Why Does My Dog Have Swollen Elbows and What Can I Do at Home?
Are you concerned about hair loss, thickening, and swelling of your dog´s elbows?
If your home does not have wall-to-wall thick carpets, and your dog likes to find the hardest floor to sleep on, you should be concerned—she may develop elbow calluses or even elbow hygromas.
What Is a Callus?
A callus is thick, hairless skin over the elbow or other bony areas where your dog puts pressure when he is sleeping or resting. Large and giant breed dogs, dogs with thin skin, and those that like to sleep on concrete or other rough surfaces are prone to developing elbow calluses.
If your dog is thin and weak, or obese and lazy, these lesions can get a lot worse. By the time they become Grave IV lesions, the bone is involved and treatment is more difficult.
What Is a Hygroma?
A hygroma often develops for the same reasons—a heavy dog with thin skin will lie on a hard surface and pressure to the elbow will cause fluid buildup. Many dogs that develop hygromas do not have hard calluses and the pressure causes other problems.
If your dog is developing a callus, or if she already has a hygroma, there are some things you can do about it.
Reasons a Dog May Have a Swollen Elbow
Treating Elbow Callus
If your dog develops a callus, you should not be too concerned about it. That said, you do want to keep it from becoming infected or developing into an ulcer or hygroma.
- The best way to keep the callus from becoming too thick is by providing thick beds where your dog likes to lie. If you buy a new bed and your dog chooses a different area to lie down, try putting a foam bed in that area too.
- If your dog does not want to lie in soft bedding, cover the elbows with an elbow protector or sock to reduce trauma.
- Moisturize the callus every day with coconut oil. Some people think it is better to let them dry out since the blood vessels are not near the surface and they are less likely to bleed, but if kept moist every day the moisturizer can actually make the callus almost disappear. Your dog will be more comfortable without a dry callus.
- If your dog has been licking on the callus and it is already infected, you should clean it each day with betadine solution. Some traditional vets will recommend a topical antibiotic cream, or you can also massage in a locally harvested honey after cleaning it. Take the dog for a walk after treatment so that she will not lick the callus.
- If the dog is obese, make sure he loses weight and is in good shape. If the dog is very thin, try to find out what his main problem is (arthritis, cancer, etc.) and treat that at the same time.
- If the dog is ill, ask your holistic vet about herbal immunostimulants since an ulcerated callus may be secondary to immunosuppression.
- If the callus is bleeding excessively, becomes infected, or is painful, take your dog in to see his vet. A rapidly growing callus can be a sign of cancer.
Treating Fluid Buildup (Hygroma) in the Elbow
An elbow hygroma can develop from the same causes as an elbow callus—if your large or giant dog prefers to lie on a hard surface most of the time and has not even built up a callus to absorb the pressure, a hygroma might flare up.
- Elbow hygromas are more serious and difficult to treat so take your dog to the vet as soon as possible, before the elbow is infected.
- If this is a problem, some vets and breeders recommend “benign neglect” and recommend never putting a needle into a sterile hygroma. It may go away, but in some dogs it does not and may eventually become infected and will be more difficult to treat.
- Your vet will probably want to do X-rays to rule out a fracture, and then look at the fluid under the microscope to rule out infection or cancer, but as long as everything is okay, she can draw off the fluid and apply a pressure bandage like vetrap to keep the hygroma from filling up again so quickly.
- If the hygroma is already infected, or keeps coming back after drainage, some vets will recommend a drainage tube and antibiotics to prevent infection of the elbow joint.
- When using any of these methods to treat a hygroma, the dog must have his elbows padded and wrapped for at least 4 weeks so that the space will heal up and fluid can no longer build up.
- Your dog must have a soft place to sleep while this condition is clearing up. If she does not want to sleep in her bed, you need to work on training.
Vetrap is a bandaging material that we use to apply some pressure to the hygroma during healing. Order this product if you need it, but be sure to have your dog´s swelling checked out first to rule out a fracture, cancer, or infection.
Prevention Is Always Better Than Cure
Both of these problems are easier to prevent than treat.
- If you have a new puppy, purchase a thick bed for her to sleep on and if she has a favorite bone she likes to gnaw on, only give it to her when she is in her bed.
- When you are eating dinner, teach her to lie down in her bed and wait for you to finish. If you are watching TV, praise her when she goes to her bed.
- If you need to buy a bed for the kitchen, another for the dining room, and still another for the living room where you watch TV in the evenings, do so. Having a soft bed to sleep on will prevent a lot of problems for both of you.
- If you have an older dog that has already developed problems with her elbows, you still need to get her to sleep on adequate bedding. There is no guarantee that it is going to work, since at times dogs like to search out that place you do not want them to sleep. Every time I put down a new bed for my dog she decides to move.
There are many things you cannot prevent, but you can avoid an infected elbow callus and elbow hygromas. Do something today.
This video shows one Mastiff owners attempt to keep his dog´s elbows padded at all times.