Hygroma In Dogs (Symptoms, Causes & Treatment)

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How much time do you spend petting your dog? If your pup loves attention, you probably pet them every day. That's why you're the first to know when they have a strange lump or bump on their skin. Finding lumps and bumps on your dog can be alarming because most pet parents assume any lumps mean a tumor. However, while you should always have any new bumps on your dog examined by a vet to ensure it's not cancerous, there are many different lumps and bumps your dog could have. 

Dogs can suffer from many various skin issues. For example, if your dog starts to develop a lump on their elbow or another body area, it's possible that it's a fluid-filled swelling called a hygroma. Hygromas in dogs are non-cancerous lumps caused by trauma to boney areas on your dog. Left untreated, hygromas can lead to painful blisters and ulcers. 

Definition of hygroma 

What Is A Hygroma?

A hygroma is a fluid-filled lump that develops over bony areas and pressure points on a dog's skin. They typically look like a bump on your dog's elbow or another bony area of their body and vary in size. However, over time, your dog's hygroma will become harder and may develop scabs. Some dogs are more prone to various skin irritations, but hygromas are most common in large breeds.1 In older dogs, hygromas typically occur due to time spent on hard surfaces, while in puppies, they're most likely caused by trauma to the area. Lying on a hard surface causes a type of trauma that produces an inflammatory response, resulting in a fluid-filled lump.1 Hygromas are typically soft to the touch, and swelling develops over pressure points, specifically in the areas where your dog's body comes into contact with the hard surface. 

If left untreated, hygromas can turn into severe inflammation, and ulceration, infection, granulomas, and fistulas may occur.1 Hygromas grow over time without treatment, but with early treatment, they can be managed easily to prevent infection and other complications.

How dogs get hygromas

What Causes Hygromas?

In adult dogs, trauma from lying on hard surfaces like a hardwood floor or your deck or porch outside can eventually lead to hygroma, a fluid-filled sac on your dog's skin just over their bone.1 Common causes of hygromas include:

  • Lying on hard surfaces: Dogs that spend time lying on hard surfaces can cause minor trauma to their elbows, resulting in an inflammatory response over the elbow joint. The body will protect this area to prevent further trauma by creating a fluid-filled lump to add cushioning to the joint. If you live in a home without carpeted areas, your dog should have places around the home where they can lie down without potentially injuring themselves. Additionally, you should limit the amount of time your dog lies on hard surfaces. For example, if your dog likes to lie on the kitchen floor to keep cool in the hot summer, you should find other ways to keep them cool to prevent them from relying on putting their bony elbows directly on a hard surface. 
  • Sedentariness: Dogs that have undergone surgery can develop hygromas because they have a limited range of motion, causing fluid to pool in one area of the body. While exercise should be limited after surgery, your vet may provide you with an exercise plan to prevent the potential growth of hygromas while your dog is recovering. In addition, some conditions can make dogs less mobile. Therefore, you should always treat any underlying health conditions as soon as possible to prevent your dog from becoming less active. 
  • Weakened joints: Dogs with elbow arthritis are prone to hygromas because they have difficulty lowering themselves to lie down on the ground. This causes them to hit the ground faster, causing trauma to the elbow. 
  • Being a large breed: Large breeds are more prone to hygromas because they have more weight, which adds pressure to their bones when they sit or lie down on hard surfaces. Ultimately, the more your dog weighs, the more pressure is on those areas of the body. Even if your dog is a healthy weight, if they're a large breed, they may develop hygromas from lying on hard surfaces due to the repeated trauma it causes to the bone. 
  • Too much crate time: Dogs that are confined to crates for prolonged periods are more likely to get hygromas because the crate flooring is typically made out of hard plastic. While this hard plastic is easy to clean when your puppy has an accident, it's not ideal for them to sleep on. Therefore, if your dog must be confined to a crate for prolonged periods, they should have bedding or blankets to keep their elbows, joints, and other bony areas more comfortable and cushioned. 
  • Having short hair: Fur can act as a cushion for your dog's elbows and joints. However, short-haired dogs may be more prone to hygromas because they don't have as much fur to cushion their elbows, knees, hocks, or tail bones. 

Hygromas typically start small and grow over time without treatment. Your dog's hygroma can easily get infected if you let it get out of hand, with fluid release that causes the lump to release a white or colored fluid. Since hygromas don't cause pain, dogs scratching themselves or licking the area may indicate an infection. Additionally, similar to hot spots, hygromas that are infected will feel warmer to the touch than the rest of a dog's skin, and some may even begin to harden as infection sets in, making lying down even more uncomfortable for your dog. 

