How to Treat Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

How to Treat Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

Posted by Volhard Dog Nutrition on Dec 29th 2022

Hyperkeratosis in dogs is a skin condition caused by the excessive production of keratin (i.e., the fibrous protein that acts as the skin's protective layer), leading to an increase in the thickness of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the epidermis). As keratin builds up, the dog's skin, particularly in the ears, nose, and paws, becomes rough and crusty. Eventually, the affected skin cracks, paving the way for bacteria and other harmful particles to cause a skin infection.

Aside from the health risks, canine hyperkeratosis makes it extremely painful for dogs to walk or stand. Preventing this skin condition from worsening requires dog parents to regularly check their dogs for hardened skin, particularly if they're already prone to hyperkeratosis (e.g., Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and French Bulldogs).

Hyperkeratosis in dogs is an autoimmune disease without a known cure. Although it cannot be fully cured, you can inhibit the progression of this skin condition. More often than not, hyperkeratosis is the symptom of an underlying cause — once you understand the root cause, you'll be equipped to alleviate your dog's discomfort.

Causes of Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

The onset of canine hyperkeratosis is brought by various causes, such as:

  1. Age: Hyperkeratosis occurs in middle-aged and older dogs.
  2. Genetics: Hyperkeratosis can develop as a congenital disorder.
  3. Underlying medical conditions: Canine distemper and systemic lupus erythematosus pave the way for hyperkeratosis in dogs.
  4. Leishmaniasis: This parasitic disease, caused by Leishmania parasites, can trigger keratin hyperproduction.
  5. Pemphigus foliaceus: Hyperkeratosis is a common symptom of this autoimmune disease.
  6. Zinc Responsive Dermatosis: Proper zinc absorption is vital for your dog's skin to produce healthy keratin levels. Zinc supplements help compensate for your dog's zinc deficiency and prevent excess keratin production.

Which Dog Breeds are Predisposed to Hyperkeratosis?

Certain breeds, especially the ones with abnormal facial architecture, can develop hyperkeratosis. Day-to-day activities, such as eating, drinking, and walking, remove keratin from the skin's surface. But breeds such as English Bulldogs and Boston Terriers cannot effectively remove excess keratin from their faces (e.g., by touching the food bowl with their faces). Likewise, dogs with deformities in their paw pads will experience keratin buildups in their paws.

The breeds often affected by hyperkeratosis are:

  • Labradors
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Irish Terriers
  • Bedlington Terriers
  • English Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Boxers

Is a Dog's Hyperkeratosis Contagious?

You can rest assured that you and your family will not contract canine hyperkeratosis. However, the underlying causes of this skin disease can be passed down or transmitted from one dog to another. For example, Arctic breeds manifest a genetic predisposition to zinc-responsive dermatosis, whereas canine distemper and Leishmania parasites can be transmitted between canines.

What are the Symptoms of Hyperkeratosis in Dogs?

Dog parents will notice numerous changes, both physical and behavioral, in dogs with hyperkeratosis. Properly understanding these symptoms will help you spot your dog's earliest signs of hyperkeratosis, identify the underlying condition, and seek appropriate treatment.

The most revealing signs of hyperkeratosis in dogs include:

Physical Signs

  • Dry skin
  • Excess horny tissue on the nose and paw pads
  • Ulcers, erosions, and fissures on the skin
  • Secondary infections (when the cracked skin goes untreated)

Behavioral Signs

  • Your dog will frequently lick the affected area (e.g., the paws).
  • Your dog will become more physically inactive to alleviate the discomfort.

Once you notice any of these symptoms, bring your dog's condition to the attention of a veterinarian. Apart from identifying the obvious physical signs, they will check your dog for other symptoms that point toward an underlying infection. For that purpose, your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical exam, run some blood work, and perform serology testing. They will also collect affected skin samples (i.e., biopsy) for further investigations. These steps will help rule out non-genetic underlying causes for your dog's hyperkeratosis, such as viral and parasitic infections.

How to Mitigate the Symptoms of Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

Hyperkeratosis is an autoimmune disease without a known cure, which is why no remedy can bring keratin overproduction to a halt. However, a combination of various approaches will help remove excess skin while slowing down the progression of this skin condition. Constant care and dedication will keep your dog comfortable while fighting hyperkeratosis. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hyperkeratosis in dogs, so experiment with multiple treatment avenues before expecting tangible results.

