Dogs can develop calluses on their elbows and other areas of the body, just like people get them on their feet or hands. If you see gray, bare spots on your dog's elbow, those are calluses. As the dog's elbow rubs on hard surfaces, hairs break off and the skin underneath becomes scabby or scaly looking. The fur around it may also be a rust-brown color from the dog's saliva if he licks at it frequently. At our house we call these calluses "old man elbow." They can be prevented and treated.
Calluses usually are not a health risk, but left untreated they can turn into open sores or a skin infection. They can also be a source of discomfort for the dog. Calluses can develop on any bony area or pressure point that the dog lies on, and may sometimes be called pressure sores. Larger dogs like the Japanese Akita tend to be more susceptible to "old man elbows," but any dog that spends a lot of time laying on a hard surface can get them.
To prevent calluses, the best option is for your dog sleep on a thick pillow or sofa. When it comes to dogs that sleep on the floor, carpet does not offer a significant benefit over harder surfaces such as hardwood, tile, or concrete. In fact, carpet can add abrasions or "rug burn" as an additional complication.
However, not all dogs like to sleep on dog beds and couches. Particularly in the summer, the dog may insist on lying on cool tile in order to lower its core body temperature. Our dogs seem to be this stubborn sort. Fortunately, there is an easy treatment for calluses that is safe and effective.
"Old man elbow" can be treated with a product called Bag Balm. We've never seen it in a local store, but its easy to order from Amazon. Bag Balm is basically petroleum jelly with lanolin and 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate. Lanolin is a moisturizing agent used to treat cracked, dry, irritated skin and minor burns. It is an ingredient in many lip balms, moisturizers, and nipple creams. 8-hydroxyquinoline is a topical anti-infective that has a reputation as a very powerful and well-regarded antiseptic. It is the active ingredient in liquid bandages such as New Skin.
Bag Balm was developed for the dairy industry and has been used on cows, dogs, and cats for over 100 years. It was recommended to us by a vet and it is harmless if the animal licks the treated area. However, it's always wise to discuss your dog's health with your vet before using any kind of over-the-counter medications or supplements.
The directions for use are incredibly simple. First, make sure that the elbow is clean - dirt will get stuck in the balm. Stick your fingers in the jar and get a nice big wad of the gunk on them. Apply it liberally to the callused area, working it in to the skin to soften it. Excess goo left on the surface of the skin helps create a protective layer that fights off infection and keeps moisturizing longer, so don't wipe it off.
Your dog may want to lick it. Don't let him do so, because it will come right off and licking is not good for his skin. Also don't let him frolic in the dirt immediately after applying the Bag Balm, or you will end up with "muddy petroleum goo elbow." If he does, clean his elbow off and re-apply.
Apply Bag Balm twice a day until you see improvement. To help keep a callus from coming back, you can use Bag Balm daily or a couple times a week as a preventative. Bag Balm is also great for keeping paw pads supple and pretty, or healing cuts and abrasions on a dog's nose or paws. It is a fantastic product with a variety of purposes. We heartily recommend Bag Balm be included in any dog owner's health care kit.
Update: Here is Batora's elbow after three weeks of applying Bag Balm every couple days.
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