What is Elbow Hygroma in Dogs

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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. 

Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Hygroma

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. 

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 elbow 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).  

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. 

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. 

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. 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.  

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

 1 VCA: Hygromas in Dogs

Merck Veterinary Manual: Hygroma in Dogs

Mar Vista Vet: Elbow Hygroma

WebMD: Fine Needle Aspiration