features common to mammals. Too much of it, however, can lead to crustiness and hardening of the skin everywhere from your dog’s nose to its foot pads.

Not only can skin cracking be a great source of discomfort for your dog, but it can also be a severe problem for its health. Cracked skin can make it easier for bacteria and other infections to enter into their system. The crustiness on a dog’s paws can make it look like they have “hairy feet,” but make no mistake – it’s a skin problem, and one you need to address immediately.

Causes of Hyperkeratosis

There are several key factors that can play a role in your dog having too much keratin and developing hyperkeratosis. For example, some dogs are just more prone to it due to their family background, as genetic inheritance of the condition is common. In addition, some dog breeds are more prone to it, including Labradors, Golden Retrievers, English and French bulldogs, Irish terriers, Boxers, and more.

Age and the issues that can come with it are also huge factors. The older a dog is, the more its skin begins to harden naturally, and so the more likely it is to contract hyperkeratosis, especially if it is of an at-risk breed. Older dogs can also suffer from age-related issues that can exacerbate hyperkeratosis further, such as chronic liver disease.

Other common causes of dog hyperkeratosis include:

  • Parasites such as Leishmaniasis
  • Infectious diseases such as Canine Distemper, against which you should vaccinate your dog
  • Auto-immune diseases such as Pemphigus foliaceus, which is more common in older dogs
  • Zinc deficiencies

Signs of Hyperkeratosis

There are several key signs of hyperkeratosis of which you’ll need to be hyper aware, the most obvious of which being the aforementioned drying and crusting of your dog’s skin. There are other reasons why this may occur, so just because your dog’s paws are a bit dry isn’t a reason to jump to the worst conclusions. As such, you’ll want to look for the following warning signs as well.

If your dog’s skin is so cracked and crusty that it has started to bleed, that’s a huge red flag. You’ll want to pay special attention to its nose, ears, and the pads of its paws, with cracking and bleeding being especially prevalent and of special concern in the latter. Walking on such cracked and bloody paws is a pretty painful prospect, making limping another sign to watch out for.

No one would be particularly eager to run and play in such a state, so if your dog has suddenly started to be less active and has crusty or dry skin, hyperkeratosis could be the culprit. Your dog may try to “clean” its wounds, which could in turn lead to excessive licking of the paws.

How to Prevent Hyperkeratosis

Before we get into potential treatments for hyperkeratosis, let’s talk about a few ways you can stop it from being an issue in the first place. For example, this is yet another reason you should always bring your dog to the vet for annual checkups. The earlier they can catch something such as hyperkeratosis, the better they will be able to treat it, and the easier time your dog will have.

You’ll also want to make sure your yard is clean and that your dog is properly protected from things such as excessively dry weather or conditions that are conducive to parasites. In the latter case, you may want to consider looking into a vet-approve anti-parasite cream or medicine. Try to make sure your dog always has clean water and has a healthy diet.

If your dog has hyperkeratosis, you need to do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t get worse. Do not make your dog walk through the pain. Shorten the time you take your dog out for walks, or buy a stroller. Wheeling your dog around may not be any fun for either of you, but it could save your dog further pain and damage to its paws while you treat the hyperkeratosis.

  1. Hyperkeratosis Treatment #1: Remove the Excess Skin

Left unchecked, the excess hardened skin produced by hyperkeratosis will continue to grow, which can cause it to cover your dog’s ears, nose, and paws. This excess skin thus needs to be removed every few months at least.

This obviously needs to be done very carefully. Your dog’s paws in particular are very sensitive, and you shouldn’t just try and peel away excess skin yourself. Instead, you’ll want to seek veterinary assistance, or at least have a vet show you the proper technique.

On the positive side, if your dog’s skin is professionally trimmed by yourself or a vet as needed, your dog’s hyperkeratosis may not bother it that much.

  1. Hyperkeratosis Treatment #2: Clip Your Dog’s Nails

This is something you can do yourself, and something that is important for your dog’s hygiene, and thus its chances of contracting this condition in its paw region. Your dog’s nails shouldn’t be so long that they scrape the ground or affect the way your dog walks.

Properly clipping your dog’s paws requires a delicate touch, so if you aren’t used to doing it, have someone show you how or take your dog to a licensed groomer.

  1. Hyperkeratosis Treatment #3: Booties or Socks

If your dog’s paws are a mess, you may want to cover them while you implement other strategies for treating your dog’s hyperkeratosis. This can also help protect your dog’s paws if you live in an area that’s very hot, very cold or, if the latter, in an area where the ground is salted to help melt ice.

Dogs don’t tend to like wearing booties or socks, but as a short-term measure, they can be a helpful way of protecting their paws from further irritation, thus saving them further pain.

  1. Hyperkeratosis Treatment #4: Apply Skin Creams and Moisturizers

One of the most important steps you can take in trying to help your dog in the wake of a hyperkeratosis diagnosis is combatting the dryness of its skin. Skin creams and moisturizers are one of the best ways to do that.

However, you don’t want to just slather any old moisturizer or lotion on. These ointments have chemicals, too, and you need to be very careful not to make matters worse by applying something that contains chemicals that will further aggravate your dog’s irritated skin, especially if it is already cracked. Once again, you should ask your vet for help.

Thankfully, there are many skin creams and moisturizers for dogs out there. Many of these contain extra nutrients and vitamins such as vitamin E, which can also help. Some can even help slow the progress of your dog’s hyperkeratosis, though they cannot cure it completely, so be wary of any skin cream or moisturizer that sounds like it’s overpromising.

  1. Hyperkeratosis Treatment #5: Give Them a Sauna

As with the skin creams and moisturizers, simply treating your dog to “a spa day” as you would yourself isn’t going to do the trick. A dog sauna needs to be carefully calibrated to your dog’s tolerance for heat and the nature of its condition. After all, if heat is the root cause of the cracked skin, adding more heat isn’t likely to help.

Run your shower until it is nice and steamy in your bathroom, and then bring your dog in so its paws can soak up that moist, steamy air. If your dog has hyperkeratosis near its nose, this may also help clear up its nasal area and help it breathe better.

Hyperkeratosis can be a frustrating condition for you to treat and for your dog to live with – but it doesn’t have to be. By taking the right preventative steps, you can lessen the chances of your dog contracting hyperkeratosis, and if your dog does develop it, the right treatments can lessen its effects and ease the pain on your dog.