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Patty wrote in with this question about her dog’s elbow callus problem:
“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?”
Elbow calluses are a normal feature of a dog’s skin. They help protect the tissue between the epithelium and the bone of the elbow. Dog owners start to worry when these high-pressure areas turn into sore, bleeding lesions.
In this article, I’ll review the causes, risk factors, how veterinarians treat them and steps you can take at home to prevent sore, bleeding elbow calluses in dogs. Remember, it’s important to consult your own veterinarian to help your unique dog.
- Elbow calluses are a normal feature of dog skin and protect bony areas like the elbows.
- Inflamed calluses can lead to deep skin infections which can become chronic.
- Soft bedding and skin moisturizers can help mild dog elbow calluses. Bleeding or inflamed elbow calluses need veterinary care.
What Are Dog Elbow Calluses?
Elbow calluses can occur in any dog but are often more prominent in large breeds. Breeds that seem to have more problems with elbow calluses include St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, Great Danes, and Irish Wolfhounds.
A normal dog elbow callus appears as a hairless, thickened skin over the outer part of the elbow. Symptoms of inflamed elbow calluses include redness, peeling, swelling, oozing or bleeding of the callus. Symptoms of advanced elbow callus pyoderma include ulceration, crusting, pain and fever.
Calluses are the body’s way of trying to protect the underlying tissue of the elbow joint. But the dry, thickened skin is repeatedly traumatized when a heavy dog lays down, especially on a hard surface.
Problems with dog elbow calluses stem from constant pressure and abrasion of the hair follicles in the area. Follicles first become plugged, then they dilate and rupture. This leads to sore elbow dermatitis. Eventually, bacteria invade the inflamed skin and cause an infection that vets call elbow pyoderma.
It’s very important to seek veterinary care as soon as you notice symptoms of inflammation over your dog’s elbow. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to help an infected, bleeding elbow callus heal faster.
After the elbow has healed, careful maintenance with topical products containing phytosphingosine, shea butter, virgin coconut oil, etc. can help prevent re-infection.
Any dog can develop elbow dermatitis and pyoderma. But a few risk factors make the condition more likely:
- Large breed dogs
- Lying on hard surfaces
- Decreased mobility
- Dry environment
- Allergic skin disease
Health Risks from Inflamed Dog Elbows
Mild, superficial elbow pyoderma can become a deep skin infection. Dogs tend to lick inflamed skin plus they lay on unclean surfaces. Soon the skin is hosting anaerobic bacteria that thrive in a low-oxygen environment and can be tougher to treat.
Untreated skin infections have the potential to spread to the entire body, making a dog septic. A more common issue is that the sore elbow turns into a chronic infection that decreases a dog’s quality of life.
When elbow callus tissue becomes severely inflamed and infected, it’s hard to tell it apart from a cancerous tumor. Your vet may recommend doing a biopsy.
It’s common for a vet to do a bacterial and fungal culture to determine which antibiotic medication to use for treatment. In some cases, a radiograph of the elbow can help determine if the inflammation is so deep it’s affecting the bone.
Treating Dog Elbow Calluses
Once your vet has identified any infections, they can choose the best antibiotic to eliminate them. Your dog will likely take oral antibiotics as well as topical antibiotics and cleaning solutions.
It would be much easier if we could surgically correct a dog’s infected elbow! However, veterinarians are very cautious about elbow surgery.
It’s difficult 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 skin 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 skin infection will usually heal within 10-14 days with proper care. Your dog may need topical disinfectants, oral antibiotics, therapeutic elbow pads and maybe even an e-collar to keep him from licking the healing tissue.
Deep pyoderma skin 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 determine which antibiotic will be the most effective against it.
Most dogs with deep elbow infections need treatment with oral antibiotics for weeks or months. You will also need to be diligent about disinfecting the tissue and minimizing repeated trauma by using elbow pads and offering a thick dog bed your buddy can’t resist.
Prevention and Home Care
Use the products your vet recommends to treat your dog’s sore elbows. Some home remedies can cause more harm than good. Plus, you could waste time with home remedies while the infection worsens.
There is no surefire way to prevent elbow calluses from forming. But I have some tips for steps you can take to keep mild elbow calluses from getting inflamed and infected…
Coconut oil works as a mild, non-toxic moisturizer for dry dog skin. For seriously dry elbows, Blissful Dog Elbow Butter contains heavy moisturizers like shea butter and beeswax that are non-toxic to dogs even if they lick a bit. Apply dog elbow butter at least once a day. Be sure to clean off any residue with mild soap and water before putting more on.
I have also had good luck using Douxo Calm Gel for healing mildly inflamed elbow skin lesions. I spray it on once or twice a day just before taking my dog for a walk. That way, the gel isn’t wiped off right away. The ingredients in this product help the epidermis layer of the skin stay sealed.
Use a humidifier in the room where your dog spends the most time. The increased moisture in the air will keep skin calluses from becoming so dry.
Encourage your dog to lie on soft bedding. Try a thick orthopedic foam bed with a bolster. I recently bought a couple of beds from Furhaven with memory foam and cooling gel foam. My dogs love them as much as their much more expensive beds and you can’t beat the price!
You might need to keep the home environment cooler than usual if your dog lies on tile floors to cool off. Another option is a waterbed or cooling dog bed.
Elbows Pad Devices
Use dog 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 infections or hygromas!
Elbow Callus vs. Hygroma in Dogs
An elbow callus is not the same as a hygroma although some dogs may have both. A hygroma is a fluid-filled cyst often seen over the point of a dog’s elbow. Hygromas are very susceptible to trauma, plus they may be uncomfortable for the animal to lie on.
Hygromas can develop inflammation or infection inside and on the skin surface. Sometimes they break open and become chronic sores.
An elbow hygroma may never cause any problems. But if it becomes infected, treatment options are limited. Many vets are reluctant to do surgery on a complicated hygroma because long-term outcomes are so poor.
The good news about uncomplicated hygroma is that it can resolve without invasive treatment. You just need to provide lots of cushioning with super comfy, soft bedding like the one linked above. Elbow pads are a good option for dogs who refuse to lie on a soft surface.
When to See a Vet
If the calluses develop redness, swelling, oozing, pus or pain you should have your veterinarian examine them.
It’s best to seek veterinary care early. Dog elbow callus infections can be treated, but if they’re left too long can become chronic.
Last update on 2023-09-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API