My Dog's Paws Are Dry and Rough - Hyperkeratosis in Dogs
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We may not feel our dog's paws very often. Not only do we prefer to pet them on their fur, but generally dog's do not like their paws to be touched. However, it is very important we check on them regularly as injuries to their paws can cause pain, mobility issues and other problems. The skin on our dog's paw pads is also very important. It can be sensitive and we need to check it regularly for any changes. Changes in texture, especially when they become hard and dry, can mean trouble.
At AnimalWised, we look at why your dog's paws are dry and rough. Specifically, we look at hyperkeratosis in dogs, a condition which causes hardness of the paw pads.
What is canine hyperkeratosis?
Canine hyperkeratosis is a skin disorder which results in the overproduction of keratin in the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin (specifically the epidermis). This results in the skin becoming thickened, but it also becomes dry and rough. The skin of the paw pads will become cracked and hard. It is also something which can happen on the dog's nose.
We can find two types of hyperkeratosis in dogs:
- Familial pad hyperkeratosis: the thickened skin lesion is limited to the paw pad are and occurs in puppies. The dog breeds most predisposed to this problem are the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Irish Terrier or the Kerry Blue Terrier.
- Nasodigital hyperkeratosis: this is when hyperkeratosis is located both in the paw pads and on the nose. It can be idiopathic, meaning there is no specific origin of the problem. It is more frequent in older dogs, but can also be secondary to other disorders and diseases. Breeds most predisposed to this type of hyperkeratosis in dogs are the Cocker Spaniel, the Basset Hound, the Boston Terrier and the Beagle.
Although not one of the most common diseases in Beagles, we should be extra careful with this breed and related breeds.
Causes of hyperkeratosis in dogs
Hyperkeratosis in dogs can occur at any age and with or without an apparent cause. However, as we have seen above, age is a risk factor when we consider the two different types of hyperkeratosis. Among the causes that can explain why our dog has developed this dermatological problem in dogs, we can find:
- Infectious diseases: canine distemper and canine leishmaniasis.
- Congenital diseases: ichthyosis.
- Autoimmune diseases: systemic lupus erythematosus and pemphigus foliaceus.
- Dermatosis: especially zinc sensitivity.
- Cutaneous lymphoma: developed from skin cells, but not considered a skin cancer.
- Hepatocutaneous syndrome: rare, usually related to liver disease.
- Necrolytic migratory erythema: also uncommon and usually related to other conditions and syndromes.
- Contact dermatitis: an allergic reaction to contact with certain materials.
- Hereditary nasal parakeratosis: most commonly associated with the Labrador Retriever.
If your dog's paw pads are accompanied by a strange smell, it is also possible the dog has a fungal infection. This doesn't usually cause hyperkeratosis, but the fungus might appear to give the skin a different texture.
Symptoms of hyperkeratosis in dogs
The first sign of hyperkeratosis in dogs is usually when you feel their paw pads are dry and rough to the touch. This is because the overproduction of keratin has caused the skin to become thicker and it has less moisture in it. When the skin is dry and rough, it can become cracked and lead to fissures. Here the deeper tissue is exposed and the dog is more open to secondary infections. Eventually, it can even caused lameness.
In the case of nasodigital hyperkeratosis in dogs, we see the following symptoms:
- Nasal hyperkeratosis appears as a thickening and accumulation of dry and fissured tissue in the nose. The nose will become dry and rough also.
- The hyperkeratosis of the paw pads generally affects the most cranial edge of the pads, appearing dry, rough, hard and cracked.
Because the skin is dry and rough, canine hyperkeratosis can cause:
- Increase in size of the nose and muzzle
- Depigmentation of the muzzle
- Hardening of the skin
- Cracked and dry skin
- Secondary infections
Since the dog's paws are generally sensitive, pain can also be a problem, especially with secondary infections. This is exacerbated further if your dog has particularly sensitive paw pads.
Diagnosis of hyperkeratosis in dogs
The diagnosis of canine hyperkeratosis is based on clinical examination. A differential diagnosis of all its possible causes should be made in case it is a case of secondary hyperkeratosis. i.e. it is not hereditary or idiopathic. These diseases, as we have indicated, include:
- Canine distemper
- Zinc sensitive dermatitis
- Superficial necrolytic dermatitis
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
- Contact dermatitis
- Hepatocutaneous syndrome
If the dog is a Labrador between 6 and 12 months of age, the presence of Labrador Retriever nasal parakeratosis should be considered.
Once any of these diseases have been detected, we already know what has been the cause of our dog's paws becoming dry and rough. We will need to proceed with treatment of the specific disease in question. In the event that no obvious cause can be found, even after considering all these possible primary conditions, the veterinarian will assess whether it is idiopathic hyperkeratosis. They will do so by performing a biopsy on the dry and rough skin lesions. This is to rule out any other malignant diseases.
We should also look out for any problems between the digits of the dog's paws. If the dog has a growth on their paw, we will need to investigate the problem as it could be due to interdigital cysts.
Can you cure hyperkeratosis in dogs?
If the hyperkeratosis is secondary, we need to find a suitable treatment for the underlying condition. However, we will also need to provide a treatment of the symptoms if the dog's skin is dry and rough. For this reason, hyperkeratosis needs to treated with topical medication to soothe and hydrate the skin. These will help to lubricate the skin and promote its repair. Topical treatments include:
- Keratolytic agents: to soften or dissolve keratin, applied directly to the lesion.
- Lotions with moisturizing agents: propylene glycol, glycerin, urea, acid or sodium lactate.
- Emollients: fatty acids, essential oils or waxes.
- Corticosteroids, antibiotics and/or antifungals: in some cases, a combinations of these treatments may be necessary if there are secondary infections by bacteria or fungi.
There are no home remedies for hyperkeratosis in dogs, so the use of the aforementioned substances is required if we want to improve the condition of our dog's rough and dry paw pads. This will be in addition to finding the underlying cause of this skin disorder.
Prognosis of canine hyperkeratosis
In general, dogs improve with hyperkeratosis lesions in days, being able to eliminate them completely if the disease that causes it is cured or controlled. However, in cases of idiopathic or hereditary hyperkeratosis, treatment can be chronic throughout the life of the animal or repeated with recurrent cases.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog's Paws Are Dry and Rough - Hyperkeratosis in Dogs, we recommend you visit our Skin problems category.
- Mennecier, I. (n.d.). Canine hyperkeratosis: a skin disease to watch out for. Available at: https://www.dermoscent.com/es/nuestros-consejos/fiche-hiperqueratosis-canina-una-enfermedad-cutanea-que-se-debe-vigilar_171.html
- Schaer, M. (2006). Clinical dog and cat medicine. Elsevier.
- Galán, A., Pineda, C., & Mesa, I. (2019). Internal medicine in small animals: Veterinary clinical manuals. Elsevier.