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Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

What is Hyperkeratosis in Dogs?

Hyperkeratosis in dogs results from an excessive production of keratin, a protein crucial for their skin, hair, and nails. This condition manifests as thickened, dry calluses on the paw pads or furry protrusions on the feet pads. Additionally, it commonly affects areas like the bridge of the nose and pressure points where calluses form, such as the elbows. While not typically a medical emergency, hyperkeratosis can cause discomfort if the hardened skin cracks or if secondary skin infections develop. It’s advisable to have the dog seen by a veterinarian within a couple of weeks of noticing symptoms to ensure appropriate management of the condition.

Symptoms

  • Thickened and hardened skin on the paw pads, nose, or other areas under pressure.
  • Growth of hairlike projections from the paw pads.
  • Dry, cracked skin on the paw pads or nose.
  • Bleeding or cracks on the paw pads.
  • Occasional lameness, although it’s not a common symptom.

Causes

The causes of hyperkeratosis in dogs are diverse, often affecting several breeds, especially those with brachycephalic features such as short muzzles and flattened faces, including English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs, and Boxers. These breeds commonly develop hyperkeratosis on their noses and occasionally on their paw pads.

Hyperkeratosis occurs when the outer layers of the skin fail to wear off naturally due to certain physical characteristics, such as a flat nose that doesn’t touch the food bowl, bowed legs, or other traits that prevent the dog from flattening their paws completely to the floor. This leads to a buildup of keratin on the nose or paw pads.

Additionally, hyperkeratosis is prevalent in breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Terriers, and Dogues de Bordeaux. Senior dogs may also develop hyperkeratosis, often manifesting as hard, hairy skin on the elbows due to constant pressure on thin skin. This condition is commonly observed in dogs aged 8 to 12, as they tend to spend more time lying down and sleeping, exacerbating the development of hyperkeratosis.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians diagnose hyperkeratosis in dogs primarily through a physical examination. If a dog exhibits thickened, excessive callused skin on their feet, nose, or elbows, especially if they belong to a predisposed breed or are older, hyperkeratosis is likely. While genetics or age-related callus formation typically cause most cases, it can sometimes indicate an underlying condition.

To ensure that the excess keratin isn’t symptomatic of another disease, your veterinarian may conduct baseline tests. Various autoimmune, hormonal, viral, and nutritional diseases can present symptoms resembling hyperkeratosis. Conditions like Pemphigus foliaceus, lupus erythematosus, Cushing’s disease, canine distemper virus, and zinc deficiency need to be ruled out before confirming a diagnosis.

Depending on the dog’s symptoms, the vet may recommend bloodwork, urinalysis, cytology, or a skin biopsy. It’s essential to inform your vet of any other signs of illness your dog may be experiencing for a comprehensive evaluation.

Treatment

While canine hyperkeratosis cannot be cured, it can be effectively managed. Treatment typically focuses on softening the thickened skin.

For dogs with thickened skin or hairlike projections on their paw pads, nose, or elbows who are comfortable and exhibiting normal behavior without signs of secondary skin infections, treatment may not be necessary.

To help rehydrate and soften the dry skin, soaking the dog’s feet in warm water followed by applying petroleum jelly to the affected areas can be beneficial.

In more severe cases, dogs may require removal of the affected skin or antibiotics such as cephalexin, Clavamox, or cefpodoxime for secondary skin infections. Temporary bandages may also be applied to the feet after shaving off the callused skin and applying ointment. The extent of treatment needed depends on the severity of the dog’s condition to ensure their comfort and well-being.

Living and Management

Most dogs affected by hyperkeratosis can enjoy long, high-quality lives despite the condition’s persistence. Some dogs may not find the extra hardened skin bothersome and may require minimal supportive care.

Hyperkeratosis of the paws or nose is typically managed with topical products. Your veterinarian may suggest using one of the following to maintain your dog’s skin suppleness:

  • Certain anti-seborrhea shampoos like Keratolux, DermaBenSs™, and Douxo S3 SEB™ can help soften the skin.
  • Providing your dog with deep bedding if their elbows are affected by hyperkeratosis can alleviate pressure on their thin skin and enhance their comfort.

Prevention

Preventing canine hyperkeratosis can be challenging since it’s primarily a genetic condition. However, there are some measures you can take, especially in senior dogs prone to developing excess calluses due to repeated pressure on thin skin.

For senior dogs prone to developing excess calluses, apply a moisturizing balm to their paw pads, nose, and elbows regularly. This helps keep their skin soft and prevents cracks from forming. Additionally, ensure their bed is well-cushioned to provide support for their elbows and other areas susceptible to excess keratin buildup.

Hyperkeratosis in Dogs FAQs

What is the lifespan of a dog with hyperkeratosis?

Most dogs with hyperkeratosis have normal lifespans.

Does hyperkeratosis cause pain in a dog’s paws?

Hyperkeratosis typically doesn’t cause pain in dogs. It often feels like calluses to them. However, in severe cases and when located on the paw pads, excess tissue may lead to discomfort occasionally.

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