Hyperkeratosis in Dogs: An Overview

by | Aug 26, 2021 | Dog Health


Have you noticed a rough crust of skin on your dog’s paws or nose? Or maybe your furry friend is experiencing a difficult time walking? It’s possible that they’re suffering from hyperkeratosis.

In this blog, we’ll provide an overview of canine hyperkeratosis. Find out its causes and symptoms, as well as ways to prevent and treat the condition.

What is Hyperkeratosis?

Hyperkeratosis occurs when your dog excessively produces keratin. Keratin is the primary protein that makes up the hair, nails, and skin. It acts as a protective layer of the skin from the external environment. But if too much keratin is present, it could build up and cause harm to your dog.

A rough, crusty patch can appear on your dog’s paws, nose, and ear when this happens. This can make your dog vulnerable to infections since the protective layer has cracked and can no longer shield the skin against bacteria and other harmful particles. If untreated, it can feel painful for your dog to move, stand, or walk.

What Causes Hyperkeratosis?

Different factors can come to play when it comes to hyperkeratosis in dogs. It includes the following:

  • Age. Hyperkeratosis is more common in middle-aged or older dogs. Dog skin tends to get thick with age, making adult dogs more susceptible to the disease.
  • Breed/Genetics. Some dog breeds are more naturally predisposed to hyperkeratosis regardless of age, like Cocker Spaniels, Dogues de Bordeaux, Irish Terriers, and Labradors.
  • Zinc Deficiency. Zinc plays a key role in ensuring that proteins work as they should. If your dog doesn’t get enough zinc, it could lead to the abnormal production of keratin. It could also lead to conditions like zinc dermatosis.
  • Parasites. Parasites could also trigger keratin hyperproduction. For example, your dog could get diagnosed with leishmaniasis, a parasitic condition that happens when a sandfly bites your dog’s skin.
  • Infectious Diseases. Hyperkeratosis is also a common symptom for infectious diseases, like canine distemper virus and papillomavirus infection.
  • Auto-immune Diseases. Conditions like pemphigus foliaceus can make your dog produce more keratin. When this happens, the immune system attacks the skin cells, making them cracked and dry.

What are the Symptoms of Hyperkeratosis in Dogs?

Just like with any disease, it’s important to detect hyperkeratosis at the earliest possible time so your dog can promptly receive the care it needs. So watch out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Dry, crusty layer of skin
  • Cracks, fissures, and bleeding
  • Pain or sensitivity in the affected area (nose, paws, ears)
  • Loss of skin color in the affected area
  • Frequent licking of the paws
  • Limping
  • Lameness
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Secondary infections

Take note of any physical or behavioral changes that may point to hyperkeratosis. If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, it’s best to seek help from your vet immediately.

How Does Your Vet Diagnose Canine Hyperkeratosis?

Since hyperkeratosis leaves a distinct appearance and pattern on your dog’s skin, it’s easier for your vet to diagnose the condition. It usually starts with a simple physical examination but your vet may require other diagnostic tests. 

For example, your vet can run some blood work to check if there is an infection. They can also request a sample of the affected skin for closer examination. After all, your dog’s skin could be more prone to infection compared to normal skin because of the cracks where harmful particles could enter.

Lastly, your vet may run other examinations like a biopsy and histopathology to identify the root cause of the disease. This applies to cases where other symptoms are present because of an underlying condition.

How to Treat Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

At the moment, there is no known cure for hyperkeratosis in dogs. However, you can easily manage its symptoms once your dog has been properly diagnosed. Hyperkeratosis is generally benign, but for more serious cases, your dog will need treatment.

We’ve listed some of the treatment options that you can look into. You can discuss this with your vet to ensure that your dog gets the best care.

Underlying Disease Treatment

As mentioned earlier, your dog’s hyperkeratosis could arise because of another disease. It can be an auto-immune disease or be caused by a parasite. If your dog has an underlying condition, the treatment process will focus on treating that condition. After all, it will need to be addressed to improve your dog’s quality of life.

Excess Keratin Trimming

If there is no underlying infection and if the hyperkeratosis isn’t life-threatening in any way, you can simply trim the excess keratin from your dog’s paws. However, you should consult your vet first so you can perform the procedure safely.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Slowly and gently clip the crusty layers around the affected area. 
  • Stick to the surface in case you end up accidentally cutting your dog’s skin.

Feet Soaking

If the affected area is in the paws, consider soaking your pet’s feet in warm water with Epsom salt for 15 minutes. This can help relieve the pain caused by paw pad hyperkeratosis. Make sure to pat your dog’s paws dry to prevent infections from entering the damaged skin.

Over-the-Counter Ointments

You can also apply over-the-counter topical ointments to soften the keratin growth and alleviate your dog’s pain. If you’re unsure of which ointment to get, you can ask your vet about the most suitable option.

Antibiotics or Antifungals

If your dog has a skin infection along with hyperkeratosis, your vet can recommend an antibiotic or antifungal treatment. It could come in the form of creams, ointments, or pills. Make sure to follow your vet’s instructions and complete the entire treatment process for optimum results.

Preventing Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

In some cases, hyperkeratosis can be passed down from the parent to the pup. But as long as your dog doesn’t have a genetic predisposition to the condition, canine hyperkeratosis is preventable.

Here’s how you can help your dog avoid hyperkeratosis:

  • Monitor the condition of your dog’s paw pads. Check if they’re soft and healthy, or if there are any cracks or roughness on the surface.
  • Always keep your house clean so you can prevent harmful particles from causing infections.
  • Clip your dog’s nails regularly so it can avoid accidents or scraping itself.
  • Have your dog vaccinated for the canine distemper virus.
  • Visit the vet for annual check-ups.

Improve Your Dog’s Quality of Life

Hyperkeratosis can make it painful for your furry friend to walk and stand. While there is no known cure yet, your dog can lead a better life thanks to the available treatment options. It also helps to educate yourself on how to keep your dog happy and healthy so they can enjoy a better quality of life.

Browse the TPLOInfo blog for more tips on dog health and TPLO surgery.


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