Why Does My Dog Have Swollen Elbows and What Can I Do at Home?

Why Does My Dog Have Swollen Elbows and What Can I Do at Home?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

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



Fractured elbow

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow Cancer

Infection/Pus buildup

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. (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.)
  • 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.

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. 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 owner attempt to keep his dog´s elbows padded at all times.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 16, 2019:

JoeC--if your lab-shepherd´s swelling is not that bad, and it is not increasing in size, there is really nothing you need to do about it. Some of them just go away and never increase in size. If it has a fluid buildup, and is increasing in size, you should take him to your regular vet.

JoeC on January 15, 2019:

My 7 month old shepard-lab mix developed a large swelling on his left elbow at age 3 months and it persists. He;s very active and healthy and doesn't seem to be bothered by the swelling. He does prefer hard surfaces to lie on and that is probably a contributor to his problem. Since he's active and healthy - is there any reason to do anything about the swelling..

I'm pretty sure that anything I do to protect his elbow will be ripped off because he is so delightfully active.

How is the problem related to bursitis in humans? if it is, then maybe there is hope for it to cure itself.

Pam on September 01, 2017:

My golden has developed huge black lump on his elbow n recently it has started releasing some fluid n little bit of blood i started rubbing antibiotic oinment n rapped his elbow since he is licking it like anything..but then he got swollen arm..some bad smell is also coming out from that blck area..hope i could have posted a picture of that thing..please advice something and he sometimes cries out of pain..

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 04, 2017:

Beth, sorry this has not been workin. try a moisturin cream like instead of hydroen peroxide, which does not work well on tissue like the elbows. You can wrap the elbow in vetrap, just make sure it is not too tiht.

Beth on July 31, 2017:

I have a border collie that his one front elbow would not heal and was infected and vet said leave open let bleed and keep putting peroxide on it and it would heal but after a couple weeks it only got worse so finally they said they were going to do surgery and clean it all out and sew it up. That was like 4 months ago and cost me a arm and a leg now it is reopened where he said he sewed it and is infected like before so I am fully sure that vet did nothing to help my boy. How can I get rid of the infection at home and find the elbow slip covers for him really cheap cause I am on ssd and cant afford another 2 thousand dollar vet bill. I love my dog with all my heart and want him healthy and well

Sabina on March 29, 2017:

Hi my dog for 7 months doing good this days he got hair lose and not eating well and he has too much irritating, this three days he eat but still has hair lose, really am worried.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 19, 2017:

Hi Obi if the elbow keeps breaking open then resuturing it is not really going to help. The only thing to do is keep it wrapped and let it heal by secondary intention, which is secondary scar tissue. It is ugly, takes a long time. Limiting his mobility helps a lot, so maybe your vet would put him in a splint to keep that elbow from flexing constantly and breaking up that new scar tissue.

obi on February 17, 2017:

My dog has already had a surgery to remove a huge mass of flesh from his elbow. Problem now is the wound has refused to heal. I'm getting scared and I suspect my Vet has also run out of ideas .

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 27, 2014:

Is the carpet she sleeps on pretty rough? Maybe that is contributing, but it sounds like you already know the answer--weight. I feel sorry for her but smiled at your phrase "surfing for something tasty". I hope you are able to get that under control, and try to walk her as many times a day as you can (although it sounds like you will be dragging her!).

Colleen Gallo from Kirkland, Illinois on July 27, 2014:

Thank you! Exactly what I was looking for and written in easy to understand language. My coonhound has elbow and ankle calluses and recently developed a hygroma. Even though she never sleeps on a hard surface (always a couch, bed, or carpet, she's the laziest dog I ever had and she's 20 lbs overweight. We're working on the weight issue and trying to exercise her more, but if there is no scent tracking involved she wants to be on the couch, or surfing for something tasty. I've replaced half her food with green beans and all treats with carrots. She's lost some weight and hopefully this problem will go away once her weight is under control.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 10, 2014:

Exactly, Ann, and sometimes those swollen elbows develop into decubital ulcers (bed sores) just like those seen on people in nursing homes.

My main problem with crate training is that I think people use it too much. I recommend people potty train their puppy with a cardboard box, and as soon as the training is finished dump it in the trash. With a normal puppy (not from a pet store or internet shipping company) it takes less than a week. It is a long week!!!

