Thursday, July 5, 2018

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Hairy Feet (Hyperkeratosis)

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.

Photo: clinician's brief

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.

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.

It is referred to as hyperkeratosis.


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

Some breeds are predisposed 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. It can be caused by zinc deficiency. In older dogs, it can even be a sign of chronic liver disease or a pancreatic tumor.

I am not trying to scare you.


But any problem is best addressed 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.

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?


Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.


Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog has won the following awards:

40 comments

  1. Always learning and love your posts but also become paranoid in a way and now am double checking Laylas paws. Thanks so much for opening my eyes

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    1. I doubt you'd miss something like that. Plus it's mostly just a nuisance, not really dangerous.

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    2. What if this is not on his feet or nose. I found something like this on my dogs elbow callus white.

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    3. Would need a photo; elbow calluses are relatively common - rough, hardened, hairless skin. If swollen or large, then might be looking at hygroma.

      Google elbow calluses and hygromas to help you determine which it is.

      Might require treatment or measures to keep that at bay depending on how bad it is. Coconut oil is helpful, vitamin E (topically) is helpful, keep off short-pile carpet.

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  2. Hyperkeratosis is strange looking for sure! I dremel my dogs' nails once a week and always make sure to keep an eye on their feet as well.

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    1. Isn't it? It surely looks like something from an ocean floor to me rather than "hair." :-)

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  3. I have never heard of this before - thanks for the warning!

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    1. I have but kept it buried deep in my mind. But then had a question about this on my Dog Health Issues group.

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  4. How interesting! I don't think I've heard of "hairy feet" before, but thanks for making me aware and knowing what to watch out for on my dogs. I guess like anything out of the norm, we should always check with our vet.

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    1. Yes, everything out of the ordinary ought to be figured out.

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  5. I have never heard of this condition before. I do learn something new every time I read one of your posts!! It makes me feel like I'm going to be prepared for anything. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you, I try to introduce unusual topics or at least an unusual point of view.

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  6. I had never heard of this before. I'm really learning a lot about dogs from reading your blog that I can share with my family members.

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    1. Thank you so much :-) I think you ought to check out my book too?

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  7. Interesting, I’ve never heard of hyperkeratosis before! I’ve also never seen it before. It’s amazing how many different things there are to be aware of in being a pet parent.

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    1. There are certainly some wild-looking things one can encounter.

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  8. Your posts are always so informative! I don't think I've ever seen this before! And I would agree, it does look like something from the ocean floor!

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    1. Right? Why do they call it "hairy feet,"?

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  9. Your posts are always so interesting and informative! I had never heard of that condition before.Is it very common?

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    1. Not overly common, no. But had quite a wild case in my Facebook group so that's why I wrote about it.

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  10. Wow I learn so much every time I visit your site. Never heard of hairy feet or hyperkeratosis. Important to know and be aware to treat on time. Thanks for all the good information =)

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  11. While working at the veterinary hospital I only saw one case of hyperkeratosis, I believe it was a German Shepherd if my memory serves me correctly. Thank you for providing pet parents with more information about this condition!

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    1. Thank you Rachel. Yes, it's not too common but just recently I followed a story of a dog whose feet looked just like the photo.

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  12. Again another condition I was fully unaware of. I've never heard of hyperkeratosis. Yikes!I'll have to share this post with my dog loving peeps!

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    1. It's more interesting than common. Though it is an actual case that inspired me to write about it.

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  13. OK I confess, this is the creepiest thing EVER! Cats can naturally have a lot of fur between their paw pads with this is totally different. Thanks for a great post to help pet parents with something that they might be totally baffled by!

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    1. Yes, dogs can have quite a bit of hair between toes too. But this is more like "nails" than fur. And it grows from the pads, not between them.

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  14. What an interesting post. I have noticed some unusual marks on my dogs paws from time to time. I'll have to watch out for this. Your posts are always so informative.

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    1. Hyperkeratosis doesn't always look this wild; sometimes it presents as "hardening" of the pads.

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  15. As my last dog aged, my vet kept telling me that her paws were dry. I put paw balm on my puppy's pads to help keep them healthy. No hoof, no horse. No paw pad, no fun!

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    1. No hoof, no horse. No paw pad, no fun! - love that :-)

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  16. I just checked all of my dogs' paws. This was not something I ever heard about before.

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    1. I'm sure your dogs' paws are fine. This is not very common.

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  17. That is the craziest looking thing! I think I would feak out if my dogs had that issue.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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  18. I'd never heard of this before. I'm not too concerned with my cats because they are indoor-only, but I'd definitely have them checked out by the vet if I suspected there was something different.

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  19. Another informative post, thank you! So how many of us just went to check our pets’ paws?! I actually just had the groomer here and he gave my Huskies a “pawdicure” so I know all is well, but it sure is something to check and keep an eye out for.

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  20. I've never heard of this before either. Something to watch out for!

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  21. I just noticed this on my dog tonight and found these comments when I googled it. It looks very weird and wanted to know what It was. Should I be making an appointment to see my vet right away? It doesn't seem like it hurts her.

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    1. It's definitely not an emergency if it looks like the photo.

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