Have you ever had cracked heels?
Sore, aren’t they? Deep fissures on your heels that open up with every step make it feel like walking on glass shards.
I’m guessing (because dogs can’t speak) this is what it feels like for dogs with severe crusty pads. If your dog suffers from this, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Cracked Heels in Dogs
Crusty pads are those that, instead of being smooth and supple, are greatly thickened and hard. Not only that, but also the tissue sheers vertically, sometimes forming fronds or feathers, and sometimes crumbly bits.
If the dog is really unlucky, the thickened foot pads fissure, causing deep cracks like the ones on our dry heels. But, unlike people — where cracked heels are often due to hardworking feet — in dogs, the causes are different.
I like the terms “crusty noses” and “crusty footpads.” But there’s also a technical term for the condition: nasodigital hyperkeratosis.
This more intimidating term also means crusty noses and feet, but in a fancy way. Let’s break it down:
- Naso = nose
- Digital = pads
- Hyper = too much
- Keratosis = keratin in the skin
So what causes it?
Actually, this is a trick question because no one knows. That said, some breeds are more likely to be affected than others. This includes:
- English Springer Spaniels
- Bull Terriers
- Standard Poodles
- Bedlington Terrier
You will recognize the problem right away, especially on the nose. That black, leathery button takes on a dry, cracked, cobbled-street appearance. This is most likely due to nasodigital hyperkeratosis, but on rare occasions, it may be a complication of an underlying health condition.
Just like our cracked heels, there’s no magic pill that makes the problem go away. Instead, the answer is moisturizing — and lots of it. However, your vet may first want to run tests to check there’s no underlying health problem.
- Start by soaking the foot for 10 minutes in a wet compress. This is as simple as soaking cotton wool in water, squeezing most of the moisture out and applying the damp wool to the paw. The idea is the water soaks into the dry keratin, making it more supple.
- It can be a struggle to keep the cotton wool in place. A top tip is to pop baby socks over the cotton wool to hold it in place. (Great for paws, not so great for noses!) Get into the habit of doing this when watching TV, when the dog is relaxed.
- After the soaking, apply a generous lashing of a human emollient cream or balm (there are plenty of them out there.) Just be sure it’s OK if the dog licks it off, and avoid any ointments containing zinc. Oh, and watch out for the dog leaving sticky paws prints wherever they go. Applying the balm before bedtime can help.
- Do this daily for 7–10 days, then every other day after that.
So what other conditions might cause hyperkeratosis?
This looks a lot like hyperkeratosis but comes with other symptoms attached. It’s caused by a mutation of the gene that controls keratin production (including hair, as well as noses and foot pads).
Dogs with ichthyosis may suffer from add-on issues, such as lack of tear production, a frizzy coat and patches of excessively dry skin.
The breeds most likely to have ichthyosis include:
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- American Bulldogs
- Boston Terriers
- Great Danes
- Irish Setters
Sadly, there is no cure; treatment is aimed at just moisturizing the very dry skin.
2. Zinc Deficiency
Your Arctic dog breeds, such as Huskies and Malamutes, head the list for this problem. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include crusty paws and nose; a dry, dull coat; stunted growth and skin scaling, especially around the eyes and lips.
The cause is a reduced ability to soak up zinc present in food. When a well-balanced diet is fed, this shouldn’t cause a problem. But if the dog is fed a poor or restricted diet, this coupled with difficulty absorbing zinc can lead to signs of deficiency.
Happily, these dogs usually respond well to an improved diet or giving a simple dietary supplement containing zinc.
Pemphigus is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the places where keratin meets furry skin. This can result in inflammation, irritation, scaling and ulcers.
Most commonly, this is an erosive condition, meaning it eats into the skin. But the crusts and scabs that form to plug the ulcers can sometimes be mistaken for a weird type of hyperkeratosis.
Treatment targets switching off the inappropriate immune response to settle down the attack on the skin.
The old name for distemper is “hard pad.”
This is because one of the late onset signs of distemper is hyperkeratosis. Those hard pads make a distinct clicking sound when the dog walks on a firm floor.
Again, there’s no cure for this symptom except keeping those feet moisturized.
This Frenchie might just have his moisturizing balm for dinner:
Help for Crusty Noses
Crusty noses or paws can be sore. In the first instance, get the dog checked by a vet. But if the crusty nose is purely cosmetic, then know pet-safe moisturizing balms or creams are a dog’s best friend.
Here’s to wet noses — for all the right reasons!
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed July 20, 2018.