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Calluses in Dogs

Posted by Jenn on 06/21/2017

You may have gotten a callus on your hand from doing yard work, like raking leaves or shoveling snow, or a callus on your feet from going barefoot. Human calluses may be annoying, but they’re not a medical problem. After all, the callus is there for a reason: to cushion your skin and prevent it from tearing.

Dogs’ calluses are generally harmless, too, but sometimes they become cracked, infected, or painful. To find out more about dog calluses, we consulted some excellent pet professionals.

Why do dogs get calluses?

Dogs typically get calluses on their joints, especially on the outside of their elbows, hips, and hind legs. Basically, the callus helps protect protruding bones from the pressure of lying on the ground. Calluses are hard to miss—on light-colored dogs, anyway—because the skin becomes thick, hairless, and gray. (Most other conditions that can lead to hair loss, such as hot spots, are usually red and inflamed.)

Dogs develop calluses from repeatedly lying on hard surfaces, such as shady wooden decks, tiled floors, and cement kennel floors. These surfaces tend to be cold, which is one reason that calluses are more common in the warmer months. “In the summer, dogs will often seek out cool spots,” says Dr. Margaret Rucker at Southwest Virginia Veterinary Services in Lebanon, VA, “and will often refuse to lay on padded bedding.” SVVS also notes that they’ve seen calluses on the sternum of dogs, especially bulldogs, that like to sleep flattened out.

What kinds of dogs get calluses?

Due to the amount of pressure on the joints, calluses are more common in large- and giant-breed dogs, such as Labrador retrievers, mastiffs, and Great Danes. While you might think fluffy dogs have more padding and are therefore immune to calluses, that is not necessarily the case. “Some dog breeds with particularly thick coats have more natural protection than other breeds from fur over the elbows and other joints,” says Dr. Ashley Tahir of Fur De Lis Mobile Vet in New Orleans, “but even they can develop calluses eventually.” Sick or elderly dogs are also prone to calluses, because they spend a lot of time lying down.

What can be done to heal dog calluses?

Some people try to soften a dog’s callus or prevent it from cracking by applying a moisturizer. Commonly used remedies include coconut oil, aloe, liquid Vitamin E, olive oil, petroleum jelly, Musher’s Secret, or Bag Balm. (If you go this route, be sure to rub the product in so your dog can’t immediately lick it off, and beware of grease stains on your upholstery.) Softening a callus will not make it disappear, though. According to Katherine Bitzan at LakeCross Veterinary in Huntersville, NC, it can also be counterproductive: “Softening a callus while still having the dog lying on concrete or tile can make the callus more likely to become sore and/ or bleed.” Protective elbow pads are also available, but not all dogs will tolerate them.

Why are elevated dog beds good for dogs?

The best long-term solution is to get the dog off the floor and onto a cool, elevated dog bed. (Try our tips for encouraging a dog to try a new bed.)  Pillow beds are by far the most common style of dog beds on the market, but they’re not ideal for your dog. Dogs can still develop calluses by stretching their legs off the edge of the pillow bed and onto the floor. An elevated bed is especially important if the dog would otherwise be on a cold cement or tile floor, as in a kennel, or the hard plastic floor of a crate. 

When do dog calluses require a vet visit?

In general, calluses don’t require a trip to the vet. They might look funny to you, but they don’t bother dogs at all. “Most calluses are only a cosmetic issue,” Katherine Bitzan (of LakeCross Veterinary) says. “They are the body’s way of protecting itself.” However, it’s important to keep an eye on calluses (and any other skin conditions) to make sure they don’t become more serious. Note that normal calluses don’t ooze, so if you see blood or puss, see a vet right away—your dog may have an infection requiring antibiotics. Calluses can also be confused with hygromas, pockets of fluid under the skin that definitely require treatment. As always, be sure to contact your vet if you notice that walking, standing up, or lying down seems painful for your dog.

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