Hyperkeratosis is a thickening of the skin which can occur in cats and dogs on their paws or nose. Hyperkeratosis occurs when too much keratin, or the fibrous proteins that comprise the outer layer of skin, is produced. This leads to excessive skin, which becomes hard, thickened, dried out, and callous-like. Paws and muzzles can develop cracks as a result of hyperkeratosis, making it easy for infections to develop.
Hyperkeratosis can be separated into two types: nasal hyperkeratosis, which occurs on the nose and muzzle area, and foot pad hyperkeratosis, which occurs on the feet. Both are quite uncomfortable, and while there is no cure for hyperkeratosis, there are several ways to manage and reduce the roughened buildup of skin. Read on for more information about some of the causes of this condition, as well as treatment options.
Causes of Hyperkeratosis
For some dogs, developing hyperkeratosis is a matter of genes: Labrador and Golden Retrievers, as well as Dogues de Bordeaux, and Irish and Bedlington Terriers are all known to develop this condition. When hyperkeratosis develops as a result of inheritance, it generally occurs in the first year of a dog’s life. In contrast, idiopathic hyperkeratosis, which develops for unknown reasons, generally occurs in older pets, over the age ten. Aside from inherited or idiopathic occurrences, hyperkeratosis can occur as a symptom of one of these following problems:
- Leishmaniasis: Caused by a parasite frequently carried by sandflies, leishmaniasis can lead pets to develop hyperkeratosis as one of its symptoms. Fortunately, this parasite-caused illness can be managed with medication.
- Canine Distemper: This virus is relatively rare now, due to vaccinations given to puppies. When distemper strikes, it can cause all sorts of symptoms, among them hyperkeratosis, typically on the nose.
- Zinc Responsive Dermatosis: Hyperkeratosis can occur as a result of zinc responsive dermatosis, a skin disease that occurs when dogs do not properly absorb zinc. It can be treated with zinc supplements, and has a good prognosis.
- Pemphigus Foliaceus: One of the most common autoimmune skin diseases diagnosed in cats and dogs, pemphigus foliaceus causes pustules and hyperkeratosis to form on the paws. This disease can be diagnosed with a biopsy, and is treatable with immunosuppressive drugs.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for hyperkeratosis. That said, the condition can be managed -- the treatment goal is to reduce symptoms, by softening and removing the hardened skin on paws and muzzles.
The most important first step of treatment is to determine if another disease is causing hyperkeratosis as a symptom, and begin the treatment process for that disease. To treat the hyperkeratosis directly, bring pets in for frequent vet appointments, where the vet can carefully trim and cut away at the excess keratin. If your vet and you both feel comfortable with the idea, it’s possible that your vet can train you on the proper process for this puppy pedicure. Other treatments involve wet wraps, soaks in propylene glycol, and other topical solutions.
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