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on March 10, 2014:

This hub proves that dogs have a lot of the same problems we do. Think about it; if we slept on a cold, hard floor every day, we'd develop arthritis and probably other joint problems. A lot of this is common sense and you're suggestion of training a puppy right away is awesome - it's similar to crate training. The key is never to punish them in the place you want them to go. Well written and very helpful!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 10, 2014:

Goldens are more prone to callus, and not hygroma, but as long as you keep on with those soft beds they should be fine--hopefully you will never need this info!

Say hello to your pack from me!!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on March 10, 2014:

This is good to know. My dogs typically lay on a soft surface, unless they are warm, so I haven't yet seen this type of thing. Will keep it mind though in case it ever happens!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 10, 2014:

I needed some more pictures of dogs with swollen elbows--maybe I should have tried the local bars. I didn´t find any dogs hanging out at the tennis courts.

Thanks for reading. There probably wont be much interest in this subject, but there is not much available on the internet so some dog owners will need it eventually. (Most of the articles available are about elbow dysplasia--how helpful is that!)

Bob Bamberg on March 09, 2014:

Interesting and helpful hub. My knee jerk reaction when I first saw the title was, "Get her to stop going to the barroom." Voted up, useful and interesting. Good to see you back online!

Possible Causes

It is a complex condition and treatment is sometimes frustrating for both the dog and the veterinarian (clearly for the owner too).

Here are some of the most common causes of swelling legs and paws in dogs:

Dry, cracked skin

When the pads are too dry, the paws may begin to crack. Just like in human feet, when the skin becomes too dry, the heels become cracked.

Hot and cold surfaces

Regardless of whether there is rain or the sun, dogs are always happy to walk. In the summer it is important to avoid hot concrete and asphalt because they can become unbearably hot and damage the paws of your dog.

Also, take precautionary measures when you take your dog for a long walk. A rough terrain, rocky or pebble substrate can cause fractures that can have permanent consequences.


Some chemicals and cleaning agents can cause irritation if you accidentally walk with your dog on the treated surface. These are the most common ones:

  • household cleaning agents (carpet washing shampoos or floor cleaning agents)
  • lawnmower chemicals
  • garden fertilizers
  • motor oils on the road
  • salt

When the cause is a local factor such as foreign body, trauma or local irritation then treatment is relatively simple and effective and can be applied at home.

The paws are exposed to many harmful effects of the environment, and the front paws are more prone to infections compared to the hind paws.

Trapped objects between pads

Dogs that spend a lot of time outside can get grass, grains of sand, dumb soil, stones between their toes, all well-stuck with hair.

Inflammation may occur years after walking on hot stones or concrete and from contact with various skin irritant substances (chemicals, cement powder).

Allergic dermatitis

Contact with some irritants can also cause dermatitis on the paws. The condition can cause your dog to itch and scratch, losing hair in the process. The hair is usually shed in small patches and clumps.

In addition to this, psychogenic dermatitis is also possible especially dogs that constantly lick paws without any real cause (so far, temperamental dogs – this is often seen in puddles, terriers, German shepherds).

Physical injuries

These include fractured claws, broken toes, torn skin etc. Your furry friend may have an inflamed paw pad when physically injured. If this is the case, you may notice discomfort when you touch his leg. It is important to be careful and gentle when inspecting the paws to avoid being bitten by him in case you touch a painful spot.

Interdigital cysts

“Interdigital furuncles, often incorrectly referred to as ‘interdigital cysts,’ are painful nodular lesions located in the interdigital webs of dogs. Histologically, these lesions represent areas of nodular pyogranulomatous inflammation – they are almost never cystic.”

These cysts are common in obese dogs and canines that are susceptible to allergic reactions. A common sign the swollen paw is caused by interdigital cysts is limping and difficulty when walking/running.


Inflammation on the paws is a common symptom of an infection. Infections may include bacterial and fungal ones.

The most common infections that can cause swollen canine paws include pyoderma (bacterial infection that leaves inflamed lesions and pustules on the skin) and bacterial dermatosis (caused by staphylococcus bacteria). For both these cases, you need to take your dog to the vet for proper treatment.

