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dog paw with hyperkeratosis

Have you ever looked at your dog’s paws (or maybe its nose) and noticed that it looks dry or cracked?

Or maybe you’ve noticed something strange going on and said to yourself “why is there hair growing on my dog’s paws (or nose)”? 

Maybe you were taught to think this is a normal byproduct of the dog’s paws interacting with the harsh environments outside.

This is actually a skin condition and it has a name.


Canine hyperkeratosis, as the name suggests, is a condition, in which there is an overproduction of keratin. It causes thickening and/or hardening of the skin.

Most often, it affects the paw pads and nose. But, it can also affect the ears, stomach, friction areas, calluses, etc. 

Hyperkeratosis appears as thickening and hardening of the skin with keratin fronds on the surface that appear as if there are tiny, densely packed, little hairs growing out of the affected area.

That hardening leads to reduced elasticity, drying out of the skin, and even cracking, which can result in bleeding and/or secondary infections due to the exposed inner layers of tissue.

Is Hyperkeratosis painful for dogs?

The severity of the condition can vary from very mild to very severe.

Milder cases are usually not painful but they can still cause your dog discomfort.

Dog paw pads are supposed to be elastic. Losing that elasticity, because of dry skin, can lead to discomfort while walking.

If left untreated, symptoms may worsen to include reduced activity, reluctance to walk, excessive paw licking, painful cracks, and even infections.

What causes Hyperkeratosis in Dogs?

There are a couple of causes for canine hyperkeratosis:

  • Heritability and genetics. Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to it, e. g. Dogue de Bordeaux, Irish terriers, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Boxers. Symptoms of the condition can start showing as early as 4 months old;
  • Age. As dogs age, the skin tends to harden, leading to this condition. Furthermore, issues like chronic liver disease and pancreatic tumors are frequently associated with paw pad hyperkeratosis;
  • Parasites. Leishmaniosis, a parasite transmitted by the bite of phlebotomine sand flies, found in parts of the tropics, subtropics, and southern Europe, can cause rapid production of keratin, leading to the development of the condition;
  • Infectious diseases. Canine distemper can have hyperkeratosis as one of its symptoms;
  • Auto-immune diseases such as Pemphigus foliaceus can also be responsible for the development of the condition;
  • Zinc deficiency can have many symptoms, hyperkeratosis being one of them.
Hyperkeratosis in Dog Paws

How is dog Hyperkeratosis treated?

Treatment largely depends on the cause of the condition.

Depending on the cause, treatment can include balms, antibiotics, and supplements. So, it is important to have the correct diagnosis as hyperkeratosis can be a symptom of a larger problem.

In all cases, topical treatment of the area, using balms, ointments, creams, or gels is an essential component of keeping the Hyperkeratosis under control.

Balms with keratolytic active ingredients (salicylic acid, lactic acid, urea, or tretinoin) can help dissolve the keratin deposits as well as moisturize the area.

That way, the affected area is reduced and any cracks and infections are minimized or altogether prevented.

The application should be on a daily basis to ensure the best possible results in managing the condition and reducing flare-ups.

Any treatment plan should be formulated with your veterinarian to ensure optimal results. 

Treatment should be supervised by your veterinarian to make sure you’re treating it the correct way.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, while it may sound and look scary, hyperkeratosis is largely treatable.

It can be kept in check so that your dog can enjoy everyday activities without the discomfort the condition might bring.

In hereditary cases, most often all that is needed is the application of a specially formulated paw pad cream to keep the symptoms in check.

One such balm you can use, with proven effectiveness in treating hyperkeratosis, is the Dermoscent Bio Balm. It is widely available both in the USA and Europe.

Whatever you may choose, it should always be vet-approved to ensure proper treatment of your dog.

And even if your dog doesn’t have issues with “hairy feet”, it is always a great idea to keep their paws moisturized.

They can still dry out from the weather. Balms also provide a thin layer of protection when applied, so that you can protect your pup from the hot pavement in summer or the harsh salts in winter.