Canine Hyperkeratosis: Causes and Treatments

Hyperkeratosis, or the thickening of the stratum corneum, is when areas of your dog’s outermost skin layer produce excessive keratin.  Keratin is a protein that makes up their skin, nails, and hair. Keratin is a protective layer of dog skin and keeps the external environmental contaminants from affecting their health, while maintaining the skin integrity and moisture. If too much keratin develops, however, it will build-up and cause harm to your dog.

Hyperkeratosis will appear as rough, crusty patches appear on their ears, nose, and paws. When hyperkeratosis is present, your dog becomes vulnerable to pain, inflammation and infections because its protective layer of skin has cracked. If the protective layer cracks on dog skin, it can no longer shield them against bacteria and other harmful particles. If you do not have a dog's hyperkeratosis treated, it can become painful for them to walk, stand, or move.

Reasons a Dog Develops Hyperkeratosis

Underlying causes of hyperkeratosis include:

  • Genetics/Breed
    • There are some breeds of dogs that are more naturally predisposed to developing hyperkeratosis no matter what their age. Some of these breeds include Bulldogs, Sharpei, Terrier breeds, Dogues de Bordeaux, Cocker Spaniels, Labradors, and Irish Terriers. 
  • Parasites
    • If a dog has parasites, it could trigger hyperkeratosis. One parasitic condition known as leishmaniasis happens when a dog is bitten by sandflies. When a dog has leishmaniasis it can trigger keratin hyperproduction which can then result in hyperkeratosis.
  • Auto-Immune Diseases
    • Diseases such as pemphigus foliaceus can cause your dog to produce excess keratin. When this occurs, your dog's immune system attacks dog skin cells and causes them to dry out and crack. 
  • Age
    • Middle-aged and older dogs are more susceptible to developing hyperkeratosis. When dogs age, their skin tends to thicken which makes them more susceptible to hyperkeratosis. 
  • Zinc Deficiency
    • Zinc ensures proteins work as they should. If a dog doesn't get enough zinc it causes keratin levels to become abnormal. When this happens, it can lead to hyperkeratosis and other conditions such as zinc dermatosis. 
  • Infectious Diseases
    • Infectious diseases in dogs, such as papillomavirus infection, and canine distemper can cause a dog to produce more keratin making hyperkeratosis a common symptom in these diseases. 

Is Hyperkeratosis Dangerous to a Dog's Health?

Hyperkeratosis is typically not a life-threatening concern for your dog. However, this condition can be extremely uncomfortable for your dog. When buildup occurs in your dog's paws from this condition, they will most likely find it difficult to walk. If the case becomes extreme, the buildup on a dog's nose and paws can crack, making them very vulnerable to infection. You should check your dog's paws regularly to prevent this from happening. If you notice any unusual hairs, you should discuss the condition with your veterinarian to start a treatment plan.

How is Hyperkeratosis Treated?

There is no cure for hyperkeratosis, but the symptoms can be treated with regular attention. Solva-Ker Gel is one form of treatment for hyperkeratosis. This product is a clear, greaseless gel available through VetriMax. Solva-Ker Gel contains microencapsulated 6.6% salicylic acid plus urea.  The formulation softens and removes excessive keratin and has humectants to rehydrate the affected area. Solva-Ker Gel has been expertly formulated to aid in the treatment of idiopathic hyperkeratosis.

If your dog develops hyperkeratosis on their paws, your vet may suggest cutting back the hairs or mechanically removing calluses to make walking more comfortable for them. Your vet can perform these procedures, or you can do it at home when you've been shown the process. You may also be advised to try natural balms such as oils or shea butter to soothe rough patches of dog skin and prevent it from cracking.

Once your dog develops hyperkeratosis, it is often a life-long condition for them. You will need to perform regular maintenance to keep symptoms in check. Many dog behavior experts advise you to work with your dog's paws regularly, for routine nail trims, or just in case this condition should develop, your dog will allow you to properly treat them.

Where to Learn More About Caring for Dog Skin

VetriMax has more than twenty years of experience in the animal health industry. Our products are created with ingredient-delivery technology and are clinically tested to make sure they provide maximum benefits for your dog's coat health and dog skin. It is our mission to improve the lives of pets and those who care for them. Contact us today if you have questions on how to care for your dog’s skin.

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