Elbow Hygromas in Dogs

Robert Reed, DVM, MSES, MPA

A hygroma is a condition with simple origins that can lead to complicated problems. Fortunately, with a little understanding, you can learn to recognize the early signs and take measures to prevent a potentially painful condition for your dog and a huge headache for yourself.

A hygroma is a pocket of fluid that develops under the skin over a protuberance of bone. In dogs we see them over the hips, hocks (ankles), and elbows. Elbow hygromas are the most common and also the most challenging.

We usually see elbow hygromas in large, short-coated dogs. They seem to occur more frequently in summer, probably because hot weather encourages dogs to rest on cooler (and harder) surfaces, like tile or concrete. If a dog likes to rest on his elbow, as many do, the pressure of his weight concentrates on the elbow, where he has little natural padding. When that pressure is placed against a hard surface it creates inflammation in the tissue overlying the elbow, which, subsequently, stimulates fluid effusion that develops into a bubble under the skin.COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/WIKI/FILE:DOGHYGROMA.JPGCOMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/WIKI/FILE:DOGHYGROMA.JPG»

A hygroma is different from a callus. A callus is a hairless area of thickened skin created by chronic irritation. In some cases, a callus can add protection to a sensitive area by strengthening the skin. But the presence of a callus on the elbow is a reminder that your dog has been putting too much weight there, and may therefore, be prone to a hygroma. Hygromas often form beneath calluses.

In its early development, a hygroma is just a soft swelling over the point of a bone, and if it stayed at that stage, it might not be a problem. Complications arise when a hygroma ruptures, essentially creating an open sore that is easily infected. If it’s on the elbow, the wound gets repeatedly broken open by flexion and extension of the joint, which, in turn, creates discomfort and incites persistent licking that further inhibits healing.COURTESY OF DR. PETER MUIRCOURTESY OF DR. PETER MUIR»

If infection develops, some form of surgery usually becomes necessary. The exact nature of the surgery depends on the degree of the problem and the opinion of your veterinarian. All hygroma surgeries should be considered with caution, however, since getting the surgical site to heal can be a painstaking process for the same reasons that led to condition in the first place.

Even the best efforts at surgery can create frustrating post-surgical complications, but failing to resolve an ulcerated hygroma allows a potentially dangerous infection to persist. At this later stage no simple answers exist, and it’s easy to see the rewards of early intervention.


The presence of a callus on the elbow is a reminder that your dog has been putting too much weight there, and may therefore, be prone to a hygroma.


Effective prevention often requires a protective padded bandage, which, on the elbow, can be tricky to maintain. Fortunately, many companies are now offering padded bandages for dogs that can be purchased online. An internet search should provide several options. For bandaging the elbow, the best ones have some form of over-the-shoulder support to keep the bandage from slipping down. Choose the one you think your dog (and your wallet) will most comfortably tolerate.

VCA Rancho Mirage Animal Hospital is located at 71-075 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, CA. (760) 346-6103. Visit vcaranchomirage.com

Dog Beds

There are many types of beds for dogs that like to stay cool. From raised beds that let air circulate under your dog’s body to beds with cooling gels that help regulate temperature. Here are a few options to consider.

TaGo

www.kurgo.com/dog-travel/tago-bed

The Sealy Defender

sealydogbeds.com

Brindle Soft Shredded Memory Foam Dog Bed

www.brindlepets.com

Do-It-Yourself PVC/Mesh Bed

www.pvcfittingsonline.com/resource-center/pvc-elevated-dog-bed-plans/

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