Bursa in Dogs

Large breeds require thick bedding to help relieve joint pressure.
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If working with a certain tool causes bursitis in a human, a person can switch hands when needed. If sitting for long periods of time causes discomfort, a person can make an effort to get up and walk every hour. Dogs don’t have this wherewithal. If your dog is exhibiting signs of joint pain, see your veterinarian for a clinical diagnosis, potential causes and treatments.

Defining Bursa and Causes

A bursa is a small fluid sac that cushions and lubricates areas where tendons, ligaments or bones rub against each other. A painful swelling of this sac is known as bursitis. This swelling is caused by trauma, constantly repeated movements or consistent pressure on the joints, especially elbows or knees. Large breeds and obese dogs are particularly susceptible to the latter. Inflammation of the bursa also may be caused by a blood stream infection or autoimmune conditions. Aging will also cause bursae to break down over time.


Bursae have an ample supply of vessels and nerves. According to vet research by the University of Pennsylvania, in many cases a sprained tendon isn’t incredibly painful unless the adjacent bursa is involved. Symptoms of bursitis can vary, depending on the bursa sac being affected. In dogs, some of the most common symptoms are limping, licking at the joint or painful area, lack of appetite, restlessness or changes in behavior due to discomfort. In some cases, a fluid filled area can be felt underneath the dog’s skin.

False Bursa or Hygroma

Large breeds are particularly prone to hygromas, or what is medically referred to as false bursa. The most common area for these is on the elbow. When lying down, repeated pressure is being put on this joint. This causes a breakdown of tissues that lead to a thickening of pouch-like walls. A subcutaneous serum or mucinous fluid fills this space causing a prominent sac known as a hygroma. These are generally painless. A veterinarian may drain them, or treat with medications. Making sure your dog has thick comfortable bedding can help prevent these from forming, or help with healing afterward.


Since dogs have many anatomical bursae in their hind and forelimbs, specific diagnosis of bursitis can be difficult, especially when problems such as arthritis present the same way. However, treatments for these issues in dogs are often similar. These include rest, massages or an ice to heat regiment. Antibiotics may be needed if an infection is suspected. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed, or steroids may be needed if the inflammation is severe. If a dog has been diagnosed with bursitis and doesn’t respond to treatments, or has persistent flare-ups in the same area, surgery may be required.