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common canine health problems

A guide to paw pad hyperkeratosis

Everything you need to know about hyperkeratosis, including how to prevent and treat it.

Updated June 12, 2020

Created By

Lori Zaino,

The essentials

  • Hyperkeratosis can make it very painful for your dog to walk or stand. Make sure to regularly check your dog’s paws for extra hardened skin, especially if you have a breed prone to the condition.
  • If you notice signs of pain or discomfort, talk to your vet. Balms are a great way to soothe the symptoms, but your dog might need professional care. Your vet can determine the severity of your dog’s condition and whether professional treatment is necessary.

Most dogs are hairy. But their paw pads shouldn’t be — unless they happen to be suffering from hyperkeratosis. If your dog has this condition, you may notice what looks like abnormal hair growth on their paw pads. But it’s not actually hair, it’s dry skin.

dog paw hyperkeratosis

this is why it's called "hair feet," 📷 by u/liberty285code6

What is paw pad hyperkeratosis?

Paw pad Hyperkeratosis (AKA canine hyperkeratosis) is a skin condition that can occur in dogs. It causes thickened or extra skin growth on their paw pads. Although there are varying levels of severity, the crusty, dry growth typically looks like hair. This is why it’s often referred to as ‘hairy feet.’ The dry skin growth is caused by an excess production of keratin.

Hyperkeratosis is relatively easy to prevent, treat, and manage. Monitoring your dog’s paws regularly can help catch hyperkeratosis in its early stages before any cracking or bleeding (or worse — infection) happens.

Common causes of hyperkeratosis

  • Genetics/breed. There’s no cure for what’s know as hereditary footpad hyperkeratosis, an immune system disorder. This genetic condition is more common in certain breeds than others (more on that below).
  • Age. Older dogs are at a higher risk of hyperkeratosis.
  • Canine Distemper. Vaccinate your dog as a puppy to prevent this disease.
  • Leishmaniasis. This is a disease caused by sandfly bites. If your dog is diagnosed with this disease, you’re required to report it to the CDC.
  • Pemphigus foliaceus. This is an autoimmune disease that can occur in older and middle-aged dogs.
  • Zinc deficiency. zinc responsive dermatosis, among other deficiencies, can cause a variety of problems; hyperkeratosis is one of them.

Dog breeds most prone to hyperkeratosis

  • Labradors
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Irish and Bedlington Terriers
  • English Bulldogs and Frenchies
  • Dogues de Bordeaux
  • Boxers

How to treat and soothe hyperkeratosis

There isn’t an easy-fix cure to completely resolve hyperkeratosis — such as a vaccine or definitive treatment. But there are four simple things you can do to reduce the severity and make your pup more comfortable.

Ask your vet to remove excess skin (or teach you how) — Vets might remove the excess skin in certain cases. If you feel comfortable, you can ask your vet to teach you how to do this at home.

🚨 Never try to trim your dog’s paw pad on your own unless your vet has trained you. As our advisor Dr. Erica Irish puts it, “very rarely do I have hyperkeratosis patients with loose enough skin that I would feel comfortable with owners trimming them. Dogs just don’t hold still, and further injury usually follows.”

Treat the disease that’s causing it — Treating the underlying cause of your dog’s paw pad hyperkeratosis is important, especially if it’s a recurring condition. Your vet may recommend immunosuppressive drugs for Pemphigus or zinc supplements, for example.

Pay a visit to the doggie sauna — Yes, you can take your pup to the doggie spa, but a DIY fix that may help is turning on the shower to create steam and having your dog chill out in the bathroom for a bit. The moisture will help the dry, cracked skin on their paws soften.

Use an ointment a few times per day — A balm, butter, or ointment designed for dog paws is a great way to keep manage hyperkeratosis symptoms and help the skin heal. We put together a list of our favorite all-natural paw balms to help you hone in on the top products.

