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Health & Wellness

What is hyperkeratosis in dogs?

How to relieve your dog’s dry skin

People aren’t the only ones that suffer from dry, cracked skin — some pets struggle, too. Veterinarian and pet health advocate Dr. Aliya McCullough tells us everything we need to know about this pesky — and sometimes painful — condition. 

What is hyperkeratosis? 

When your dog’s levels of keratin are super high, they may develop dry, thick and sometimes cracked skin on their nose and paws, known as hyperkeratosis. Sometimes, vets may not be able to determine the cause, but it usually affects older dogs and specific breeds like cocker spaniels, English Bulldogs, boxers, and English Springer Spaniels. 

This condition isn’t common in cats, but if you start to notice dry or cracked skin, reach out to your vet as it could signal an underlying issue like cancer or an upper respiratory issue. 

Hyperkeratosis is generally not painful or itchy. But, staying on top of it can protect them from infection (if germs get into a cracked area). There are several reasons behind this pesky problem: 


It’s possible for dry skin to only impact your pet’s nose — this form of hyperkeratosis is often genetic and usually affects younger dogs like greyhounds and labradors. While there is no cure for this condition, use Vitamin E to soothe the dry skin. 

Lack of zinc

When a dog’s diet lacks zinc, hyperkeratosis may appear. If your dog is also losing hair, has crusty eyes or flaking skin on the elbows as well as nose and paws, your vet may want to start them on a zinc supplement. You may have to change their diet to include foods and supplements that are rich in zinc, too.

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Nerve damage

This cause is super rare — so there shouldn’t be a reason to worry. If your pet has nerve damage from ear infections, cancer, trauma or inflammation, this may be causing the dry skin. Another sign of nerve damage could be decreased tear production and dry skin on one or both nostrils. 

Other causes of hyperkeratosis in dogs

If your vet rules out nerve damage, lack of zinc and genetics, then ask them about these underlying issues: 

  • Cancer
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Bacterial and fungal infections
  • Trauma caused by rubbing or scratching
  • Respiratory illness
  • Mite infections

What are some tests my vet could run? 

  • Physical exam
  • Blood work
  • Looking at a sample of skin cells under a microscope
  • Biopsy
  • Genetic testing
  • Zinc testing

The best thing you can do for a pet with dry skin is reach out to your vet. Be sure to monitor the dry, flakey area for any changes or signs of pain. Dry skin is never fun, but knowing the cause and potential solutions will help your pet’s skin get back to normal in no time. 

Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

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