Canine Hairy Feet (Hyperkeratosis): What’s Happening to My Dog’s Feet?

Because dogs don’t [typically] wear shoes, their footpads are equipped with extra thick skin; nature’s equivalent of shoes, really. The outer layer that looks like little tightly-packed cones is tough to protect the feet when walking on rough surfaces.

Normally, everything the body does is well regulated, so everything is where it belongs and functions the way it was meant to. When the regulation breaks down, things can go wild–and end up quite wild-looking. With hyperkeratosis, it looks as if the little cones start growing out of control. It resembles hair or, to me, more like something that would grow at the bottom of the ocean.

Canine Hairy Feet (Hyperkeratosis): What's Happening to My Dog's Feet?
You can see why I’m thinking coral reef rather than hair

It doesn’t always look this bad, it can present just as hardening or crusting of the pads.

The medical term is hyperkeratosis.

Now, that it has a name, is your veterinarian done? Should they be?

Some breeds have genetic predisposition to this type of problem. A genetic component can be suspect particularly when it starts at around a year of age.

In cases where only one (or some) feet are affected, it might signal that your dog isn’t walking properly on that leg–not bearing full weight–and keratin that would naturally wear off does not. That should bring your attention to musculoskeletal issues.

Similar changes can be caused by the following:

The problem could be infectious in origin. Some strains of the distemper virus can cause hyperkeratosis.

A parasite transferred by sandflies, Leishmania, can have hyperkeratosis as the most prominent symptom.

The problem can be auto-immune in origin. Zinc deficiency can be one of the causes. In older dogs, it can even be a sign of chronic liver disease or a pancreatic tumor.

I am not trying to scare you.

You can best solve a problem when you target what is truly behind it. And as much as you might need to treat directly if you can nail down the cause you have a better chance of fixing the problem rather than managing it.

Categories: Hairy feetHyperkeratosisSymptoms

Tags: :

Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

Share your thoughts