Medical conditions that contribute to hygromas 

Diagnosing & Treating Hygromas In Dogs

Diagnosed early and when small, hygromas can easily be managed and treated medically.1 You should always have any new lumps and bumps on your dog examined by a vet to rule out some forms of cancer. Hygromas are typically easily diagnosed by vets because there aren't many fluid-filled lumps that occur on a dog's bony areas, such as the elbows. At the vet's office, your dog will receive a physical exam to help identify any underlying conditions that may cause your dog to lie down more often. Common health issues that may contribute to hygromas in dogs include:

  • Arthritis
  • Obesity & diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hormonal disorders

If your vet believes your dog has become sedentary due to an underlying condition, they will aim to treat that condition while you manage your dog's hygroma at home by providing them with cushioning. Treatment for the underlying condition and hygroma will occur simultaneously to ensure your dog is comfortable. 

Depending on what your vet believes your dog's lump to be, they may recommend laboratory testing with a needle aspirate of the skin to rule out other conditions. However, in most cases, hygromas can be diagnosed in dogs that have a history of lying on hard services and by physical examination by a vet. 

Dog hygroma treatment is centered around preventing more trauma to the area to prevent the hygroma from growing and becoming infected. Small hygromas may not have to be medically treated, depending on their size. In these cases, a vet might suggest a few products your dog can wear as padding around their bony elbows, such as elbow pads designed to provide cushioning for the elbows. Additionally, you can and should get your dog a soft, plush bed where they can sleep throughout the day instead of lying on the hard floor. Other ways to make the floor more comfortable for your dog include adding blankets to their crate or teaching them to rest on carpeted areas in the home. 

If your dog's hygroma is large yet uninfected, a vet may use surgical drainage or flushing to reduce the size of the lump and suggest that you take care of it at home by giving them soft bedding. Complete removal of the hygroma is another option if the lump is large, painful, or infected. 

 In other instances, your vet might use laser therapy to treat small lesions and reduce inflammation while stimulating healing.1 Unfortunately, if left untreated, hygromas can become complicated and infected, requiring antibiotic therapy.1

The longer you let your dog's hygroma go without treatment, the higher the risk of complications. Diagnosing and treating hygromas in dogs early is crucial to preventing them from becoming infected. If you notice any type of growth on your dog, take them to the vet as soon as possible for treatment. 

How to prevent hygromas 

Can Hygromas Be Prevented?

Hygromas in dogs can easily be prevented at home by providing your dog with a soft area to lie down in. These lumps typically occur on the elbow, hock/ankle joint, hip joint, and near the tail, common areas where your dog puts pressure when sitting or lying down. Because hygromas occur when a dog is in a sedentary position, they're most common in dogs that spend the majority of their time sleeping or lying down on hard surfaces, and the longer a dog spends in one spot and in one position, the more pressure they're putting on the bony areas of their body, increasing the likelihood of a hygroma. Therefore, senior dogs are at a higher risk because they're more sedentary than younger or adult dogs, but hygromas can still occur in any dog. 

The best way to prevent hygroma is to prevent trauma to the dog's bony areas we just mentioned. Providing these areas with cushioning, whether in the form of comfortable bedding or elbow pads, can help prevent hygromas. If your home doesn't have any carpet, you should make areas where your dog can rest comfortably without putting their elbows or other bones directly on the hard flooring.

Ultimately, your goal should be to cushion their impact and lessen the amount of pressure they put on their elbows, hocks, knees, and tails when they're sitting or lying down. A few ways to prevent hygromas in dogs include:

  • Adding blankets or bedding to crates where dogs may spend their time lounging around.
  • Providing your dog with a comfortable bed where they can lie down throughout their day.
  • Preventing your pet from becoming too sedentary by feeding them a nutritious diet and ensuring they get enough exercise.
  • Not letting them lie down in the same position for too long to prevent putting too much pressure on those bony areas.
  • Elbow protection to limit the impact on the elbow when your dog lies down. 
  • Limit crate time unless the crate is properly padded. 
  • Limit your dog's access to hard surfaces with a baby gate, or add foam flooring to hard floors where your dog spends their time. 

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is also crucial. The heavier they are, the more pressure is put on their elbows, knees, and tail areas when they sit or lie down. Overweight dogs are at a higher risk of developing hygromas because of their extra weight, so you may be able to prevent the condition by managing your dog's weight and helping them lose weight when necessary. 

Depending on why your dog is sedentary, you may also need to address their health. For example, dogs with arthritis typically lie down more because of the pain, which also makes it more difficult for them to get up, forcing them to lie in the same position for a prolonged period of time. If your dog is sedentary because of an underlying health issue, that issue must be addressed if you want to prevent the possibility of them developing hygromas. 

FAQs

Are hygromas painful?

Hygromas are not particularly painful. The body creates them when it undergoes repeated minor trauma to a bony area to give it more cushioning. These lumps are fluid-filled swellings that develop under the skin due to inflammation, but they don't cause pain unless they become infected. Hygromas start small and grow and harden over time. If a hygroma becomes infected, it can become painful for the dog, and they'll often try to lick the area to comfort themselves. Signs of an infected hygroma include redness, swelling, warmth, pain, and fluid leakage. 

