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Close-up of dog nose hyperkeratosis

The essentials

  • Nasal hyperkeratosis has many causes — Because there are many underlying conditions, treatment can be different from case to case.
  • Symptoms can be misleading — Sometimes dry, cracked noses are signs of  a genetic predisposition or infectious disease rather than consequences of dry weather or wind.
  • Balms can help — Products made with natural ingredients, rich in salicylic acid, or made with shea butter can all help your furry friend feel better faster.

What is dog nose hyperkeratosis?

Hyperkeratosis is a nasal planum disease caused by an overgrowth of skin cells (keratin) on the surface of a dog’s nose. Vets often refer to canine hyperkeratosis as idiopathic in nature, meaning we don’t always know exactly what causes it.

You may notice the skin on top of your dog’s nose looks rough, thick, and even crusty or cracked due to this excess keratin.

These signs of hyperkeratosis aren’t usually a cause for concern. But they shouldn’t be ignored either. If left untreated, or if underlying causes aren’t addressed, a mild case of nasal hyperkeratosis can become severe, leading to a lot of discomfort and even infections.

👉 Always watch out for signs of secondary infection, like blood, odor, or mucus-like discharge. If these symptoms appear, have your dog checked out by your veterinarian immediately. 

It’s different from paw pad hyperkeratosis

Nasal hyperkeratosis is more than just a dry dog’s nose or itchy, dry skin; it’s really a buildup of an additional growth of skin, too. Canine hyperkeratosis is a much more pronounced dry nose, usually marked by thicker skin on top of the snout. There can be many possible underlying cause factors to consider.

Some dogs that have nasal hyperkeratosis also suffer from paw pad hyperkeratosis at the same time. Also known as footpad hyperkeratosis, this condition affects a dog’s paw pads. Not every dog with one condition will have both, though.

Oftentimes, when dogs develop an overgrowth of skin cells on their paws, it’s due to gait abnormalities. On the other hand, not much is known about why nasal hyperkeratosis develops in dogs.

Causes of dog nose hyperkeratosis

Some breeds are predisposed to developing nasal hyperkeratosis.

For instance, certain dog breeds are genetically predisposed to it. These include brachycephalic breeds, as well as Doberman pinschers, and cocker spaniels. Brachycephalic breeds are those ‘smoosh-faced’ breeds, such as English bulldogs, French bulldogs, pugs, and boxers. Occasionally, English cream golden retrievers can even get it. It’s also more common in middle-aged to older dogs.

Certain external and environmental factors can also cause canine hyperkeratosis. A few examples include: 

  • Parasites. Dogs can pick up parasites, like nasal mites, and parasitic infections in the environment around them, including dirty water.
  • Zinc-deficiency. If a dog is not getting enough zinc from their diet, this can lead to too much keratin. This can cause not only a crusty dog nose and paws but also nasodigital hyperkeratosis.
  • Genetic predisposition. Some breeds are hard-wired to get this condition, carrying more genetic risk factors than others. Your vet can help to address this with acute treatment and ongoing monitoring to ensure that nothing is missed. 

When determining if your dog has nasal hyperkeratosis, it is important to have your pup evaluated by your vet to rule out other conditions or underlying causes that can sometimes show similar signs.

Medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms (or sometimes be confused with) nasal hyperkeratosis include:

