When was the last time you had a good look at your pup’s paw pads?
Did you notice they were looking a little hairy? If so, your dog might be suffering from something known as hyperkeratosis, otherwise known as hairy dog feet. Not only is this condition a little odd-looking, it can also be quite painful if left untreated. Let’s run down what exactly causes hyperkeratosis and how you can treat it.
What is hyperkeratosis?
Hyperkeratosis is a skin condition that results from an overstimulation of keratin production in your dog’s body. If you’re unfamiliar with keratin, it’s the same fibrous protein that our hair and nails are made of, as well as hoofs and horns on other animals. When your dog’s body produces too much keratin, it can lead to hard, dry, crusty material developing on the paws and sometimes the nose. Often this results in the appearance of what looks like small, rough hairs.
While overstimulation of keratin might be the cause in your dog, there are other ways to develop the condition:
Zinc responsive dermatosis: Some dogs have trouble naturally absorbing zinc through food and other means. This can lead to zinc responsive dermatosis, which then turns into hyperkeratosis. Veterinarians will typically prescribe zinc supplements to combat the initial problem.
Canine distemper: Nasal hyperkeratosis is often the result of canine distemper. Dogs that were properly vaccination against the disease as puppies are at low risk.
Pemphigus Foliaceus: The most common autoimmune disease found in dogs. It presents as a series of pustules, erosions, lesions and, occasionally, hyperkeratosis. Your veterinarian can treat this condition with a series of immunosuppressive medications.
Is it dangerous?
The good news is that the appearance of hyperkeratosis is typically not a life-threatening issue for your dog. However, hyperkeratosis on the nose can be extremely uncomfortable, and the buildup of keratin on your dog’s paws can actually become painful to walk on if left untreated. In extreme cases, the skin on your dog’s nose and paws can crack and become infected. It’s important to check your dog’s paws regularly for any signs of the condition. If you spot what looks like unusual hairs, make an appointment with your vet immediately to get started on treatment.
How do I treat it?
Sadly, there is currently no cure for hyperkeratosis, but it can be kept in check with regular treatment and attention. At your initial appointment, your veterinarian might recommend trimming back the tiny "hairs" to make walking more comfortable for your dog. This is a process that can be done at the vet’s office, or at home with practice.
Another option for treatment is to apply ointment designed to help smooth your pup’s paws back to their regular shape. Natural balms like shea butter and oils can help to soothe the rough skin and prevent cracks. You can also help protect your dog’s feet by covering them with socks and booties when on walks.
Unfortunately, hyperkeratosis is a lifelong condition that requires regular maintenance to keep in check. Work with your dog early on to get them comfortable with you touching their feet, and you’ll save money in medical bills by treating them at home rather than regular appointments at the vet.
Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible.