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Is the Swelling on My Dog’s Elbow a Tumor or a Hygroma?


Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.

Several types of swellings can occur near the elbow:

  • Benign tumors
  • Cancerous tumors
  • Hygromas

If you notice swelling on your dog’s elbow, don’t panic. Even cancerous tumors may be treatable, and the bump may not be a tumor at all. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. If it turns out to be a hygroma, here’s what you should know.

What is a hygroma?
A hygroma is a non-painful swelling at the tip of the elbow, on top of the “funny bone” (called the olecranon). This swelling is full of fluid. In theory, a hygroma can occur in other locations, but is most common at the elbow. It can happen in one elbow or occasionally both.

Which breeds can be affected by a hygroma?
This condition is usually seen in large or giant breed dogs. Of course there are exceptions: it can happen in smaller breeds.

Short-haired dogs are more commonly affected. Dogs with long hair are thought to have more "padding" because of their long fur, but hygromas can occur in any breed.

Why does a hygroma mostly occur in young dogs?
Puppies (typically 6 to 18 months), have normal skin over their elbows. As they grow they experience gentle trauma to the skin over the elbow. In response, the skin thickens and forms a callus to protect itself. This is similar to the bottom of human feet. As babies start walking and running, the bottom of their feet becomes thicker and more protective.

What causes a hygroma?
A hygroma is caused by repeated trauma to the tissue around the tip of the elbow when the dog rests on a hard surface (hardwood floor, tile, concrete etc).

How will my vet diagnose a hygroma?
A hygroma is presumed based on breed, age and appearance. Your family vet will need to make sure the swelling is not a tumor. Confirmation can be provided by taking a sterile sample of the fluid with a needle and syringe. Care needs to be taken not to drive bacteria from the skin into the swelling or an abscess may develop. The fluid sample can be sent to the lab for analysis if there is still a doubt.

How is a simple hygroma treated?
If the hygroma is treated early, or at its first and uncomplicated stage, treatment may be as easy as changing your dog’s hard bedding to a well-padded surface. You can place several beds around the house, especially on hard surfaces where your dog likes to lay down. Sometimes a bandage is needed around the elbow. Veterinarians may suggest other treatments, including:

  • Injection of medications
  • A splint
  • Removing the fluid
  • Placement of bandages

These treatments may or may not have any effect so continue to work with your veterinarian if they are recommended.

When is surgery needed to treat a hygroma?
A hygroma is called “complicated” when it becomes infected or ulcerated. “Ulcerated” means that there is an ulcer, a hole, or an open wound in the skin. Think of it as a pressure sore. If this happens, surgery may be necessary to solve the problem. In this day and age, surgery is typically used when all other options have failed.

After surgery, your vet will need to clean the infection up and possibly place a drain to allow the fluid to continue to drain until the area is healed. Bandages may be placed to protect the surgical site and keep the drain clean.

Eventually, the body will create a natural callus at the point of the elbow to provide protection.

What is the care needed at home after hygroma surgery?
Pain medications and antibiotics will need to be given at home. If a bandage was applied after surgery to protect the drain, it will need to be changed multiple times. It’s important to understand that surgery fixes the problem, but it does not prevent a recurrence. So you have a critical role in protecting your dog’s elbow from future trauma. The type of flooring and bedding provided is very important. Again, the goal is to prevent contact with hard surfaces and pressure on the elbow.

What if my dog won’t use the doggie beds?
Certainly, some dogs can be a little bit stubborn. Some companies sell a special contraption that protects the elbow. You should discuss this with your veterinarian first. It’s great because it protects the elbow from repeated injury. However, the more you protect the elbow, the less likely it is to develop a protective callus.

There are also multiple bedding options

  • Sheepskin bedding
  • Thick fleece
  • Egg-crate foam
  • Thick rubber mats
  • etc...

All can be protected with a cover for easy cleaning

What can I expect after hygroma surgery?
Simple hygromas usually heal nicely within a few weeks. Complicated hygromas can be much harder to treat successfully, so the outcome is more difficult to predict. Your family vet may refer you to a board-certified surgeon when reconstructive surgery is needed. In the vast majority of cases, we can achieve good to excellent results.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Is the Swelling on My Dog’s Elbow a Tumor or a Hygroma?