#1: Trim the Excess Keratin From Your Dog's Paws

The first step toward pain mitigation is removing the excess skin. You can achieve this step on your own by carefully trimming the tissue with a razor blade or a pair of scissors. Applying an antiseborrheic agent will help reduce the amount of keratin production in the affected area over time. However, trim your dog's excess tissue only after consulting your vet first. They will show you the proper trimming technique to avoid injuring your dog.

#2: Stick to a Rigorous Grooming Calendar

Removing the excess skin is only a preliminary step toward keeping your dog's hyperkeratosis in check. Adequate paw hygiene must be observed if this skin condition affects your dog's paw pads — this includes clipping your dog's nails and trimming the hair between their toes. The importance of nail clipping cannot be understated, as long toenails get pushed back into the nail bed when touching hard surfaces, therefore exerting additional pressure on the toe joints and making the simple act of walking uncomfortable. Regular visits to a groomer will ensure that your dog's paws stay as healthy as possible.

#3: Provide Adequate Hydration to the Affected Area

Both paw pad hyperkeratosis and nasal hyperkeratosis can be mitigated through proper hydration. We recommend soaking the affected area in water for 5-10 minutes multiple times during the day. Each session should be followed by applying a keratolytic agent (i.e., a compound that helps moisture bind to the skin). Topical treatments with ingredients such as urea, petrolatum, salicylic acid, and propylene glycol are effective keratolytic agents. Most topical treatments for hyperkeratosis contain 6.6% salicylic acid and 5% urea.

Mineral salts, such as Epsom salt, are another efficient way to relieve the discomfort in your dog's paws. 1 cup of Epsom salts per gallon of warm water is enough for putting together a soothing salt bath for your dog. The salts will ease the discomfort and clean the affected area.

#4: Booties and Socks Will Protect Your Dog's Paws

Dogs with paw pad hyperkeratosis have a higher risk of secondary infection because their paws constantly come into contact with different surfaces. Especially during the winter, hot pavements, de-icing salt, and other winter snowmelt chemicals can exacerbate your dog's discomfort.

Booties and socks are the ideal accessories for protecting your dog's paws against such risk factors. Your dog might not fancy them immediately, but they'll warm up to footwear once the irritation recedes from the paw pads. Check out this resource on how to train your dog to wear boots and socks.

#5: Autoimmune Diseases Cannot Thrive Against a Healthy Gut

You've taken all the necessary steps to contain your dog's skin condition through proper grooming, topical ointments, and accessories. But these remedies only approach hyperkeratosis from an external perspective. Dog parents must also consider the immune system's role in managing such autoimmune diseases.

The immune system's resilience relies heavily on the health of the gut microbiome, which requires the right amount of nutrients to stay balanced. Autoimmune diseases, bacteria, and infections all seek to upset that balance in order to debilitate the immune system and wreak further havoc inside your dog's body. Unfortunately, resorting to medication will only worsen the situation, as the added stress to the gut microbiome will kill the helpful bacteria populating it.

We at Volhard firmly believe feeding an appropriate diet to be the stepping stone toward balancing the gut microbiome's helpful and harmful bacteria. Pay closer attention to what your dog is eating. Is your dog's diet heavily dependent on processed foods riddled with toxins and allergens? Then it's time to introduce functional foods (i.e., foods that benefit your dog beyond basic nutrition), such as parsley, grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and yogurt, into their diet. Likewise, the Volhard Rescue diet will help keep your dog's inflammation in check with its hypoallergenic composition. Proactivity is the secret behind alleviating autoimmune diseases, and there's no better place to start than your dog's food bowl!

You Can't Cure Your Dog's Hyperkeratosis, but You Can Ease Their Discomfort!

Hyperkeratosis can occur in all dogs based on their genetics, age, breed, and underlying medical conditions. Unfortunately, once hyperkeratosis occurs in your dog, no treatment can cure it altogether. What you can do, however, is ease their discomfort. We hope today's article has provided you with the proper knowledge to mitigate your dog's hyperkeratosis symptoms and restore their well-being. Contact us and check out our blog for more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training!

Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!

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