Have you noticed your dog has dry, cracked paws recently? Does your dog yelp in pain at odd times, or limp frequently? Do they seem to fear the occasional walk?
If so, your dog just might have hyperkeratosis in his paws.
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What Exactly is Hyperkeratosis in Dogs?
Hyperkeratosis basically refers to a thickening in the outer skin layer. The skin contains a protein called Keratin, helping support rigidity and added protection. Keratin is actually part of the hair and nails etc.
Keratin is a type of protective protein. In this case, your dog’s body (paws) is simply producing too much keratin. Consider medical terminology in this case:
- Hyper: High, above normal
- Keratin: Root word (protein)
- Osis: Diseased state, increase
Hyperkeratosis itself isn’t always a specific disorder; you might have a very hard time finding many veterinary sources referring to it.
It’s kind of like medical terminology for me saying ‘thick paw pads’. ‘Thick Paw Pads’ isn’t any kind of specific disorder, but a symptom of whatever caused it.
Canine Digital Hyperkeratosis refers to ‘hard pad disease’, while Hereditary footpad hyperkeratosis (HFH) causes the dog’s paw epidermis to thicken. They all basically mean one thing: Unusually thick paw pads.
Breeds more prone to developing Canine Hyperkeratosis includes:
- Golden Retrievers
- Bedlington/Irish Terriers
- English Bulldogs/Frenchies
- Dogues de Bordeaux
Veterinarians will often refer to this in simpler, straightforward terms, using the term Pododermatitis, simply meaning inflammation of the feet and paws.
- Podo: Prefix referring to feet (paws)
- Derma: Skin
- Itis: Suffix meaning inflammation
You also might hear the term ‘Ichthyosis’, a very rare condition referring to the thickening of the outer skin on your pup’s footpads. Ichthyosis is caused by a recessive trait (again, genetic).
Though this is very rare, it is seen more often in the following breeds:
- West Highland White Terrier
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Doberman Pinscher
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Norfolk Terrier
- Yorkshire Terrier
Sadly, this condition is both chronic and incurable, worsening with age, but it still can be managed with various medical rinses and shampoos. We will discuss treatments further below.
What Causes Hyperkeratosis Dog Paw?
You might have heard this called ‘hairy dog feet’, but your dog’s paw is simply producing too much Keratin! One specific condition is actually called Seborhhea, a word referring to a problem with keratinization (outer layer of skin constantly replaced with new cells).
Symptoms can include:
- Increased flaky skin
- Foot/paw odor
- Red, inflamed skin
- Secondary infections
Hereditary & Genetic Causes
Like many other disorders, Hyperkeratosis could simply be caused by a faulty genetic code. This is actually the most common cause, and can often appear earlier in a dog’s life.
Hereditary footpad hyperkeratosis is an inherited disorder in dogs caused by a recessive trait, usually presenting as early as 4-5 months old. Given enough time, these unusually thick footpads can develop cracked, open wounds, pain, and eventual lameness.
It’s always important to consult your veterinarian about trimming the excess growths on these footpads in order to prevent those wounds.
Diseases and Disorders
Certain disorders in dogs can lead to this problem. Parasites (often causing problems themselves) can become a cause. Infections, auto-immune disorders (again genetic), and mineral deficiencies can even become problematic.
Some strains of the virus causing distemper can cause hyperkeratosis (unusual thickening of footpads), which is why the disease itself is sometimes referred to as ‘hard pad disease’.
Your dog’s skin will begin to thicken with age, as opposed to the thinning we see in humans. This problem also might be associated with older dogs that suffer from a chronic (long-term) liver disease or pancreatic tumors.
How do You Get Rid of Hyperkeratosis?
You’ll need to take a visit to the veterinarian! Your vet will examine your dog, searching for a treatable root cause. Since either pododermatitis or hyperkeratosis in the dog’s paw can be caused by many things, there isn’t one exact overall treatment.
Curing this dog foot problem depends on the ability to cure the problem that caused it. In the case of Seborrhea above, or many other genetic causes, there might not be any specific cure other than lifelong management.
Hyperkeratosis simply means a thickening of the outer layer of the skin in humans and can take many forms.
There is currently no known cure for Canine Hyperkeratosis (or excess keratin production).
What will your veterinarian do?
After your veterinarian has identified hyperkeratosis in your dog’s paw, they’ll begin looking for the underlying cause.
If the foot or lesions are already infected, your dog will receive antibiotics. Your dog’s paw will be cleaned and likely bandaged, along with a gauze pad to cushion the wound during walking.
Your veterinarian might apply a temporary sedative or nerve block in order to work on the sensitive dog paw injury. Of course, you won’t be able to do this at home and will have to have your veterinarian help.
- Clean the wound
- Apply slight but continuous pressure to control bleeding
- Apply gauze bandage to contain wound, prevent outside irritants
- Bandage cleaned daily
Veterinarians discourage breeding affected dogs since this is an incurable, often painful disorder passed from parents to offspring.
“Daily foot soaks in 50% propylene glycol may be of benefit (Schroeder, Hiedi. DVM).”
-Conditions of the Canine Footpad
While it can’t be cured, it can and should be managed regularly to keep the problem controlled. The following will help:
Get Dog Boots
Consider boots for your dog’s paws! Though this won’t treat the underlying condition itself, it will protect your dog’s paws from further injury. Boots are especially helpful if you live in very hot or cold climates, or Summer and Winter.
Clip Nails Regularly
Long nails can impact the way your dog is able to walk. Grossly long nails can curl back and begin affecting the actual health of your dog’s feet. The longer your dog’s nails are allowed to grow, the longer the quick (vascular portion) will be.
Use a Moisturizing Balm
Not only will it help keep those paws clean and healthy, a moisturizer will also help prevent your dog’s hyperkeratosis dog paw from becoming dry and cracked or developing open sores. Take a look at our suggestion below!
4. Ask Your Veterinarian to Trim Excess Skin
In order to stay happy & healthy, or to prevent excess pain, those pads will need to be trimmed down on a regular basis. If you ask your veterinarian to demonstrate proper technique, you’ll always be prepared to keep that dog paw looking great!
Can I Trim my Dog’s Hyperkeratosis?
Your dog’s paw pads will need to be trimmed on a regular basis to prevent that excess skin from growing out of control and becoming painful or infected. If not treated regularly, Canine Hyperkeratosis can lead to cracked skin and secondary infections.
Should you trim your dog’s Hyperkeratosis? Your dog’s paw pads do need to be managed and trimmed regularly, but ideally in a controlled medical setting.
It’s important to keep this problem managed and your dog’s excess paw pad skin short. The excess skin can be softened and trimmed. At the same time, doing this at home can introduce more hazards.
Unless your vet has specifically shown you how to do this properly, self-treatment at home isn’t recommended by any medical professional.
You could cause open sores, which would be terrible for an area constantly introduced to dirty surfaces, or introduce foreign bacteria.
Your best option would be requesting a veterinarian to do this in a sterile environment with clean tools, able to properly handle any unforeseen complications.
What is the Best Paw Balm for Dogs?
There are many paw balms for dogs out there on the market, and most of them contain similar ingredients. This one mentioned here is specifically advertised by America’s largest, and one of the world’s most credible, breed registries- the American Kennel Club.
Ingredients (All USDA Certified Organic): sunflower oil, hemp oil, olive oil, calendula oil, rosemary oil, beeswax, St. John’s Wort, carnauba wax
Personally, I never trust any brand that doesn’t list the exact ingredients along with their products (many do not), no matter how well recommended they are.
Foot Soak Solution
Veterinarians also recommend a foot soak in a 50% propylene glycol solution, which is generally considered safe (in small amounts) and actually an additive to foods. This shouldn’t be confused with ethylene glycol, which is toxic. They can also recommend oral vitamin A therapy.
Remember your dog is probably going to try to lick at and ingest anything you put on his paws, so anything you put on those injured paw pads will have to be safe for your pet! Avoid anything that is not completely organic (Vaseline, petroleum jelly). For example, the main ingredient in Vaseline is petroleum jelly, made from crude oil (not good to consume in larger quantities).