- Hyperkeratosis is caused by excessive keratin production — This protein benefits your dog’s eyes, but too much of it damages their paws.
- 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. This condition is caused by an overproduction of keratin, and can have several possible underlying factors. If your dog has this condition, you may notice what looks like abnormal hair growth on their paw pads, and nose if they have nasal hyperkeratosis. But it’s not actually hair, it’s dry skin. Let’s talk about how you can treat hyperkeratosis at home, as well as some advice on when it’s best to take your pup to the vet.
What is paw pad hyperkeratosis?
Paw pad hyperkeratosis is a skin condition that is caused by an overproduction of a protein called keratin. This leads to thickened or extra skin growth on a dog’s nose or 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’ or ‘paw pad’ hyperkeratosis. The good news is that 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 known as hereditary footpad hyperkeratosis. It’s an immune system disorder that’s more common in certain breeds than others. Labradors, American bulldogs, and Boxers are especially prone to the condition.
- Age. Older dogs are at a higher risk of hyperkeratosis.
- Canine Distemper. This disease often manifests in hyperkeratosis, flu-like symptoms, and neurological issues. Canine Distemper is often fatal, so you should vaccinate your puppy as soon as your vet says they’re old enough to receive their shots.
- Leishmaniasis. Sandfly bites cause this nasty disease. If your dog is diagnosed with Leishmaniasis , 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, including hyperkeratosis.
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 here 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 enough to try the procedure at home, ask your vet to show you how.
- 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 in some fragrance-free epsom salts. 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 manage hyperkeratosis symptoms and help the skin heal. We put together a list of our favorite all-natural dog paw balms to help you find the best solution.
🚨 Never try to trim your dog’s paw pad on your own unless your vet has trained you. As our advisor Dr. Erica Irish tells us, “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.”
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.
- Dress your dog in 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. Here are our top picks for dog booties.
- Clip your dog’s nails regularly. This helps with paw hygiene by ensuring your dog’s nails don’t scrape the ground or affect walking. It’s best to have them clipped frequently by a professional like a vet or groomer to avoid any issues, especially if they’re prone to hyperkeratosis.
- 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.
- Vaccinate your dog against Canine Distemper. Unfortunately, hyperkeratosis is the most benign sign of this devastating disease. Vaccinating against Canine Distemper can literally save your dog’s life, so don’t skip this shot.
These are the best hyperkeratosis ointments to use
Ointments 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.
Paw Soother by Natural Dog Company
A high-quality vegan balm
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: Cajeput Essential Oil, Calendula Extract, Rosemary Extract, Jojoba Oil, Hempseed Oil, Coconut Oil, Candelilla Wax, Natural Vitamin E, Chamomile, Mango Butter, Cocoa Butter, Chamomile.
Paw Nectar by QualityPet
A 100% organic balm
This beeswax-free organic balm is especially ideal for dogs with sensitive paws. It uses hydrating and nourishing ingredients like avocado oil, botanical wax, and safflower oil. One reviewer said Paw Nectar was recommended by a vet for her dog’s hyperkeratosis—her dog stopped limping after one application!
Ingredients: Organic safflower oil, plant sourced botanical wax, avocado oil, shea butter, soy, cocoa butter, sustainable red palm, vitamin E.
Musher’s Secret Natural Paw Wax
A simple beeswax formula
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 a 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: White beeswax, yellow beeswax, Carnauba wax, candelilla wax, white oil, vegetable oil, vitamin E.
4-Legger Nose & Paws Healing Balm
A dual-purpose option
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—it even has SPF 15. Some reviewers have said the 4-legger balm is the only balm their dog will tolerate.
Ingredients: 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.
Frequently asked questions
What is the growth on my dog’s paw pad?
A growth on your dog’s paw pad could be a keratoma or corn. This is a mass caused by too much keratin, which is known as hyperkeratosis. Typically benign, you may spot keratomas on the bottom of your dog’s paw pad. These masses can be painful, so it’s best to see a vet as soon as possible if your dog has hairy foot pads.
Can I put vaseline on my dog’s paws?
While Vaseline is a quick and easy non-toxic solution for dry paws, it’s not the best for long-term use and won’t cure paw pad hyperkeratosis. Vaseline is derived from crude oil, which your dog shouldn’t lick in large amounts. To treat hyperkeratosis, you should talk to your veterinarian and apply a dedicated paw balm or soothing salve made especially for dogs in the meantime.
Can I soak my dog’s paws in Epsom salt?
You can soak irritated dog paws in Epsom salt. This is an easy and safe method to clean the paws. It won’t cure hyperkeratosis, but it will help to soothe the paw. Use one cup of Epsom salts per gallon of warm water.
Can I trim my dog’s hyperkeratosis?
Don’t attempt this at home without visiting your vet first. Trimming excess skin can help control paw pad hyperkeratosis, but it’s important your vet shows you how to do it safely. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, you can make appointments with your vet so they can trim it.
Is hyperkeratosis in dogs painful?
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 severe pain or discomfort, talk to your vet.