  • Canine distemper virus. Thankfully, this canine distemper is not very common now due to vaccinations that prevent it. Additionally, if a dog has distemper, they will also have a history of severe illness prior to developing nasal hyperkeratosis. However, if your pet is dealing with distemper and related nasal symptoms, your vet can offer supportive care—controlling unpleasant symptoms and dehydration. There is currently no formal cure for distemper. 
  • Zinc-responsive dermatosis. This is a rare, genetic condition that is more common in Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes.  Your vet can help with dietary changes and supplementation to control symptoms. 
  • Superficial necrolytic dermatitis. This is also a very rare condition. Dogs with this are usually extremely ill with pancreatic or liver disease and have severe skin lesions. Your vet can help to limit these with any dietary changes needed (such as a swap to a higher protein diet) and amino acid supplementation. 
  • Hereditary nasal parakeratosis. This is another rare, genetic condition that can be seen in young Fox red Labrador retrievers. Your vet may offer topical treatment to help limit symptoms. 
  • Pemphigus foliaceus. This is an autoimmune disorder that usually also affects other parts of a dog’s face, such as the ears, around the eyes, and higher up on the nose. Steroids can be helpful to dogs who have this condition. 
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). This is another autoimmune disorder caused by an out of control immune system. Dogs with DLE will have discoloration and ulcers, and the bumpy, patterned part of their nose will become smooth. Topical medications, injections, and steroid creams can help your furry friend feel better quickly. 

Because these underlying conditions could cause signs similar to nasal hyperkeratosis, it is always a good idea to have your pup checked out by your vet to be on the safe side. Some of these conditions can be life-threatening, so finding the cause is important. In addition to biopsies and blood work, pet owners should expect other diagnostic tests to help identify the cause.

How to treat dog nose hyperkeratosis

While nasal hyperkeratosis in dogs can be managed, in some cases there isn’t a cure. It’s important to note that you will likely need to follow a management plan for the remainder of your dog’s life.

Management includes rehydrating and moisturizing your dog’s skin with warm water soaks and applying a soothing ointment on a daily basis. Nose balms and other vet-recommended therapies (such as Vaseline) can be helpful here. 

There are also pet-specific natural balms available for this purpose. Or, you can make your own DIY nose balm.

👉  Avoid putting hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, Neosporin, baby oil, or any topical human medications on your dog’s nose.

A note on CBD oil and coconut oil

While many people look to CBD oil as a remedy for all of their pet’s conditions these days, CBD oil does not do much for nasal hyperkeratosis. Coconut oil is fine to apply to the top of your puppy’s nose, though Vaseline and the available nasal balms are typically thicker, and so provide a longer-lasting and more soothing effect.

Frequently asked questions

How can I treat my dog’s hyperkeratosis at home?

Before starting any kind of at-home treatment, it’s important to first speak to your vet. Finding out the cause of your dog’s nasal hyperkeratosis will help you narrow down effective treatments for long-lasting results. Once you know the cause, eliminate your dog’s discomfort with soothing balms that will also reduce the likelihood of infection.

Lastly, monitor them closely—make sure that they are healing infection-free, that their appetite stays normal, and that they are comfortable.

How did my dog get hyperkeratosis?

Common causes include autoimmune diseases, certain skin infections, and for some dogs, dead and old skin cells simply aren’t rubbed off in their day-to-day activities. But nasal hyperkeratosis is one of many conditions that sometimes doesn’t have a “known” cause.

How do you get rid of hyperkeratosis on a dog’s nose?

Getting rid of hyperkeratosis on a dog’s nose depends entirely on the cause. Sometimes a dog’s nose can just get dry and cracked due to things like winter wind. Sometimes, it’s nasal hyperkeratosis, which can be caused by a number of other factors ranging from genetics to diseases caused by various external factors.

Does hyperkeratosis go away?

While proactive care may stop any flare ups of nasal hyperkeratosis, depending on the cause and severity, it may be a condition that has to be managed for the rest of your dog’s life. If the cause is a fungal infection, as an example, simply limiting exposure may prevent nasal hyperkeratosis.

Is nasal hyperkeratosis painful for dogs?

Nasal hyperkeratosis can be uncomfortable for your pet, which is why intervention is so important. Your vet can help by offering balms and other supportive therapies that can reduce the symptoms and help support one’s quality of life. 

Are there breeds of dogs that are more prone to hyperkeratosis? 

Yes, there are breeds that may be genetically predisposed to hyperkeratosis. Some of these breeds include griffons, Doberman pinschers, cocker spaniels, to name a few.