The Danger Of Ignoring Your Dog’s Elbow Calluses

No matter how many cushy dog beds you provide, some pups simply prefer to lounge on the cool surface of hard flooring. Frequent, prolonged pressure from laying on solid surfaces can eventually lead to elbow calluses.

These rough, thick pressure sores are more than just unsightly. They can crack, bleed, ulcerate and even become infected.

What Causes Dog Elbow Calluses?

Elbow calluses form to protect the bony protrusions that take the brunt of the pressure each time a dog flops down for a nap on a hard surface. Calluses usually develop on the elbows, but can also occur on the hips, hocks and along the sides of the legs. Some deep-chested breeds may even develop calluses on their sternum.

These patches of thickened skin are most common in short-coated, large-breed pups like Labs and Mastiffs. Dogs with longer, thicker coats have more cushioning to protect against calluses and smaller breeds have less pressure-causing burden on their joints.

Are Dog Elbow Calluses Painful?

Elbow calluses can be itchy and irritating. But they’re usually not painful or dangerous to your dog’s health if treated early. As soon as you begin to notice the tell-tale signs of hair loss and dry, discolored skin, you should intervene to prevent them from becoming more than just a mild inconvenience.

The most common intervention involves using a dog-safe moisturizing elbow balm to prevent the callus from getting worse.


Callus Complications


Chewing and scratching at these patches can create small cracks in the hardened skin. The open cracks allow naturally occurring Staphylococcus bacteria to enter the body and cause a painful infection known as callus pyoderma. The elbows are more prone to these bacterial infections than other pressure points. This fact could be attributed to irritation of the hair follicles. Should the skin begin to crack, bleed, ooze or scale over, see your veterinarian promptly.


Your dog’s elbows may also develop pockets of fluid called hygromas. These may occur instead of or in addition to a callus. Uninfected hygromas can be drained by your vet and usually heal if the dog can be persuaded to avoid hard surfaces in favor of a soft bed. Infected hygromas, on the other hand, can be painful and extreme enough to require surgery.

As with so many other conditions, early detection and intervention are key to saving your dog from unsightly, potentially painful issues like pressure sores, callus pyoderma and infected hygromas.

Home Remedies for Dog Elbow Calluses

Help prevent or lessen the severity of calluses at home with a few simple tricks:

  • Soft beds – The cool floor can feel so good on a dog’s belly sometimes, but encourage your pup to choose a bed over the floor if possible. If your dog insists on stretching out on the hardwood or tile, look into elevated cot beds or cooling mats.
  • Sleeve the elbow – Using a sock, create a sleeve to slip over your dog’s elbow to create cushion between tender skin and hard floor. Self-adhesive medical tape can help keep the sock in place, offering your doggie some relief.
  • Coconut oil – The miracle oil that helps so many things, coconut oil can offer some relief in mild cases. Something more substantial may be required for thicker calluses.
  • All-natural elbow balms – Thick, butter balms coat tight, crusty calluses by locking in moisture for longer periods of time.

If your dog’s elbows begin to crack, bleed, or swell, call the vet and schedule an appointment to help ease dog elbow callus pain!


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Do dogs have elbows?

A puppy’s front legs don’t seem to bend in quite the same way that our arms do, so it’s natural to wonder do dogs have elbow at all.

The answer is that dogs do have elbows, the elbow or hinge between the upper and lower arm works the same way in your dog as your own elbow does.

A dog’s elbow is higher up on a dog’s leg, because dogs run on their toes, rather than on their whole foot like humans do. Which means that quite a bit of your puppy’s lower leg is actually his foot.

As a result, you’ll find your puppy’s elbow near the top of his front leg. It’s this joint that is sometimes affected by the condition we call elbow dysplasia

Facial Swelling in Dogs

Facial swelling in dogs can occur for a variety of reasons. In general, a swollen face is secondary to another problem. The cause of facial swelling may or may not be serious. However, it almost always requires medical intervention. Most commonly, acute (sudden) facial swelling in dogs occurs as a result of an allergic reaction. Facial swelling that develops more slowly may be in the result of a facial growth or tumor.

Watch the video: 4 Symptoms That Could Cost Your Dog Its Life