Your Guide on How To Treat Dog Hyperkeratosis

Your Guide on How To Treat Dog Hyperkeratosis

Finn discusses hyperkeratosis on dog paws — what it is, why it happens, and ways to prevent and treat it. Read here for more!

You may not have heard of a pet suffering from hyperkeratosis dog paws, but you’ve probably seen it at least once or twice before. 

Although uncomfortable, this condition is fairly common for dogs of all breeds and ages. But what is dog keratosis pilaris? How can you recognize it, and what can you do to treat it? Stick around; we’ve got all your answers. 

The Basics of Hyperkeratosis in Dog Paws

Hyperkeratosis (or dog keratosis pilaris) is one of many skin issues that can happen with your dog. The medical term translates into the “condition of the overproduction of keratin.” If you’re unfamiliar with keratin, it is the main protein that makes up your dog’s paw pads (as well as their outer layer of skin). Keratin is also the same protein that makes up human hair, skin, and nails. 

When your dog has hyperkeratosis, something in their body tells it to produce too much keratin. The result is an excessive amount of the protein, especially in the areas where it is most commonly found (like the paw pads). Some people refer to the condition as “hairy feet” but, although it may look like hair, it’s really just dry, excess skin.

Hyperkeratosis can be either genetic or non-genetic, although it isn’t commonly tested for. In either case, the prevention and treatment remain the same. The only difference is which common triggers are most likely to blame for flare-ups.

Interestingly enough, hyperkeratosis can happen in the same way to the nose. Nasal hyperkeratosis (or “crusty nose”) is slightly more of an enigma than the type that occurs on the feet.

Common Triggers

Just like with most conditions, hyperkeratosis of the paws can occur at seemingly random times. However, a few common triggers and causes may put your pet at an increased risk of developing the condition.

As we said, genetics is one of those factors. A specific gene mutation related to the condition has been found most in Irish terriers and Kromfohrländers (a German companion dog breed). 

Boxers, golden and labrador retrievers, and English and French bulldogs also seem more prone to hyperkeratosis. That said, unless the disease becomes significant or you plan to breed your dog, the blood work needed to test for the trait can be cost-prohibitive and often unnecessary.

For non-genetic cases, certain diseases (some of which are preventable with routine vaccination) can also increase the risk of your dog developing hyperkeratosis later on in life. Canine distemper, Leishmaniasis (a rare disease caused by sandfly bites), and Pemphigus foliaceous (an auto-immune disease) may all be potential triggers. Precisely why that happens is unknown, and it doesn’t usually occur in any specific time frame. 

Older dogs are also more likely to develop hyperkeratosis, although that hasn’t yet been understood why. It is likely related to the fact that, unlike humans, dogs’ skin tends to actually thicken as they age. 

One final factor that researchers have linked to hyperkeratosis in dogs is zinc deficiency. This condition is relatively rare, though, since most well-balanced dog foods contain the recommended daily allowance of zinc (and other essential vitamins and minerals). When your dog lacks this vital mineral, it can lead to zinc-responsive dermatosis, which can in turn trigger other skin conditions.

Signs of Hyperkeratosis

Are you wondering how you’ll know if your dog is dealing with this condition? Since our dogs can’t talk to us and tell us what’s wrong, there are a few common signs that you’ll want to keep an eye out for. 

The first sign of hyperkeratosis is the most obvious — the tell-tale physical hardening and overgrown appearance of your pup’s paw pads. This excess growth is usually the same color as your dog’s pad color, so you may need to look close or physically touch them to notice.

Once the hyperkeratosis has been going on for long enough, the condition may cause tension or discomfort when they try to walk or stand. If your usually active dog has started to whine when they walk or stand, take a look at their feet. 

Is Hyperkeratosis Dangerous?

When managed properly, hyperkeratosis is a non-fatal, generally mild skin condition. It can lead to more severe issues if it’s not taken care of after diagnosis.

The first issue that can result from hyperkeratosis is pain. Because the condition can occur in dogs of all ages, even young dogs can develop pain when walking or standing. Luckily, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention can significantly reduce this risk. 

The other issue that can occur with untreated hyperkeratosis is secondary infections. While the condition itself doesn’t cause infection, overly dry paw pads tend to crack. Cracked pads are not only painful but open the foot up to the possibility of infection. Also, dogs’ natural inclination is to lick and chew at something that hurts, introducing further bacteria to the area. It’s a recipe for disaster, but one that can be easily prevented. 

Can You Prevent Hyperkeratosis?

Hyperkeratosis is a disease of the skin, so taking care of your dog’s skin as much as possible is a great preventative in and of itself. 

One way to prevent the condition from occurring (or worsening, if it’s already present) is also one of the most adorable. If your doggo is the type never to miss a walk, you may want to invest in a quality pair of dog booties no matter the weather. 

While it may take your pet a bit to adjust to wearing them, it will also keep the elements away from your dog’s sensitive feet. This is an especially great tactic in extreme weather, like snow, rain, or heat. If your pet is older, look for booties with rubber tread on the bottom, which can keep them from slipping, as well. 

It’s also an excellent idea to regularly check your dog’s skin, even just a few times a month. You don’t have to make it a big ordeal, though. Grab a few pieces of your dog’s favorite snack to keep them occupied, and pet them to make them a bit comfier. 

Our pets can’t tell us what’s going on, so it’s up to you to make sure you’re staying on top of their health! In addition to checking out their paw pads, look for other lumps and bumps on your dog’s skin. 

Making regular appointments with your veterinarian (especially yearly wellness checks) is vital to your pup’s health. At least one of the triggers of hyperkeratosis in dog paws is a disease that dogs are commonly vaccinated against, so skipping appointments or not getting your pet recommended boosters can also increase their risk of developing this condition. 

Treatment Options for Hyperkeratosis in Dog Paws

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from hyperkeratosis dog paws, the first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They can help officially diagnose the condition (and any underlying health concerns that may be triggering it) and guide you toward treatment options. 

Treatment also depends on whether your dog is dealing with an acute or a chronic case of hyperkeratosis. Chronic issues require a different approach, as more conservative treatments have likely failed. You may need to look more into environmental changes, like bedding or activity level, in addition to managing the actual pain and overgrowth. 

In some more advanced cases, your veterinarian may also need to physically remove the excess skin growth, which can be uncomfortable and should be left to the professionals. Many veterinarians will do this procedure under anesthesia to help minimize the dog’s discomfort. They can also prescribe medications after the fact to remain comfortable as their feet heal. 

With your veterinarian’s permission, you may also be able to apply dog paw balm to your dog’s paw pads. These balms can help soothe sore pads and promote healing (you can use some of them on your pet’s nose, too!), but it’s vital to make sure the balm you use is made specifically for dogs. Dogs love to lick, especially when their feet are uncomfortable, and you don’t want them to lick something that may be harmful to their health. 

In Conclusion

Hyperkeratosis in dog paws can start unsightly and eventually turn painful. The good news is that, while you can’t always stop them from developing (especially if they come from a genetic predisposition), they don’t have to be that big of a deal. 

Knowing what to look out for and how to deal with the symptoms if they occur adds one more trick to your pet ownership Rolodex. 


Managing hyperkeratosis in canine patients | IVC Journal 

A Mutation in the FAM83G Gene in Dogs with Hereditary Footpad Hyperkeratosis (HFH) |  PLOS 

Canine Distemper Overview - Generalized Conditions | Merck Veterinary Manual (



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