It's not pretty, and it probably isn't curable. If your dog suffers from digital hyperkeratosis, or the accumulation of dry, hard skin on his footpads, treatment is ongoing. Digital hyperkeratosis is a "frustrating disease to manage," according to the McKeever Veterinary Dermatology Clinics website. The growths on the footpads might crack, leading to secondary infections. Your dog's prognosis depends on the severity of the condition and your commitment to treatment. Untreated dogs become lame.
Canine Digital Hyperkeratosis
Footpad hyperkeratosis in canines appears in two forms. Certain breeds appear genetically prone to developing familial hyperkeratosis. In these dogs, changes in the footpad start at a young age. Affected breeds include the Irish terrier, Bedlington terrier, Dogue de Bordeaux, Labrador and golden retrievers and Kerry blue terrier. Idiopathic digital hyperkeratosis usually occurs in dogs older than 10. Your veterinarian performs a biopsy of skin tissue to diagnose the disease, as abnormal skin growth on the footpads can result from various causes, including zinc dermatosis and pemphigus foliaceus.
Schedule regular sessions with your vet for trimming of your dog's footpads. She can cut off the excessive skin growth, making walking more comfortable for your pet. Trimming frequency depends on the severity of the disease and the skin growth rate. Your vet might show you how to perform the trimming or filing of the footpads if you feel comfortable taking on this crucial task.
It's important to keep the tough, horny skin on your dog's pads well-hydrated. Your vet will recommend the best topical treatment for your pet. Daily soakings with solutions of 50 percent propylene glycol soaks might help your dog. One caveat: it's messy. After the soak, apply salicylic acid to the pads for keratin softening. In severe cases, your vet might prescribe tretinoin ointment -- marketed for people under the trade name Retin A -- to delay skin growth. An Elizabethan collar can prevent your dog from licking his feet after treatment. Keep it on until the medication absorbs.
Your veterinarian might recommend supplementing your dog with vitamin A, which helps normalize keratin. If your dog develops an infection, your vet might prescribe a course of oral antibiotics along with topical antibiotic cream. If your dog's infected pads cause pain, she might prescribe steroids or an analgesic until healing occurs.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.