If your dog has crusty elbows, you may be wondering why this is happening, and what you can do about them and return them to their original appearance. Many dog owners wonder “why does my dog have crusty elbows? and “What can I put on my dogs elbow calluses?” Crusty elbows in dogs are not unusual, indeed, many dogs suffer from this unsightly skin issue, but fortunately, there are several things dog owners can do to reduce their incidence.Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec shares information about crusty elbows in dogs and what can be done to help dogs affected by them.
Help, My Dog Has Crusty Elbows
As responsible dog parents, we prefer going the extra mile for our dogs. In some cases, going the extra mile means protecting our dogs from being elbow callus shamed. But what are elbow calluses? Can they be treated and prevented? Following are some interesting facts about these nasty and shameful hairless patches.
By definition, the term callus means a localized thickening and enlargement of the horny layer of the skin. Elbow calluses in dogs develop as a result of either frequent or prolonged contact with solid surfaces.
The elbows are not the only body parts in dogs that are prone to developing calluses. The hips, hocks and sides of the legs are also sensitive and frequently affected. In deep-chested breeds calluses may develop on the sternum.
On the bright side, although itchy, irritating and unpleasant to look at, if properly approached and treated, elbow calluses are neither painful nor particularly dangerous to your dog’s overall health. Nevertheless, unattractive and uncomfortable, they can be quite maddening.
Causes of Elbow Calluses in Dogs
How do elbow calluses develop? Forming over bony pressure points, calluses are commonly known as pressure sores or decubital ulcers. Calluses should be seen and understood as protective mechanisms. In a nutshell, calluses form to soften the blow of bony parts against hard surfaces.
Elbow calluses form to protect the ulna bone or its bony extension that pokes out. The part that pokes out is under permanent pressure. Due to the continuous and frequent trauma, the skin has no other choice but to thicken and consequently provide better protection of the bone.
What’s the prevalence of elbow calluses in dogs? Often described as patches of thickened and hairless skin, elbow calluses are a breed-predisposed condition.
Namely, elbow calluses are more common among short-coated and large-breed dogs. It should also be noted that particularly thin, particularly obese and particularly lazy dogs are at higher risk of developing elbow calluses.
Simply put, dogs with longer and thicker coats have better cushioning while in smaller breeds, the pressure causing burden on the joints is particularly smaller. Breeds predisposed to developing elbow calluses include mastiffs, bullmastiffs, Dogue de Bordeaux, Cane Corsos, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Rottweilers, American staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers.
Signs of Elbow Calluses in Dogs
What are the clinical manifestations of elbow calluses in dogs? The tell-tale signs of calluses include hair loss and dry, discolored and thickened skin. There are also simple vs. complicated calluses.
In some cases, elbow calluses tend to crack, bleed, ulcerate and potentially become infected. If these consequences occur, we are no longer dealing with simple calluses. Now, we need to take things more seriously because we are facing with complicated calluses.
Basically, since dogs tend to chew, lick and scratch sores, it is not uncommon for elbow calluses to crack. Once the calluses crack, the skin barrier is interrupted and naturally occurring bacteria from the skin, like for example, the staphylococcus bacteria, can easily enter the body. These bacteria are capable of causing a painful skin infection scientifically known as callus pyoderma.
Another common complication are hygromas. What is a hygroma on dogs elbow?Hygromas are pockets of fluid that develop either instead or in addition to calluses. They are soft, subcutaneous and fluid-filled sacks that develop on friction-prone places. There are two types of hygromas:
Uninfected hygromas – require draining, flushing and future avoidance of hard surfaces. However, uninfected hygromas tend to re-appear and need frequent draining. To prevent fast refilling, it is recommended to apply a pressure bandage after draining the hygroma. The affected elbow should be padded and wrapped for at least 4 weeks.
Infected hygromas – extremely painful and controversial when it comes to their treatment approach. In the past, surgical removal was the treatment of choice. Today it is believed that surgical removal may actually trigger additional complications. Instead, it is advisable to drain the hygroma, insert a draining tube and use antibiotics to combat the infection.
Treating Elbow Calluses in Dogs
Simple calluses rarely require veterinary attention. Nevertheless, although you do not need to rush to the vet’s office as soon as you spot a simple callus, it is definitely responsible to have the callus closely monitored and frequently checked.
On the other hand, complicated calluses (open, bleeding, ulcerated) should be carefully examined by a professional. The same advice applies for hygromas. If your dog develops a hygroma, it is time to turn off the internet and make an appointment at your trusted vet’s office.
Whether elbow calluses are reversible is a quite controversial topic. Although in many cases, in spite of the hair follicles being traumatized, hairs can grow back, dogs tend to recreate previously existing calluses. Nevertheless, their recreating nature should not discourage from seeking treatment.
Generally speaking, the type of treatment, the recovery’s degree and the recovery’s length depend on many factors such as: type of callus (simple or complicated), for how long the callus has been present, the angle in which the dog lays down, how hard the dog flops, from how high the dog drops, whether creams/butters are frequently and promptly used.
Caring for and Preventing Crusty Elbows in Dogs
There are several useful tips on how to prevent or care for elbow calluses. Following several ways to care for and prevent crusty elbows in dogs.
- Provide comfortable beds in various locations and encourage your dog to actually use them
- Use protective creams and butters
- If already present, keep the calluses clean
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight
- Consult with your vet if the callus starts to look suspicious
- Use specially formulated elbow creams/butters/oils.
Elbow creams/butters/oils are beneficial because: They condition the callus and prevent additional damage, they moisturize and soften the calluses, they prevent bleeding and ulceration, they support the aggravated and damaged tissue and they contain antibacterial and antifungal ingredients that minimize the risk of infections.
When used in treatment purposes, elbow creams/butters/oils should be applied 2-3 times per day and used until there is visible improvement. When used in prevention and maintenance purposes they should be applied 1 to 2 times per week.
To make the application easier and promote faster and better absorption, the butter/ cream/oil should be warmed up. To warm it up, just keep it in your palm or pocket for a while. Then wipe the callus with a clean and warm washcloth. Once the callus is clean, dab the cream/ butter/oil on it. It is advisable to distract your dog from licking it off by giving treats, playing or going for a walk.
Elbow creams/butters/oils do not contain harmful ingredients. However, licking them off should be discouraged because it minimizes their healing potential. It usually takes between 10-15 minutes for the cream/butter/oil to fully absorb.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.