Elbow hygroma is a condition affecting mainly large, shorthair dogs such as great danes, greyhounds and Dalmatians. In dogs with elbow hygroma, a fluid-filled sac appears on one or both of the dog's elbows. In more rare cases, hygromas can develop on a dog's hip of hock. In many cases, elbow hygromas cause no pain or difficulty. However, they can become infected, which can be painful for the dog and requires treatment. Other dogs susceptible to developing hygromas are dogs who are not very active or who are recovering from illness or injury.
Hygromas develop because of recurrent trauma to the dog's elbow or elbows. For example, consistently lying on hardwood, cement or other hard surfaces can stress the joint and cause a hygroma. Elbow hygroma mainly affects large dogs because they place more weight on their elbow joints when lying down.
In some cases, bandaging the elbows of a dog can help prevent the hygromas from worsening. The bandages will prevent further contact with hard surfaces, in turn preventing any further problems caused by the hygroma. In addition, some commercial products will protect the hygroma from further contact with the hard floor. Ask your veterinarian what will work for your dog.
Some veterinarians will recommend that fluid be drained from the hygroma with a needle or syringe. Fluid draining is not usually considered an effective treatment for hygromas because the needle can cause an infection. Also, draining the hygroma will only temporarily improve the condition. If the dog continues to lay on hard surfaces, the hygroma will continue to grow larger, meaning draining may have to be done regularly.
Some veterinarians may recommend surgery to treat elbow hygroma, especially in cases of infection or when the hygroma has become ulcerated. In surgery, the hygroma is drained and the skin is removed. Because hygromas can grow quite large, skin grafts may be necessary to cover the affected area. Healing from hygroma surgery takes about a month, and the dog will need to wear a splint during recovery to protect the affected area.
The best way to prevent your dog from developing elbow hygromas or prevent worsening of existing hygromas is to provide a soft area for the dog to lay and sleep in. If a carpeted area is not available, make a soft dog bed and leave it where your dog likes to lay down. In the case of dogs who are inactive because they are recovering from illness or injury, get the dog up and moving around--at least enough so that it switches the side it is lying on--several times a day.
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