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Dog elbow calluses are a ubiquitous problem, with most big dogs succumbing as they age. Must we accept this fate or take action today?
“What do you do about your large breed dog’s elbow calluses and hock calluses? For elbow calluses that are not causing any issues today, is there anything that can be done to either prevent them from getting worse or heal them altogether?”
I posed this question to fellow Mastiff owners on a Facebook group board several weeks ago.
The responses I got back were mixed but contained an underlying theme. Some said don’t bother, they are inevitable in large dogs and cannot be prevented. Others suggested that calluses are “no big deal” and can actually be beneficial for the dog.
Well, if there is one way to fire Big Dog Mom up, it is to tell her to give up before even entering the ring!
This post is PART ONE of my journey to prove them wrong.
[Click here for part TWO: How to Treat Dog Calluses Naturally with DIY Elbow Butter and Essential Oils]
Dog Elbow Calluses Defined
Just like humans, calluses are caused by the skin coming into contact with something rough (carpet) or hard (tile or concrete) repeatedly.
Over time, rough skin forms and, if left untreated, becomes a callus.
Dog elbow calluses are often referred to as dog pressure sores.
The most obvious sign of a callus is the loss of hair and formation of dark, wrinkled, and thickened skin around the bony points of the elbow and hock. Elbow calluses are most common in large and giant breed dogs, like Mastiffs.
The consensus of most big dog folks is that calluses on the elbow are primarily a cosmetic concern and do not pose a health risk unless they are left to a point where they crack and bleed.
Bleeding elbow calluses easily become infected and should absolutely be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. A small percent of elbow calluses can become inflamed to the point of infection with resultant ulceration and draining fistulas.
When this happens, it presents a very real problem that is extremely tough to deal with, often requiring long-term topical and systemic medication followed by surgery.
Note: Often lumped in with elbow calluses are hygromas. Dog elbow hygromas are a subcutaneous, fluid-filled swelling at the pressure point of a bone (usually on the elbow). Similar to elbow calluses, they are caused by repeated trauma at the joint by lying on hard surfaces.
Hygromas are the body’s way of protecting the joint and, as such, SHOULD NOT BE DRAINED in most cases.
In my experience, elbow hygromas, while sometimes unsightly, go away in time.
Sulley had two relatively large elbow hygromas on each of his elbows when he was about 20 months old. They appeared and were gone in a matter of three months.
For more information on elbow hygromas, read here.
Determined to find an elbow callus treatment for my dogs, I bought a container of Bag Balm from a local feed store. I began to apply it 2-3 times a day for about 4 days before my son and daughter revolted from the smell. As soon as I would open the container, they would run out of the room pretending to gag.
Apologies to the Bag Balm people. My kids can be dramatic. Nonetheless, I did agree to find a better-smelling alternative.
A simple Google search revealed Blissful Dog Elbow Butter which is an all-natural product made in Minnesota.
From the Blissful Dog website, the ingredients of the Elbow Butter are:
“all natural and organic Shea Butter, Olive Oil, Castor Oil, Avocado Oil, Beeswax, Chamomile Infusion, Infusion of Calendula Herbs, Comfrey Infusion, St. John’s Wort Oil, a Dash of Aromatherapy and a LOT of LOVE.”
I bought the Blissful Dog Elbow Butter 8 oz Tin on Amazon and started to apply it 3 times a day every day to both Junior’s and Sulley’s elbows and hocks. I have been applying the Elbow Butter for four weeks, 2 -3 times a day, and here is what I found.
**Update: I continued to use the Blissful Dog Elbow Butter with marginal results for another couple of months. While the smell was a significant improvement over all the other products I tried, long-term use didn’t affect the overall size or quality of my dog’s elbow calluses.
I do still recommend this product, however, I have developed my own dog elbow callus home remedy which I believe works even better and might be more cost-effective for big dog owners. For my DIY homemade elbow butter for dogs, click here and read How to Treat Dog Calluses Naturally with DIY Elbow Butter and Essential Oils.
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5 More Ways To Prevent And Treat Dog Elbow Calluses and Dog Pressure Sores
1. Provide supremely supportive surfaces for your dog to lay on.
I have two Big Barker Premium Dog Beds which I believe are worth their weight in gold. While Junior and Sulley prefer to sprawl out on the tile floor during the day when it is hot, at night, and in the cooler months, they love to snuggle on their Big Barker!
