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Elbow Hygromas in Dogs

Elbow hygromas in dogs

Have you noticed a small squishy swelling on your dog’s elbow that continues to grow and become firmer with time? It could be a benign growth called a hygroma, or it could be something more serious. If you notice this on your dog’s elbow, it’s a good idea to have it checked by your vet. Keep reading to learn more about elbow hygromas, including symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

What is a hygroma?

A hygroma is a capsule-enclosed, fluid-filled swelling that develops under the skin. Most hygromas are found over the elbow but they can develop over any bony part of the dog’s body, such as in the hock or over the hip bone or pelvis. It can affect any breed of dog but is more commonly seen in adolescent, large-breed dogs with short hair coats, such as Great Danes and Labrador Retrievers.

In the early stages, a hygroma is usually soft and quite movable. Some never become large enough to be noticed by the dog owner. However, some hygromas can grow bigger and become hard. They are mostly a cosmetic issue but there are cases in which hygromas can become painful, irritated, and infected, in which case, appropriate veterinary intervention is needed.

Signs of an Infected Hygroma

  • Draining fluid
  • Blackheads around the hygroma
  • Hair follicles at the site of the hygroma are inflamed

Being able to recognize a hygroma in its early stage of development is very important so it can be managed before it becomes worse.

Is a hygroma a tumor?

No, a hygroma is not a tumor. It’s not cancerous or malignant and won’t spread to other parts of the dog’s body. The most likely cause is that your dog could be resting or sleeping frequently on a hard surface, such as hardwood or concrete flooring. The pressure created between the surface and your dog’s body can damage the tissue over the elbow or hock joint. As your dog continues to rest or sleep in the same position on the hard surface, there will be repeated tissue damage.

The body responds by forming a fluid-filled pocket over the joint, creating a cushion to protect the inflamed area, which is now known as the hygroma. If pressure is continuously applied on the site, the hygroma will continue to grow bigger.

Dogs with sedentary lifestyles are more prone to having hygromas as they spend a good portion of their time lying down. If there is a hygroma on one elbow, the other elbow usually develops a hygroma as well.

Hygroma Versus Callus

A callus can often be confused with a hygroma because it usually develops in the same site. However, the swelling of a hygroma is under the skin and there is usually no hair loss. On the other hand, a callus develops on the skin surface and appears thick and gray. Also, there is a loss of hair around calluses.

How are elbow hygromas treated?

Measures should first be taken to prevent further trauma to the affected part of the body by providing well-padded bedding. There are doggy beds with excellent cushion materials made of memory foam or eggshell foam. These provide the best padding for your pet. In places where your dog loves to spend time, cover the floor with interlocking foam tiles. The earlier soft bedding is provided, the better it will be for preventing the further growth of the hygroma.

Specially designed elbow pads are available to provide protection to hygromas and prevent them from growing or becoming painful. Repeated trauma can increase a hygroma’s risk for infection. Most dogs don’t have any problems wearing protective elbow pads. Designs are generally adjustable and can easily fit comfortably.

When pressure on the elbow or any area of the body is gone, an uncomplicated elbow hygroma will simply resolve within 2-3 weeks without medical intervention. Piercing of the hygroma should be avoided because this can introduce infection which can eventually make the hygroma more complicated to address.

Infected or Complicated Elbow Hygromas

An infected hygroma is tender and may require surgical drainage. If the surface is not ulcerated, surgery is performed to empty and flush the contents, and rubber drains may be inserted to facilitate further drainage. Post-operative care might include a daily change of bandages. As much as possible, trimming off the natural callus that developed on the elbow should be avoided so the area remains protected.

If an antibiotic has been prescribed, make sure to give the medication for the entire duration instructed by your vet. You should do this even if your pet’s hygroma appears to have healed before the antibiotic medication is finished. This is important to prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well as reinfection.

If the hygroma has a big sore or ulcer, has been draining for a considerable length of time, or is severely proliferative, more extensive surgery may be required. In this case, the callus needs to be removed and skin flaps or grafts may be necessary for skin reconstruction.

After surgery, a splint will be needed to provide sufficient padding and immobilize the dog’s leg while it’s healing. Extensive elbow motion can work against healing. This usually takes a month or so, if there is no complication.

How to Prevent Elbow Hygromas in Dogs

There are several ways to protect your dog from hygromas. These include the following:

  • If you have a large or giant breed dog, make sure that your pet’s weight stays within healthy limits. Being overweight or obese can increase your dog’s predisposition to developing hygromas. The extra weight greatly increases the risk for tissue trauma over bony parts of the body.
  • Provide bedding with adequate padding.
  • Cover hard floor surfaces where your dog likes to spend time.

Read more:

Arthritis in Dogs

My dog’s wound won’t heal. What should I do?

Pet First Aid: How to Treat Minor Wounds

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s elbow hygroma or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

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