Patty wrote in with this question about a dog 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?”
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 dog elbow pads.
Why Dogs’ Elbow Calluses Bleed
Elbow calluses are normal and are often more prominent in large breed dogs. 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.
A dog elbow callus can turn from quiet to ugly when the hair follicles become plugged from constant pressure. Inflammation and infection follow after the follicles dilate and rupture, allowing bacteria to invade. Eventually, a dog owner notices the elbow callus is red and oozing. Dogs often lick these painful pressure sores, contaminating them even more.
Several conditions contribute to infected, bleeding dog elbow calluses:
- Large body size
- Decreased mobility (arthritis or neurologic disease)
- Habitually lying on a hard surface
- Overly dry skin from a dry environment
- Skin inflamed from allergies
- Unhealthy skin secondary to other diseases (Cushing’s, hypothyroidism)
Moderate calluses may not cause any problems. But if the tissue becomes overly dry and thickened 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
As mentioned above, when a dog’s elbow calluses are repeatedly traumatized, hair follicles get plugged and rupture. The outer surface of the skin breaks down and the underlying tissue gets contaminated by dirt, hair and bacteria.
When you think about the number of pounds per square inch a 100+ pound dog puts on his elbows when he lays down, it’s not hard to see why cracked elbows get infected.
Elbow infections can become deep skin infections (also called callus pyoderma) 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 your vet 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 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 pads and maybe even an e-collar to keep him from licking the healing tissue.
Deep 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 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 dog bed your buddy can’t resist.
What Is an Elbow Hygroma?
Dogs’ elbows sometimes form a fluid-filled cyst, called a hygroma (with or without a callus). Hygromas are much more susceptible to trauma, plus they may be uncomfortable for the animal 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.
Hygroma on a Mastiff’s elbow.
An elbow hygroma 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 a complicated hygroma because the long-term outcome is so poor in most cases. That’s because it’s so difficult to stop a large dog from subjecting his elbows to continual trauma, the surgical sites can never heal.
The good news about an uncomplicated hygroma is that they can resolve without invasive treatment. You just need to provide lots of cushioning with super comfy, soft bedding 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.
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 my dog’s 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
AFTER: The same callus after Douxo Calm Gel spray
Prevention & Treatment for Elbow Calluses
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 a bleeding elbow sore…
- 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 cream made for softening a dog’s callus. I like Snout Magic which is made for dry noses, but it works well as a dog elbow callus treatment, too.
- Coconut oil can be used for mild cases. This special oil has a mild antibacterial effect, smells great and is a good moisturizer. Coconut oil is available in most grocery stores, but it’s not as thick as products made specifically for dog elbow calluses.
- 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 a thick, soft bed that your dog loves to lay on. 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!
- Use 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!
If the calluses develop redness, swelling or pus you should have your veterinarian examine them. Infections in dog calluses 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?
You can ask your own question on our ASK A VET page!
Last update on 2021-04-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API