For humans, winter’s cold temperatures and dry air can lead to cracked, rough skin. But when a dog experiences such signs—specifically on their nose—the weather may not be to blame.
What is canine hyperkeratosis?
Hyperkeratosis is the medical term for abnormal thickening of the skin. If the skin growth cycle or keratin production is abnormal, it can result in a build-up of hard, dry skin. Without treatment, these crusty layers of skin can crack and invite infection.
Note: Keratin is a protein found in the skin, hair, claws, feathers, horns, and beaks of animals.
In dogs, hyperkeratosis most commonly affects the nose (nasal hyperkeratosis), paw pads (paw pad or “hairy feet” hyperkeratosis), and/or skin in other areas (ichthyosis).
Dogs with nasal hyperkeratosis develop a painfully dry and crusty nose and may even experience a reduction in their sense of smell. Generally, we see this condition most frequently in brachycephalic breeds (i.e., breeds with short, flat faces) and older dogs. However, a subset of nasal hyperkeratosis called hereditary nasal parakeratosis, or HNPK, can occur in much younger dogs.
What causes canine nasal hyperkeratosis?
Many things—including infections, facial structure, diet, and illness—can cause canine nasal hyperkeratosis to various degrees.
- Genetic mutations. Two known genetic causes of hereditary nasal parakeratosis exist. Because genetic causes of hyperkeratosis are usually recessive, both parents must have the genetic variants to pass the condition to their offspring. A few breeds—such as Labrador Retrievers and English Greyhounds—appear to be genetically predisposed to HNPK.
- Brachycephaly. Due to their short muzzles, brachiocephalic dogs may have trouble licking their noses to keep them moisturized. As a result, we often see nasal hyperkeratosis in breeds like Pugs, Boxers, English Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs.
- Canine distemper. In the U.S., most dogs receive a distemper vaccination in puppyhood. But the virus is still common in Mexico. So, shelters and veterinarians near the border often see dogs with distemper, also called “hard pad disease.”
- Pemphigus foliaceus. This serious autoimmune disease is typically diagnosed via biopsy and may be treated with immunosuppressive medication.
- Zinc deficiency or malabsorption. Zinc-responsive skin conditions can be caused by inadequate zinc in the diet, an over-supplementation of other minerals (such as calcium, iron, and copper), excessive phytates, or hereditary malabsorption—which likely has a genetic cause in the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, Samoyed, and other Arctic breeds.
- Leishmaniasis. This parasitic infection is transmitted by sandflies and can be transferred to humans. Unfortunately, the prognosis for infected dogs is guarded to grave, as few treatment options exist.
Is nasal hyperkeratosis contagious to other dogs?
Canine hyperkeratosis itself is not contagious. But some causes of the condition can spread between dogs. For example, the genetic mutations that cause hereditary nasal parakeratosis may be passed down from one generation to the next.
Similarly, a risk of zinc-responsive dermatosis can be passed from parents to offspring in some Arctic breeds, as it is suspected to be a genetic condition. And distemper and Leishmaniasis are contagious between dogs.
Does your dog have hereditary nasal parakeratosis?
The visual cues of KNPK are fairly recognizable and usually first show up when dogs are 6–12 months old.
Hereditary nasal parakeratosis produces brittle, scab-like layers on a dog’s nose. Untreated, those layers often form deep fissures and cracks that can bleed and become infected. And over time, the dog’s nose may lose pigment and form prominent scars.
Think your pup might have HNPK? You can screen for it—and hundreds of other health conditions—with the Wisdom Panel™ Premium dog DNA test.
How to treat your dog’s dry, crusty nose
If your dog has nasal hyperkeratosis, you can (and should) decrease their discomfort and risk of infection by monitoring their nose daily and keeping it well-moisturized. Non-toxic, topical moisturizing rinses, ointments, balms, and mild, anti-dandruff shampoos can help here.
Occasionally, you may need to have the excess layers of skin removed by your veterinarian. If you’d prefer to do it yourself, ask them to first teach you how to safely perform the procedure.
Keep in mind that hereditary nasal parakeratosis cannot be cured. But ongoing, proactive treatment can help your pup have a better quality of life.
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