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What are Thickened Foot Pads?

While this is a simple definition for this condition, it is not necessarily a simple problem nor does it have a simple cause or solution.  There are multiple situations and health conditions which can contribute to thickened foot pads, only some of them being curable but all are treatable to reduce discomforts and decrease infectious health risks.

Thickened foot pads in dogs can be simply defined as any tissue build up on the paws of your canine family member which causes them to be thicker than normal.

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Symptoms of Thickened Foot Pads in Dogs

There are multiple situations and health conditions which can contribute to the formation of thickened foot pads in dogs.  Here are the most common symptoms you will likely see in these cases:

  • Thickening and hardening of skin on foot pads (as well as around the nose)
  • Splitting or cracking of the skin in these areas - sometimes oozing pus or blood
  • Crustiness 
  • Loss of hair
  • Pain upon walking or running
  • Itching and constant licking
  • Changes in nail growth  
  • Gait changes due to painful walking or abnormal nail growth
  • Swelling of any of the paw tissue  
  • Lesion development on pads

Types 

We have noted above that there are multiple causes for thickened foot pads in dogs and there are multiple types of conditions/situations known to result in thickening of the foot pads in dogs.  Here are some basic categories:

  • Hereditary diseases and conditions
  • Viral diseases
  • Autoimmune abnormalities
  • Bacterial infections
  • Cyst development
  • Various types of inflammatory responses
  • Various types of pododermatitis diseases and conditions

Causes of Thickened Foot Pads in Dogs

There are many potential causes for thickened foot pads in dogs as they are related to the above list of various types or categories of contributors to the thickening.  Here are some of the factors, diseases and conditions which are known to result in the thickening  of the foot pads of your pet:

  • Bacterial and fungal (or yeast) infections - This type of thickening usually found secondary to underlying disease like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders, symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy (an immune-mediated disorder affecting the canine claws) and neoplasms (tumors)
  • Acral lick dermatitis or granulomas - Believed to have a multileveled set of causes: emotional and environmental stresses (boredom, separation anxiety, confinement, loneliness) as well as some more important conditions like those listed above in addition to parasites, trauma, foreign bodies and hypersensitivity of food and their environments
  • Disorder of keratinization due to zinc deficiency - Stems from either an inability to absorb zinc from foods or a lack of appropriate amounts of zinc in the canine’s diet, resulting in crusting, scaling, redness and eventually lead to hyperkeratosis of the foot pads
  • Pemphigus foliaceous - Probably the most common autoimmune condition in dogs; it is idiopathic (no known cause) or can be drug induced and can affect any breed, gender or age of canine (causes many similar skin reactions as noted above - hyperkeratosis is frequently the only sign noted in afflicted animals)
  • Hyperkeratosis - Foot pads which are thickened, hard and cracked; they are usually normal at birth but present by the age of 5 or 6 months and can be familial or idiopathic (no cure but can be managed)
  • Various types of pododermatitis  - These are various types of deep paw infections which are secondary to an underlying condition like bacterial, fungal, parasitic infections, foreign bodies, immune disorders, food allergies, trauma, cushings and hyperthyroidism
  • Canine distemper - This is a rare occurrence these days with the new vaccines but can cause a whole host of problems when contracted by a canine

Diagnosis of Thickened Foot Pads in Dogs

There are quite a variety of situations, conditions and diseases which can result in thickened foot pads in dogs.  And, since there are so many potential causes, diagnosis may be a bit involved.  Your input will be very important to your veterinary professional, advising him of your pet’s dietary regimen, exercise regimen, housing and lifestyle arrangements and health history and vaccinations if this information is not readily available to him.  It would be quite helpful for your vet to know the details of your pet’s exercise habits and locations where that exercise takes place.  

Your vet will do a physical examination, and depending upon his findings, he may need to order some blood testing, urine and fecal sample testing and perhaps some other tissue samples for laboratory evaluation.  He may need cultures and biopsies to rule out some of the potential causes of thickened foot pads in dogs.  Radiography (x-rays) may be required as well as DNA testing if there is a possibility the thickening could be inherited.

Treatment of Thickened Foot Pads in Dogs

Once the results of the testing, imaging, cultures and biopsies are put together with the attending vet’s clinical findings and your history, a diagnosis will be determined (at least an initial one) and a treatment plan will be developed and initiated.  It is important to understand that the initial treatment plan may be such that it will treat the immediate need of the patient to ease any discomfort and stabilize him but it may not end there.  

If there is any underlying disease or condition which has contributed to the thickened foot pads in your pet, then that underlying disease will still need to be determined.  Once determined, treatment will need to be extended to cover that underlying condition or disease.  This may require a multi-step or multi-layered treatment approach which may take several weeks or months to resolve.  If the condition is determined to be idiopathic, then there will be no cure because no definitive cause has been established and thus cannot be treated.  In this case, the treatment plan may then be one of management rather than resolution.  

Treatment modalities could include but are not limited to:

  • Nutrient supplementation if your pet is found deficient 
  • Creams, ointments and lotions to help soften the hardened tissue 
  • It might include periodic cutting or trimming away of the hardened keratin on the paws of your pet 
  • It could mean administration of medications for thyroid issues, diabetes, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections 
  • Change of the dietary regimen of your family pet

Recovery of Thickened Foot Pads in Dogs

If the thickened foot pads in your dog are determined to be idiopathic, then you must resign yourself to no cure for the condition being available.  If the cause is determined to be hereditary, then you’ll be dealing with it as a lifelong situation for your pet.  It is probably safe to say that, for most of the possible causes of thickened foot pads in dogs, you will most likely be treating the condition, as well as any discomforts it causes your pet, off and on for the rest of your pet’s life in one manner or another.  

Your pet can live a very productive and happy life in spite of this affliction as long as he is monitored for possible infectious episodes.  Of course, if the cause is determined to be cancerous, depending on the type and stage of the cancer, you could find yourself mired more deeply in the ongoing process of the care of your family pet.