Patty wrote in with this question about a dog’s elbow callus bleeding:

“My dog’s elbow callus is bleeding. He’s a 6-year-old Mastiff and weighs about 100 lbs. He’s had calluses on his elbows for a long time but last night I noticed the one on the left side was bloody and might be infected. He doesn’t act like it hurts when I touch it. Why is his elbow bleeding and is there anything I can do to help him?”


Dear Patty,

Your question is one that’s on a lot of people’s minds as the season changes and dry, indoor climates take over. There are several things you can do to help your dog be more comfortable–for quick relief try Douxo Calm Gel spray and some removable elbow protectors for dogs.

First, let’s talk about elbow calluses in general. They’re are common in large breed dogs and become more prominent when a heavy dog habitually lays on a hard surface. The first thing you’ll notice is that the area around the callus is bald. Calluses are the body’s way of trying to protect the underlying tissue.

Raised, ulcerated sore on a dog’s elbow callus

Moderate calluses may not cause any problems. It’s when the tissue becomes overly thickened that they tend to crack, become raw and bleed. Living in a dry environment will make the skin drier and more fragile. Older dogs tend to have more problems with sore elbows than younger dogs.

Elbow Callus Infections in Dogs

When a dog’s elbow calluses are dry and repeatedly traumatized, the outer surface of the skin breaks down. Without the protection of the epithelial layer, the underlying tissue gets by from dirt, hair and bacteria.

When you think about the amount of pounds per square inch a 100+ pound dog puts on his elbows, it’s not hard to see why cracked elbows get infected.

Elbow infections can become deep tissue infections with anaerobic bacteria. That type of bacteria thrives in a low-oxygen environment and can be tougher to clear.

It’s also not unusual for the tissue of a dog’s elbow to get so gnarly it makes you wonder if it’s actually cancer.

Once your dog’s elbow gets to the point of being raw, raised and oozy, it’s going to be more of a project to get it to heal. Your vet will probably recommend sedating your dog so they can do a biopsy and collect a deep tissue sample for bacterial culture. The cost for these procedures will likely be in the $800-$1200 range, depending on your location.

Why Can’t My Vet Just Suture the Elbow?

It would be so much easier if we could surgically correct infected elbows! But most veterinarians are very cautious about elbow surgery. The reason is that it’s pretty much impossible to keep a dog from putting pressure on his elbows. Nine times out of ten, the surgery site will break open in a matter of days and your dog’s elbow is worse off than before surgery.

How Long Does It Take Infected Elbows to Heal?

Healing time depends on the duration and severity of changes to your dog’s elbow. A dog with a superficial elbow infection will usually heal within 10-14 days with proper care. Your dog may need topical disinfectants, oral antibiotics, elbow pads and maybe even an e-collar to keep him from licking the healing tissue.

Deep elbow infections take a lot longer to heal. Once your vet has done a culture to determine what kind of bacteria are growing, they will also find out which antibiotic will be the most effective against it.

Most dogs with deep elbow infections need to take oral antibiotics for weeks or months. You will also need to be diligent about disinfecting the tissue and minimizing trauma by using elbow pads and offering a thick bed your dog can’t resist.

What Is an Elbow Hygroma?

Elbow calluses can progress to forming a fluid-filled cyst, called a hygroma. Hygromas are much more susceptible to trauma, plus they may be uncomfortable for the dog to lie on. When hygromas are traumatized too much, they can develop inflammation or infection inside and on the surface. Sometimes they break open and become chronic sores.

dog elbow callus bleeding

Hygroma on a Mastiff’s elbow.

Once an elbow callus has turned into a cyst, it may never cause any problems. But if it becomes infected, treatment options are limited. Many vets are reluctant to do any kind of surgery to remove hygromas because the long-term outcome is so poor in most cases. That’s because it’s so difficult to stop a large dog from putting pressure on his elbows, the surgical sites can never heal.

The good news about hygromas on dog elbows is that they can resolve without invasive treatment. You just need to provide lots of cushioning for your dog’s elbows with a super comfy bed like the one linked below. The bad news is that some dogs strongly prefer to lay on a hard surface. For bed nay-sayers, the only reasonable option is to have them wear elbow pads.

My Own Dog’s Elbow Callus Was Bleeding!

Right around the time I got this question from Patty, I noticed my own dog’s elbow callus was bleeding, inflamed and mildly infected. She doesn’t even lay on a hard surface, but it still happened.

dog elbow callus bleeding

I used Douxo Calm Gel spray to get the oozing areas to heal. I applied it once or twice a day (before meals so she wouldn’t lick it or lie down and wipe it off right away) and the skin slowly healed and even regrew hair. Now I use a combination of Snout Magic and Douxo Calm Gel spray to keep the callus from getting inflamed.

BEFORE: Inflamed elbow callus on my dog

dog elbow callus bleeding

AFTER: The same callus after Douxo Calm Gel spray

dog's elbow callus is bleeding

How to Prevent Elbow Calluses from Bleeding or Becoming Infected

Your best bet is to get aggressive about keeping your dog’s elbow calluses small or even reversing them. Here are some steps you can take for dogs with bleeding elbow calluses…

  • Increase the humidity in your home. Use a humidifier in the room where your dog spends the most time. The increased moisture in the air will keep his calluses from becoming so dry.
  • Use a cream made for softening calluses. I like Snout Magic which is made for dry noses, but it works well on calluses, too.
  • Apply Douxo Calm Gel spray onto inflamed areas once or twice a day. Do it right before feeding or taking your dog for a walk so the gel doesn’t get wiped off right away.
  • Provide thick, soft bedding that your dog loves to lay on. Try this thick orthopedic foam bed with a bolster.
  • Look into getting some specially made elbow pads if your dog is the type who prefers to lay on the floor. These may be the only thing between your dog and bad elbow hygromas!

If the calluses develop redness, swelling or pus you should have your veterinarian examine them. Elbow callus infections can be treated, but if they’re left too long can become chronic.

Patty, I hope your big dog will cooperate with your efforts to help him. Sometimes dogs just don’t understand when we want to rub stuff on their skin or make them wear strange contraptions. Our lives would be so much easier if we could speak dog, don’t you think?

Best Wishes,

Dr. Thompson

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