Several types of swellings can occur near the elbow:

  • Benign tumors
  • Cancerous tumors
  • Hygromas

If you notice swelling on your dog’s elbow, don’t panic. Even cancerous tumors may be treatable, and the bump may not be a tumor at all. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the cause of the swelling. If it turns out to be a hygroma, here’s what you should know.

What is a hygroma?
A hygroma is a non-painful swelling at the tip of the elbow, on top of the “funny bone” (called the olecranon). This swelling is full of fluid. In theory, a hygroma can occur in other locations, but is most common at the elbow. It can happen in one elbow or occasionally both.

Which breeds can be affected by a hygroma?
This condition is usually seen in large or giant breed dogs. Of course there are exceptions: it can happen in smaller breeds.

Short-haired dogs are more commonly affected. Dogs with long hair are thought to have more “padding” because of their long fur, but hygromas can occur in any breed.

Why does a hygroma mostly occur in young dogs?
Puppies (typically 6 to 18 months), have normal skin over their elbows. As they grow they experience gentle trauma to the skin over the elbow. In response, the skin thickens and forms a callus to protect itself. This is similar to the bottom of human feet. As babies start walking and running, the bottom of their feet becomes thicker and more protective.

What causes a hygroma?
A hygroma is caused by repeated trauma to the tissue around the tip of the elbow when the dog rests on a hard surface (hardwood floor, tile, concrete etc).

How will my vet diagnose a hygroma?
A hygroma is presumed based on breed, age and appearance. Your family vet will need to make sure the swelling is not a tumor. Confirmation can be provided by taking a sterile sample of the fluid with a needle and syringe. Care needs to be taken not to drive bacteria from the skin into the swelling or an abscess may develop. The fluid sample can be sent to the lab for analysis if there is still a doubt.

How is a simple hygroma treated?
If the hygroma is treated early, or at its first and uncomplicated stage, treatment may be as easy as changing your dog’s hard bedding to a well-padded surface. You can place several beds around the house, especially on hard surfaces where your dog likes to lay down. Sometimes a bandage is needed around the elbow. Veterinarians may suggest other treatments, including:

  • Injection of medications
  • A splint
  • Removing the fluid
  • Placement of bandages

These treatments may or may not have any effect so continue to work with your veterinarian if they are recommended.

When is surgery needed to treat a hygroma?
A hygroma is called “complicated” when it becomes infected or ulcerated. “Ulcerated” means that there is an ulcer, a hole, or an open wound in the skin. Think of it as a pressure sore. If this happens, surgery may be necessary to solve the problem. In this day and age, surgery is typically used when all other options have failed.

After surgery, your vet will need to clean the infection up and possibly place a drain to allow the fluid to continue to drain until the area is healed. Bandages may be placed to protect the surgical site and keep the drain clean.

Eventually, the body will create a natural callus at the point of the elbow to provide protection.

What is the care needed at home after hygroma surgery?
Pain medications and antibiotics will need to be given at home. If a bandage was applied after surgery to protect the drain, it will need to be changed multiple times. It’s important to understand that surgery fixes the problem, but it does not prevent a recurrence. So you have a critical role in protecting your dog’s elbow from future trauma. The type of flooring and bedding provided is very important. Again, the goal is to prevent contact with hard surfaces and pressure on the elbow.

What if my dog won’t use the doggie beds?
Certainly, some dogs can be a little bit stubborn. Some companies sell a special contraption that protects the elbow. You should discuss this with your veterinarian first. It’s great because it protects the elbow from repeated injury. However, the more you protect the elbow, the less likely it is to develop a protective callus.

There are also multiple bedding options

  • Sheepskin bedding
  • Thick fleece
  • Egg-crate foam
  • Thick rubber mats
  • etc…

All can be protected with a cover for easy cleaning

What can I expect after hygroma surgery?
Simple hygromas usually heal nicely within a few weeks. Complicated hygromas can be much harder to treat successfully, so the outcome is more difficult to predict. Your family vet may refer you to a board-certified surgeon when reconstructive surgery is needed. In the vast majority of cases, we can achieve good to excellent results.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

a. How much does your dog weigh?

b. Where does your dog sleep?

