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Dog with thickened footpads and arm outstretched

Thickened foot pads and nose may be benign sign of aging

Q: Bailey, my 8-year-old cocker spaniel, has frond-like growths on the sides of his foot pads that resemble bristles on a brush. Are these growths cancerous?

A: You should have your veterinarian check Bailey to be sure, but it sounds like you are describing a common – and non-cancerous – condition called hyperkeratosis.

This condition occurs when excessive keratin builds up on the pads. Keratin is a fibrous protein that makes up skin, hair, nails and foot pads, providing protection and support. Walking wears down the keratin on the bottom surfaces of the pads, so Bailey has the extra keratin only on the sides of his pads.

Often, keratin also thickens the nose leather, called the planum nasale. When both locations are involved, the disorder is called nasodigital hyperkeratosis.

Hyperkeratosis most commonly affects middle-aged and older dogs. It occurs in all breeds but is most common in cockers, springer spaniels, beagles, basset hounds and bulldogs. These breeds also may develop seborrhea, caused by excessive production of an oily secretion called sebum by the sebaceous glands.

Hyperkeratosis usually requires no treatment. If the keratin buildup is excessive, however, it can be trimmed with scissors or removed with a nail grinder. Products that soften keratin also are helpful. If Bailey’s foot pads develop fissures, he may experience pain and infection that will require medication from your veterinarian.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at


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