The Complete Guide to Canine Hyperkeratosis: What Every Dog Parent Must Know

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You’ve seen it, you’ve felt it, rough jagged edges, with scale-like, sharp little daggers poking you back, as their paw grazes you; or as you’re running your hand over their paw pads.  When those sharp little protrusions scrape across your skin, it causes you to jump and sometimes let out a yelp.  Or perhaps, that time you bent down to kiss your mom’s dog on their cute nose; only for that patch of sandpaper on the side of their nose, to accidentally rub against your lip, and tear your lip off. 

We are, of course, referring to Canine Hyperkeratosis, which is a dermatological condition characterized by excessive keratin production, resulting in the thickening and hardening of the skin on a dog’s nose, paw pads, and other areas.  This Blog provides an in-depth analysis of Canine Hyperkeratosis, including its etiology, clinical manifestations, diagnostic methods, treatment options, preventive measures, and relevant information.  The information presented here is derived from a thorough examination of existing literature, scholarly journals, and expert opinions.

1. Canine Hyperkeratosis Introduction:

Dogs, like humans, possess a fibrous protein called Keratin, which is responsible for forming the outer layer of skin (epidermis).  Hyperkeratosis is the increased thickening of the stratum corneum (outermost layer epidermis).  Canine Hyperkeratosis refers to the abnormal and idiopathic proliferation of keratinocytes, leading to the formation of thickened, rough, and often cracked skin.  Primarily, the affected areas are, the nose (Nasal Hyperkeratosis) and paw pads (Palmoplantar Hyperkeratosis), although other areas of the skin may also be involved.  This condition can lead to discomfort, pain, and impaired functionality in affected dogs; as well as a potentially unpleasant or less desirable petting experience, for yourself.

2. Etiology:

The exact cause of hyperkeratosis remains unknown, but various factors are believed to contribute to its development.  Most affected dogs will display hyperkeratosis for the remainder of their lives.  In most cases, hyperkeratosis is benign and does not affect the dog’s longevity or quality of life.  However, hyperkeratosis growths on the paws can sometimes affect the dog’s gait or cause pain.  In these cases, treatment may become necessary, to best manage the condition and making your dog happy.  Hyperkeratosis can also occur as a result of other medical conditions, such as: parasites like Leishmaniosis, autoimmune disorders like Pemphigus Foliaceous, infectious processes like Canine Distemper and Papilloma virus, vitamin deficiencies like Zinc-responsive Dermatosis.  Also, hereditary disorders like Congenital Disorders of cornification and keratinization, Hepato-cutaneous Syndrome, and Ichthyosis.

There are also environmental aspects that play a role in Canine Hyperkeratosis formation.  When your dog walks on rough, rocky, or abrasive terrains or in extreme weather conditions, like the scorching hot ground, directly contributes to the formation of thickened, rough, and calloused pads.  Consequently, the more your dog walks on such ground, or in such conditions, then the greater the likelihood your dog will develop Canine Hyperkeratosis. 

What does that mean, you ask?  Well, simply put, all dogs are at risk of developing Canine Hyperkeratosis; however, not all dogs will, or have to, develop Canine Hyperkeratosis.  That’s right, Canine Hyperkeratosis is a preventable condition for your dog; however, once they develop it, there is no cure for it.  Once your dog exhibits the manifestations of Canine Hyperkeratosis, at that point you must manage the condition.

Luckily, managing the syndrome just got a whole lot easier, thanks to our PawsnBoots Paw and Skin Serums.

3. Signs and Symptoms:

Common signs and symptoms of Canine Hyperkeratosis include crusty or excessive dryness, thickening, and hardening of skin on the nose, paw pads, or elbows.  As well, Cracks, fissures, and ulcerations may also become apparent, leading to pain or possible source for secondary infections.  Some dogs may experience bleeding, lameness, limping, and difficulty walking.   Dog’s may exhibit signs of excessive licking or biting of the affected sites, or reduced activity.  If your dog is exhibiting these signs and symptoms, it is imperative to discuss the findings with your veterinarian, for accurate diagnosis and to develop a treatment plan.

4. Diagnosis:

Diagnosing canine hyperkeratosis can be made with visual inspection, from a trained professional.  The cause from either an underlying or associated condition will require a more comprehensive clinical examination.  This may include a thorough history, physical assessment, and dermatological evaluation as well. Skin biopsies, cytology, and bacterial or fungal cultures may be performed, by your veterinarian, to rule out other underlying conditions and completely confirm the diagnosis. 

5. Treatment:

Treatment modalities for Canine Hyperkeratosis aim to manage the symptoms, improve skin condition, and address any underlying causes.  Therapeutic options include topical keratolytic agents, such as salicylic acid or urea-based creams, which help soften and remove excess keratin.  However, it is worth mentioning, that salicylic acid can cause stomach bleeding, if ingested by your dog. 

Preventative and regular moisturizing with the application of PawsnBoots Rejuvenating Paw Serum, will keep the pads and skin healthy and nourished.  The nicest benefit to using PawsnBoots Dog Serums, is that they are 100% organic, vegan, and cruelty-free, not to mention to powerful antioxidants and vitamins infused in them. 

In cases where an underlying cause is identified, targeted treatment for the specific condition may be necessary.  Soaking your dog’s paw in a warm bath with Epsom salts, for 15 minutes, can help soften their pads.  In addition to the topical application of PawsnBoots Dog Serums, bathing with our Paws n Suds; or better yet, our PawsnBoots Coat Armor Shampoo can help reduce the risk of secondary infections, while nourishing the skin.  Please be sure to follow the directions of your veterinarian, if seeking treatment.

6. Prevention:

Preventative measures for Canine Hyperkeratosis involve ensuring optimal nutrition, prophylactic administration of protective skin barrier creams, like PawsnBoots Rejuvenating Paw Serum, Lavishly Fluffy, or Paws n Action.  Furthermore, maintaining proper hygiene like bathing in PawsnBoots Paws n Suds or Coat Armor, and avoiding exposure to harsh environmental conditions; for example, applying shoes to your Dog.  

That’s right folks, applying shoes on your dog actually has a medical and practical purpose, protect those paws, and tell your dad to stop calling it dress up.  PawsnBoots lives up to its name in this realm, as we make and manufacture our own dog shoes, in New Jersey of all places.  Our shoes are practical, as they are fashionable; and they’re handmade using soft, breathable, dog-friendly materials.

I digress, another beneficial preventative measure against Hyperkeratosis is proper vaccination against Canine Distemper, also referred to its colloquial name “hard pad disease”.  Participating in regular veterinary check-ups and early interventions can help identify and address potential underlying causes, minimizing the risk of hyperkeratosis development.

7. Genetic Pre-disposition:

While and breed or aged dog is able to develop hyperkeratosis, breeds such as Beagles, Bull Terriers, Irish Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Bassett Hounds and Labrador Retrievers are more commonly affected.  Congenital disorders such as Epidermolytic palmoplantar Keratoderma or Hereditary footpad Hyperkeratosis, are inevitable in some dogs.  However, proper knowledge paired with effective syndrome management, ultimately will give provide a better life for your dog.


Canine hyperkeratosis is a multifactorial condition leading to the abnormal thickening and hardening of the skin on a dog’s nose, paw pads, and other areas. Although its exact cause remains elusive, understanding the etiology, diagnosis, signs and symptoms, and treatment options can contribute to effective management.  By implementing practical preventative measures and seeking prompt veterinary care, dog parents can help alleviate discomfort and improve the quality of life for your affected pets.