A hygroma, or a false bursa, is defined as a fluid-filled swelling that develops under the skin. This fluid-filled capsule is enclosed within a thick layer of fibrous tissue - think of it as a water balloon that is surrounded by a tough, flexible material. A hygroma forms in response to repeated pressure trauma to tissue, like when a dog repeatedly sleeps or lies down on a hard surface.

Hygromas are usually located over any part of a dog’s body that is bony and sticks out. This includes the side of the ankle joint (otherwise known as a hock), the side of a hip or the side or underside of an elbow. They are most commonly found on the elbow, though they may also be located over the point of the hip, in which case they are called ischial hygromas.

When a hygroma first appears, they are usually small, soft, and can be easily moved around under the skin. A hygroma may be so small that you may not even notice it, and the only way it is detected is by your veterinarian while she is conducting an exam. If a hygroma grows larger, it may become hard and bothersome to your dog.

Hygromas usually do not hurt, unless they are so large that the dog cannot rest on the affected area, or if they become infected. An infected hygroma looks angry: it can be red, swollen, warm or painful to the touch and may weep or leak fluid.

Hygromas often appear on both elbows at the same time. If a dog has had a hygroma for a long time, there is a risk of severe inflammation. This inflammation can result in ulceration of the skin over the hygroma, development of a chronic draining wound or erosion of the surrounding tissues. Furunculosis, a deep bacterial skin infection caused by infected hair follicles often associated with hygromas. Comedones (black heads) are also common.

Is a Callus a Precursor to a Hygroma?

A callus is an area of thickened skin that develops in response to repeated pressure trauma. Calluses are often hairless, and can become irritated and red. A callus is not necessarily a precursor to the development of a hygroma. But, if you see a callus, it’s a sign that your dog is lying on hard surfaces too often, and you need to provide softer surfaces for your dog to rest upon. Calluses can be treated by applying an emollient lotion, like The Blissful Dog's Elbow Butter, which can soften the skin. If you are concerned that your dog has a callus that is irritating, please consult with your local veterinarian.

Hygromas occur when the tissue (fascia, muscle, etc.) overlying a bone is repeatedly traumatized. Trauma to this tissue occurs when large or giant breed dogs repeatedly lie down on hard surfaces, such as tile, hardwood floors or concrete. This is why the elbow is the most common site for a hygroma to occur - if a large breed dog is lying down on a hard surface, there is no way to avoid the pressure trauma to the elbow.

Here’s what a common hygroma may look like:

Dogs are not supposed to lie down continuously on hard surfaces because it creates pressure trauma in the tissues that overlie the bony parts. When the body’s tissues are repeatedly exposed to a pressure trauma, it induces an inflammatory response in the tissues under the skin. This is the body trying to protect itself from the pressure trauma, by creating a hygroma that acts like a ‘pillow’ to cushion the skin. If the dog continues to lie on hard surfaces, the hygroma will only grow larger.

Hygromas are more common in dogs that spend a lot of time lying down. If your dog is older, has arthritis or other health challenges that cause him or her to be less active, then your dog is at increased risk of developing a hygroma on the elbow.

Hygromas can also be an issue among younger dogs (usually between 6 and 18 months) who are prone to flopping down onto hard surfaces. Young large breed dogs that lie down on hard surfaces should be given a soft place to rest to reduce the risk of developing a hygroma.

The good news is that a hygroma is not a tumor, is not cancerous, and has no risk of spreading to other areas of the body.

If you think your dog has a hygroma, you definitely need to get your dog checked out by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be the best resource to guide you through your options, and your veterinarian can also ensure that the swelling isn’t something else, such as a tumor or an infection. At the veterinary office, the staff will weigh your dog and take vitals. They will ask you questions about your dog’s daily routine, where he or she sleeps, how active your dog is, if your dog has any other medical problems, if your dog on any medications, etc. Try to be as specific as possible in your answers. It may help to write down your answers to those questions beforehand so you don’t forget any important information.

The veterinarian will conduct a complete physical exam. That means that she or he won’t just check the elbow, everything else on your dog will be checked as well! Since hygromas are usually seen in dogs that sleep or lie down more than usual, it is important to determine the reason why your dog is lying down so much. Health issues ranging from arthritis to heart disease and even hormonal disorders can cause excessive tiredness in dogs, and your veterinarian is the best one to figure that out, if needed.

