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5 Easy Ways to Detect Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

Hyperkeratosis in dogs is a condition that causes an overproduction of Keratin in the body. Keratin is the structural protein that makes up your hair, skin and nails.

Normally, Keratin provides a protective barrier to the skin. However, when there’s too much of it, it builds up and causes problems. In dogs, the buildup of keratin occurs on the paw pads and the nose. It can happen in both areas at the same time, or just in one place.

Rarely, it can also occur on your dog’s ears or stomach. However, the most likely place you’ll find hyperkeratosis is on the foot pads (paw pads) of your dog.

The most obvious sign of this condition in dogs happens when the skin on the paws becomes unusually thick. The skin will get thicker and thicker until it actually cracks. Is this happening to your dog? You might also be wondering whether hyperkeratosis in dogs is contagious to humans.

If you suspect your dog may have this condition, keep reading. This post will cover everything you need to know about the condition including 5 ways to detect it in dogs.

What Causes Hyperkeratosis in Dogs?

To date, there don’t appear to be a lot of studies on the subject in dogs. However, there are a handful of conditions that can lead to the condition. Some of the following can be treated or avoided altogether with the appropriate vaccinations. Other things, like genetics, are much harder to get around.


Leishmaniasis is caused by a parasite (the Leishmania parasite) found in tropical/subtropical regions of the world. Sandflies carry the disease and transmit it to dogs through their bite.

These parasites can be transmitted to humans and dogs by the bites of infected female sandflies.

Most people infected by the parasite do not develop any symptom at all in their life. Therefore, the term leishmaniasis refers to the fact of becoming sick due to a Leishmania infection and not the mere fact of being infected with the parasite.

World Health Organization

Almost all dogs bitten by infected sand flies will develop signs that the soft bodily organs have been targeted. In that case, signs like weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, nose bleeds and blood in the stool will become evident.

For more information on Leishmaniasis in dogs read:

When Leishmaniasis causes Hyperkeratosis in Dogs…

If you are in a tropical or subtropical region where sand flies are prominent, it’s possible your dog has developed hyperkeratosis from the Leishmania parasite.

Signs of this include thickening and hardening skin on the dog’s nose or foot pads. As the disease progresses, dogs may lose pigment from the tissues.

Pemphigus Foliaceus

Pemphigus is an autoimmune skin disease in dogs. In any autoimmune disease, the body’s natural defences (the immune system) attacks itself.

Pemphigus Foliaceus in dogs can be considered internal, external, or unknown (idiopathic). The condition is most commonly seen in the following breeds:

  • Chow Chows
  • Akitas
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Dachshunds
  • English Bulldogs

Other dog breeds can also contract this autoimmune disease.

One of the signs of Pemphigus Foliaceus in dogs is the development of hyperkeratosis. Hyperkeratosis in dogs is evident by the development of very thick and hardened skin on the foot pads or the nose.

Zinc Responsive Dermatosis

This is a rare condition that occurs in dogs who either have problems absorbing zinc through the lower intestine, dogs with a very poor diet, or in giant breed dogs who are administered supplements that block zinc absorption.

According to the National Research Council some generic dog foods contain inadequate levels of zinc. In some cases, the zinc available in the dog food is poorly absorbed by the body.

The Best Dog Food Diet for Your Dog

Finding the right dog food isn’t as easy as locating a vet-approved, nutritionally sound product. It’s important to take into account your dog’s needs including allergies, sensitivities, likes, dislikes, dental health, etc.

A few veterinarian approved dog foods to consider include the following:

Canine Distemper

If your dog has been properly vaccinated, canine distemper shouldn’t be an issue. Having your dog vaccinated against distemper protects him/her against this contagious disease. The disease attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system of dogs.

Canine distemper is a serious disease that can be avoided. Read more about Safe Vaccination for Canine Distemper Virus

Treating Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

Treatment options may depend on the severity of the condition. The veterinarian will want to check for signs of the conditions discussed above because treating those conditions should ultimately treat the hyperkeratosis.

Filing Away the Layers of Thick Skin

Getting rid of that layer of hard skin isn’t as easy as filing it away yourself. It’s best to let a professional (with experience) perform this job. Sometimes a veterinarian will perform the task in the office by clipping away the excess skin.

Balms and Ointments

Unfortunately, no amount of balms or ointments will be able to sink through that thick layer of skin cells. In order for these products to work, they must be able to get into the skin cells.

The most likely cause of hyperkeratosis is genetically caused.

If that’s the case, your veterinarian should recommend a maintenance program to keep the excess skin filed away and treated with a prescription or over-the-counter salve. There’s no cure for the condition, but it may be possible to alleviate your dog’s discomfort with follow-up care.

Prevention of Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

Once your dog develops hyperkeratosis, there is no cure. This leaves your dog with a lot of unnecessary discomfort. Whether or not it can be prevented is up for debate. If your dog (Golden Retrievers, for example, are vulnerable) is genetically susceptible, there might not be much you can do.

Be sure to take your pet for annual checkups.

Regular wellness checks are a great way to ensure that any newly developing condition, like hyperkeratosis, is diagnosed early. Treatment may be more effective if the condition is caught and managed before it gets too bad.

Remember, cracked paws are vulnerable to the environment. Keep your yard clean and free of feces, debris, etc.

If your dog already has signs of the condition, you may need to shorten his/her walks, take breaks, or buy a stroller. Obviously, the last option works best for small dogs.

Dog strollers can help alleviate the pain of hyperkeratosis in dogs
Best price and top quality
Paw balm is good for preventing infection in dogs with hyperkeratosis
Vets preferred advanced Pad Protection Veterinarian-Grade

5 Signs of Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

The signs of this condition in dogs might be vague at first. However, the condition is progressive and eventually you may notice the following:

Overly Dry Nose

Look for very dry or cracked skin on the nose or the foot pads.

Loss of Skin Color (Pigmentation) on the Nose

The loss of skin color alone doesn’t necessarily signify hyperkeratosis in dogs. Look for the addition of thick and cracking skin.

Deep Fissures/Grooves

Gently lift your dog’s paw and look for skin this is cracked with deep grooves.

Hairy Foot Pads

The overproduction of keratin may make it look as if your dog’s paw pads are growing hair. The appearance looks spiny and sharp and may contribute to pain when walking.

Is Hyperkeratosis in Dogs Contagious to Humans?

Hyperkeratosis in dogs cannot be passed along to humans. Dogs develop this condition due to genetic and hereditary factors. Other causes of the condition can be due to age, parasites, auto-immune disorders, infectious disease, and zinc deficiency.

If you’re worried about contracting this skin condition from handling your dog, don’t. This is not like a viral condition that can be passed along through touch.


If you notice your dog is walking oddly or is showing signs of discomfort, take a look at his/her foot pads. Signs of thickening skin that looks cracked and raw could be the first sign of hyperkeratosis. It’s tempting to try and file away that extra skin but don’t do it.

Always bring your dog to a licensed veterinarian for a complete assessment and diagnosis.

Once the extra skin is removed, you might be able to improve your dog’s comfort by applying veterinarian approved balms or ointments. Keep your dog in top condition with healthy, veterinarian approved diets, appropriate exercise, and follow-up care.

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