Ways to help prevent non-genetic hyperkeratosis

There’s no known cure for hereditary footpad hyperkeratosis. But the good news is that there are simple steps you can take to prevent other types of hyperkeratosis:

Carefully monitor your dog’s paws — It’s much easier to heal hyperkeratosis in the early stages before cracked skin, bleeding or infection happens. So keep an eye on your pup’s paws to ensure their paw pads are soft and healthy.

Have your dog wear booties or socks — Although your dog may not love wearing socks, if you live in a very hot or cold place, it may be best to protect your dog’s feet from hot pavement, snow or salted icy paths. The less irritated your dog’s paw pads are, the healthier they’ll be.

Have your dog’s nails regularly clipped — This helps with paw hygiene, ensuring your dog’s nails don’t get too long, scrape the ground or affect walking. It’s best to have them clipped frequently by a professional such as a vet or groomer to avoid any issues.

Use a moisturizing balm or ointment as prevention — Paw balms are often used to treat paw pad hyperkeratosis, but can also be used as a prevention method. The more moisturized your dog’s paw pads are, the better.

Get your dog a distemper vaccine — This is an easy way to avoid your dog getting not only paw pad hyperkeratosis, but also canine distemper. The vaccine is best done when your dog is a puppy.

These are the best hyperkeratosis ointments to use

Ointments will soften the hardened skin, allowing the ingredients to best penetrate the paw. Some ointments can also be used as a preventative measure.

For stubborn cases, ask your vet to prescribe an ointment with a keratolytic agent (such as salicylic acid, selenium disulfide, ammonium lactate, or mild sulfur) that dissolves the keratin. This will boost the paw pad’s acidity so it can better absorb moisture.

Dogs love to lick their paws, and this vegan paw soother certainly keeps that in mind, using natural and safe ingredients to moisturize and heal your dog’s dry paws that are safe if ingested. Chock full of herbs and soothing oils, the balm is especially helpful in treating paw pad hyperkeratosis. It’s no wonder the product has hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon.

Ingredients — Natural Dog Company PAW SOOTHER®
Cajeput Essential Oil, Calendula Extract, Rosemary Extract, Jojoba Oil, Hempseed Oil, Coconut Oil, Candelilla Wax, Natural Vitamin E, Chamomile, Mango Butter, Cocoa Butter, Chamomile.

This 100% natural dog wax is non-toxic, non-GMO and gluten-free, with no nut, soy or flax oils. Once absorbed, it won’t rub off on furniture or other surfaces. The balm can also be used as preventative and is especially helpful for extreme cold or hot conditions. Buzzfeed pet blogger Samantha Yang explained that the wax saved her chihuahua’s paws: “It’s like invisible shoes for your pets that create a barrier between them and harsh conditions that may harm their delicate paw pads.”

Ingredients — Musher’s Secret Natural Dog Wax
White beeswax, yellow beeswax, Carnauba wax, candelilla wax, white oil, vegetable oil, vitamin E.

This all-natural balm product moisturizes paw pads while still letting paw pores breathe. The scent-free salve known for healing hyperkeratosis is also safe to use on your dog’s nose too — it even has SPF 15. Some reviewers have said the 4-legger balm is the only balm their dog will tolerate.

Ingredients — 4-Legger Certified Organic Nose and Paw Pad Healing Balm
Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Shea Butter, Organic Carnauba Wax, Natural Vitamin E (Tocopherol), Organic Rosemary Extract, Organic Calendula Extract, Organic St. John’s Wort Extract.

With every single ingredient USDA-certified organic and no dyes or parabens, this all-natural balm is especially ideal for dogs with sensitive paws. The salve will help heal hyperkeratosis-induced wounds as well as protect your pup’s paws against serious heat or cold weather conditions. One reviewer said her dog’s paws showed noticeable improvement after just three uses.

Ingredients — Pure and Natural Pet™ Rescue Balm
Sunflower oil, olive oil, hemp oil, calendula oil, beeswax, rosemary oil, St. Johns Wort, Carnauba wax.