Vets can treat hygromas in several ways, and depending on the treatment, the area with the hygroma may become painful. For example, if your dog needs their hygroma surgically removed, they will experience pain until the wound heals. However, your vet will provide your dog with pain meds to help them during the recovery process. 

Hygromas can also cause pain when they become too large, and your dog cannot comfortably rest on them. When hygromas are severely inflamed, it can lead to ulceration of the skin and a wound that doesn't heal as long as your dog continues to lie down on hard surfaces. It can also lead to furunculosis, a bacterial skin infection.1

Is hygroma a tumor?

Hygromas may look like tumors to the untrained eye. However, they are not tumors, and they are not cancerous. Instead, they're your dog's body's natural response to repeated trauma over time. The elbow is the most common place for a hygroma because it takes the most trauma. When your dog goes to lie down, they often put their elbows down first and put most of their body weight onto the elbows. This is especially true for large dog breeds, as the body tries to protect the area by creating its own cushioning. However, the repeated trauma can make the hygroma grow larger. 

How do I know if my dog's hygroma is infected?

There are several ways to identify if your dog's hygroma is infected. Signs of infection include:

  • Warm or hot to the touch
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Pain when touched
  • There is an open wound leaking fluid
  • Your dog is licking the area repeatedly or excessively

If you've already gone to the vet for examination and decided to try to manage your dog's hygroma at home by providing them with padded areas to lie down, your vet may have still provided you with some information on what to do if you notice these signs. In some cases, the signs above may indicate inflammation, infection, or both. However, if a vet hasn't yet examined your dog's hygroma, you shouldn't wait any longer. Infection can be serious, causing your dog even more pain and reducing the likelihood the area will heal properly. 

If your dog is in noticeable pain, they'll likely require pain medication and antibiotics to fight the infection. You should also discuss other treatment options with your vet if the hygroma continues to grow or keeps getting infected. 

Can a vet help my dog's hygroma?

Yes, a vet can help your dog's hygroma in many ways. Some hygromas won't need medical treatment because they can be managed at home as long as they're small enough, and you can provide your dog with a cushioned area to rest throughout the day. However, if your dog's hygroma requires medical intervention, there are a few things your vet can do, including:

  • Draining the fluid
  • Complete removal of the hygroma 

Unfortunately, neither of these treatment methods is 100% guaranteed, and it's likely your dog's hygroma will return if there aren't corrections made at home. 

How much does it cost to remove a hygroma?

The cost of removing a hygroma depends on several factors, including your location, the size of the hygroma, and whether or not it's infected. Fine needle aspirates typically cost a few hundred dollars. However, if the hygroma is infected, your vet will want to determine which bacteria are causing the inflammation using culturing to determine the right antibiotic to use. This can also cost up to a few hundred dollars. 

Surgical removal of the hygroma is the most expensive option, ranging from hundreds of dollars to a few thousand dollars, depending on the size and severity of the hygroma and how difficult it will be to remove. 

If your dog requires home treatment instead of medical intervention because they have a small, uncomplicated hygroma, you'll likely have to pay for bedding, cushioning for the floors, and an elbow sleeve to reduce the amount of pressure on your dog's bone. 

It's much cheaper to prevent hygromas than it is to treat them, and it's a better option for your dog since they won't need to visit the vet or have surgery. You can easily prevent hygroma at home by ensuring your dog has enough cushioning where they spend most of their time lying down. For example, if your dog is crated while you're at work, ensure they have blankets to cushion themselves and prevent discomfort and pressure that can lead to inflammation. 

Red and white speckled dog laying in dog bed

Final Notes

While most hygromas don't cause pain, some can get infected, making it even more difficult for your dog to lie down on hard surfaces. The easiest way to treat hygromas in dogs is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. In addition, surgical removal and draining the fluid won't guarantee your dog's hygroma won't return without making a few changes at home. 

As a pet parent, the best thing you can do is prevent your dog from lying down on hard surfaces that can cause inflammation. Instead, give them padded areas around the home where they can be comfortable. If you notice a lump anywhere on your dog, don't wait to take them to the vet. Early diagnosis is crucial for any type of lump or bump on your dog, whether you believe it's a hygroma or a tumor. Worried about your dog's lumps? Talk to a Dutch vet who can help diagnose and treat dog skin conditions like hygromas to prevent painful infections and keep your dog comfortable. If the hygroma becomes infected, we make getting your dog's prescriptions online easy to help your dog recover faster. Try Dutch today. 

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References

  1. Moriello, Karen A. “Hygroma in Dogs - Integumentary System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/integumentary-system/hygroma/hygroma-in-dogs.

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