And to keep them up off the concrete outside, I have a Kuranda Dog Bed which I LOVE. It is lightweight, super easy to clean, and chew-proof. I have had ours sitting outside in the AZ heat for several years and it still looks brand new.
And, while support is key, it is not everything when it comes to dog elbow calluses.
Keep in mind that FRICTION can also be a huge contributor to the development of calluses due to the constant rubbing against the skin. Naturally, I learned that little tidbit from Dawg Business: A Note On Elbow Calluses 3 weeks into my trial.
For the last three weeks, I had been gating the dogs in our carpeted bedroom so that Sulley and Junior would sleep on the carpet rather than having the option to lay on the tile.
Most nights the boys do sleep next to our bed on the carpet or on their Big Barker, but for this trial, I was trying to control the amount of time they spent on the tile.
What is the motto? When you know better, you do better?
In an attempt to reduce the amount of friction on my dogs’ elbows and hocks, I have started to lay out two soft Queen size comforters next to my bed to cover up as much of the carpet as possible. I lay them down with the Big Barker in between in hopes that if they don’t lay on the bed they will at least lay on a surface with less friction on their skin.
I am interested to see if this makes any difference in the size and growth of the dog’s elbow calluses when I combine it with the dog elbow butter and the next few products.
2. Try a Cooling Mat during the warm summer months.
I have not actually used a cooling mat, but I have heard great things from others about them. Check out this review from My Brown Newfies about her experience using a cooling mat with her two Newfoundlands. Don’t tell Sulley and Junior, but I am considering one of these for their Christmas present this year.
3. Use Dog Leggs when you know your dog will be on hard or rough surfaces.
I don’t have a pair of these, but like the Cooling Mat, I have heard good things about them. They are particularly helpful for the prevention and treatment of dog elbow hygromas.
4. Try vitamin E oil or Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline) or Bag Balm as alternative topicals that may also help the healing process.
All of these products will serve to soften the callus and may aide in the healing process. Similar to the dog elbow butter, you will want to really massage all of these topicals into the elbow callus for optimal effectiveness.
5. Consider the benefits of improved nutrition.
I have heard two different perspectives with respect to diet affecting the development of dog elbow calluses. One that said diet is everything, the other that said diet made no difference.
Here’s what I say. As I stated in my post What To Do About Dog Food? First, Let Go Of The Guilt!, I am on a nutritional journey of sorts with Junior and Sulley, slowly transitioning them to a raw diet.
Do I think that will magically make their elbow calluses disappear? Not in the least.
But what I do believe is that a more species-appropriate diet is better for their health overall. Because of that, I can’t help but think a better diet might help the healing process from the inside out.
Are Dog Elbow Calluses Inevitable Or Preventable?
Over the last 4 weeks, the texture of Junior’s and Sulley’s calluses has improved some and I have noticed some regrowth of hair on Sulley’s elbows.
However, based on my tracking of the size of my dog’s elbow calluses, there has not been a remarkable change in the overall size since starting on this journey.
Was it that the Elbow Butter just wasn’t enough on its own or that I forced my dogs to sleep on the carpet for 3 weeks before realizing that might not be best for them?
Would my results be any different if I used a combination of topicals, had the availability of a Cooling Mat given the AZ heat, did a better job of reducing friction on my boys’ elbows, or fed an entirely raw diet?
What if I had started lubricating these areas when Junior and Sulley were much younger, before they ever formed a callus on their elbow or hock?
And, everyone’s favorite topic, what role do genetics play in an individual dog’s predisposition for elbow calluses?
These, of course, are rhetorical questions. I don’t know the answers and my guess is you don’t either.
So here’s my perspective. Elbow and hock calluses in large dogs don’t HAVE to be inevitable.
I may not be able to completely heal what is already there, but I can certainly try to prevent them from worsening or causing issues in the future. I am not willing to give up the fight just yet.
Continuing my battle against this coarse and resolute foe is the second post in this series, How to Treat Dog Calluses Naturally with DIY Elbow Butter and Essential Oils.
Have you struggled with dog elbow calluses?
What steps have you taken to treat or prevent them? I would love to hear your experience in the comments below. Because elbow calluses are such a widespread problem in large and giant breed dogs, please consider sharing this with your friends using the buttons below.