If your veterinarian suspects any additional problems outside of the hygroma, she or he may recommend laboratory testing or imaging, such as an x-ray or ultrasound. Follow all recommendations from your veterinarian. If your veterinarian finds additional issues that are causing your dog to lie down or sleep more than usual, it’s important to work with your veterinarian to resolve those issues, in addition to treating the hygroma.

When it comes to treating the hygroma itself, the most important consideration is to prevent further pressure trauma by providing a well-padded surface for your dog to rest upon. Providing a high quality bed with durable and supportive padding is essential for dogs with hygromas because it will cushion their joints from the hard surfaces while they rest for long periods.

If you need to cushion a larger area, you can put down foam interlocking tiles, like what you might use as home gym flooring. These tiles can be found at big box retailers and online on sites like Amazon. There are also commercially available protective elbow pads specifically designed for dogs with hygromas that your dog can wear. Padded surfaces to rest upon is the single most important treatment to keep a hygroma from getting worse.

Over time, usually about 3-4 weeks, an uninfected small or medium-sized hygroma may resolve on its own with proper padding and protection. Your veterinarian may also elect to drain the hygroma with a needle and may recommend photobiomodulation therapy with a therapy laser to speed healing. If these therapies are combined with appropriate padding and a supportive sleeping surface at home, this treatment often resolves small hygromas without the need for surgery.

Here’s an example of a laser therapy treatment:

If a hygroma becomes infected, it must be treated with antibiotic therapy, usually for a period of several weeks. It is important to be patient and continue antibiotics until they are finished to resolve the infection and prevent reinfection.

If a hygroma is large, it can be drained or removed surgically, but unless the underlying cause is addressed (sleeping or lying down on a hard surface), the hygroma will come back or worsen. Before your dog has surgery, be sure to have an appropriately padded surface for your dog to lie down and sleep comfortably on after surgery.

One treatment of hygromas is surgical drainage. If this treatment is chosen, your dog will be admitted for outpatient surgery. Your dog will be either sedated or anesthetized, and Penrose drains will be surgically placed in the hygroma. These drains will be left in place for several weeks, and you will be required to change and monitor the bandages on the wound. After several weeks, the hygroma should be dry, and the drains will be removed during an outpatient appointment.

If surgical removal is recommended for a hygroma that is large, painful or chronically infected, it is very important to work with your veterinarian to keep the elbow properly padded while healing from surgery, and to give all medications as prescribed. It is also important to follow post-surgical activity rules - if a dog is too active after surgery, swelling and irritation can develop at the surgical site. The surgical site can also open up, which may require skin grafts or repeated surgeries, so the importance of keeping your dog relaxed after surgery cannot be stated enough. If your dog has a lot of energy or is difficult to keep in a restful state, talk with your veterinarian about using a sedative after surgery to facilitate healing.

Make sure your dog wears a cone or bite not collar to prevent licking or chewing at the surgical site or Penrose drains. If your dog licks the wound, it can become infected, the Penrose drains can be ripped out prematurely or the sutures may fall out prematurely, all of which will require veterinary attention and possibly more surgery. Dogs will usually leave a surgical site alone if it doesn’t hurt, so make sure to give all pain medication as prescribed. If you see your dog trying to lick or chew at the surgery site, call your veterinarian immediately.

Dogs will usually leave a surgical site alone if it doesn’t hurt, so make sure to give all pain medication as prescribed. If you see your dog trying to lick or chew at the surgery site, call your veterinarian immediately.


What is Elbow Hygroma in Dogs?

A hygroma is a fluid-filled swelling that typically occurs on a bony area of a dog’s body, particularly his or her elbows. While hygroma’s aren’t usually painful for dogs, they can lead to infection and should not be left untreated.

In this article we’ll cover how to spot hygromas, what causes them, how best to treat them, and what can be done to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Let’s dive in.

How to identify elbow hygroma: signs and symptoms

Elbow hygromas are often mistaken for tumors. Hygromas are fluid-filled pockets that protrude from the skin and tend to be somewhat round in shape. They can be small and subtle or as large as an apple in shape and size.

Initially, hygromas are soft to the touch. However, over time hygromas tend to become hard and some develop scabs on the surface 6 .

