Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms in Dogs

By Shelley Moore

  • Overview

    Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body--in this case, usually the joints--causing joints to become inflamed and swell. The disease is not common in dogs. Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, is much more prevalent in dogs. When rheumatoid arthritis does occur, it usually appears in toy breeds or other small breeds during early adulthood.
  • Symptoms

    A dog with rheumatoid arthritis usually has several inflamed and painful joints that cause problems when walking. These problems can range from stiffness to limping to inability to walk at all. Sometimes the symptoms appear gradually, sometimes suddenly. The disease usually begins in the joints on or near the feet, and the joints look swollen. After the dog has the disease for a long time, the joints can become deformed and the corresponding limbs can have muscle loss.
  • Related Effects

    Dogs with rheumatoid arthritis can also have a fever when the joints are inflamed, and they may be depressed and have a loss of appetite. More serious problems connected with rheumatoid arthritis are kidney disease, enlarged lymph glands, and susceptibility to infections such as tonsilitis and pneumonia.

  • Time Frame

    Symptoms can come and go, and sometimes they're gradual. In addition, the disease is not easy to diagnose. For these reasons, rheumatoid arthritis can be present for some time before it is discovered. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in dogs can be similar to those of osteoarthritis. There may be reluctance to take walks, climb stairs or jump. The dog might have problems getting up from a resting position. It may not be until the dog has noticeable swollen joints or is showing obvious pain that the disease is diagnosed.
  • Behavioral Treatment

    Behavioral treatment starts with strict rest. If the dog begins to improve, the owner can begin a very gentle exercise program, with a small amount each day for the same amount of time. Weight control also is important, which may require diet changes because the dog will not be getting much exercise during flare-ups.
  • Medications

    Owners can give anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs such as buffered aspirin, or prescription pain relievers such as carprofen. The veterinarian may also prescribe steroids, such as prednisolone. Medications that suppress the immune system also are an option, but the dogs must be watched carefully because these drugs cause greater susceptibility to infections and other illnesses.
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