Hygromas are usually found on bony parts of a dog’s body, such as the elbows or the sit bones, as these are high-pressure points. If you a spot swelling on this area of your dog’s body, there’s a good chance it’s a hygroma. Anytime you notice something unusual on your pet, it is always best to have your veterinarian check it out.

What causes elbow hygroma?

The VCA explains that e lbow hygromas form when the elbow experiences trauma. If the elbow is bumped or banged too hard, the dog’s tissue may become inflamed as his body works to cushion the injured area. This is just like how us humans may swell and bruise when we bang our limbs against a hard surface.

If the swollen area on the dog is repeatedly bumped or bashed, such as when your dog lays down on a hard surface, the hygroma will grow. This is why hygromas commonly occur on pressure points on a dog’s body, because they experience repeated trauma.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual , hygromas are most common on large dogs and older dogs. Large dogs put more trauma on their pressure points, such as elbows, because they are heavier. In the case of older dogs, hygromas may occur if your pup lives a sedentary lifestyles. Hygromas may occur in this case due to continued pressure on certain parts of the body (similar to how bed-ridden humans may form bedsores ) 7 .

Elbow hygroma treatment

If you suspect your dog has a hygroma, have it examined by your veterinarian.

While hygromas usually don’t cause any discomfort to your dog, they can become problematic if left unattended. Hygromas that aren’t treated can grow uncomfortably large and may even become infected. In order to avoid this, it’s best to have them treated early on, rather than waiting for a problem to arise.

The exact treatment plan will depend on the state of your dog’s hygroma.

For mild hygromas the treatment can be quite simple. Your vet may recommend changing your dog’s bedding, or placing a pad over top of the hygroma to prevent it from worsening. According to MarVista Vet , ‘simple’ hygromas can heal on their own in just a few weeks 8 .

In some cases, the hygroma can be drained using a technique called fine needle aspiration . This technique is when a small needle, that is attached to a syringe, is inserted into the hygroma. The syringe is used to suck out the excess fluid 9 .

If the hygroma is infected, your vet may administer antibiotics. In extreme cases, hygromas require surgical drainage and even skin grafting to ensure the area heals properly 9 . However, it is unlikely that your pet’s hygroma will reach this level of severity.

Preventing elbow hygromas

Fortunately, hygromas can be prevented by protecting your dog’s bony areas from trauma. In most cases, this equates to ensuring he or she has a padded bed to lay down on, rather than a hard floor. This is especially important for dogs leading sedentary lifestyles, as prolonged pressure on their elbows and other bony protrusions is an invitation for hygromas.

The possibility of hygromas is the perfect excuse to purchase your pup a soft, luxuriously cushioned bed.

If changing your dog’s bedding doesn’t suit his lifestyle, cushioned sleeves are another way to protect his elbows from impact. These are a great option for active dogs who are often on the go. You can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on using a sleeve and where to purchase one.

Final thoughts

Like any ailment, it’s best to have elbow hygromas examined early before they have a chance to develop into a more severe issue. A good way to catch hygromas early is to perform regular physical checks on your dog and take note of any changes or abnormalities you notice.

Unexpected medical problems are the last thing any of us want for our canine pals, but fortunately if you catch hygromas early they are typically easy to resolve.

Here at PetFirst 1 , we know accidents and illnesses can happen to all pets. PetFirst Pet Insurance 1 can help cover unexpected vet visits 2 and can provide peace of mind. PetFirst Pet Insurance 1 has cat and dog insurance policies 2 to fit every budget.

To ensure medical care is always within reach, consider taking out a canine health care plan for your pup. This way, you’ll be able to address any issues that arise without worry about financial strain.

Consider getting pet insurance for your furry friend today.

1 PetFirst Healthcare, LLC (“PetFirst Pet Insurance” or “PetFirst”) is the program administrator authorized to offer and administer pet health insurance policies underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company, a Delaware insurance company, with its main office at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, or New Hampshire Insurance Company or The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, each with its main administrative office at 500 West Madison Street, Suite 3000 Chicago, IL 60661. For costs, complete details of coverage, and a listing of approved states, please contact PetFirst Healthcare, LLC.

2 Like most insurance policies, insurance policies offered by PetFirst Healthcare, LLC contain certain exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force.

7 Merck Veterinary Manual: Hygroma in Dogs


Watch the video: Dog Elbow Callus Treatment Tip (July 2021).