Arthritis in Dogs: Symptoms and Causes
Immune-Mediated Arthritis continued...
Rheumatoid arthritis is an erosive arthritis that occurs primarily in toy
breeds and other small breeds, such as Shetland Sheepdogs, at approximately 4
years of age. It is characterized by morning stiffness, shifting lameness, and
swelling of the smaller joints, particularly the wrists and hocks. Fever, loss
of appetite, and lymphadenopathy are accompanying features.
Nonerosive arthritis tends to occur in midsize and large-breed dogs at about
5 to 6 years of age. The cause is unknown. Signs are intermittent fever, loss
of appetite, joint swelling, and a lameness that often shifts from limb to
limb. A form of nonerosive arthritis occurs with systemic lupus
The diagnosis of immune-mediated arthritis is made by joint X-rays and
specific laboratory tests. Synovial fluid analysis helps distinguish
immune-mediated arthritis from infectious arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Treatment: Immune-mediated arthritis responds to anti-inflammatory and
immunosuppressive drugs, including corticosteroids and chemotherapy agents. Treatment
must be continued for eight weeks or longer. Your veterinarian may use several
drugs or drug combinations before determining which protocol works best for
your dog. Rheumatoid arthritis is less responsive than nonerosive arthritis to
Light to moderate activity is beneficial, but vigorous exercise, which is
most likely during periods of remission, can injure the joints and should be
restricted. Overweight dogs should be placed on a calorie-restricted diet. In
fact, it may be advantageous if the dog is somewhat lean. Discuss this with
Infectious diseases can produce arthritis. Rickettsial arthritis is seen
with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and canine ehrlichiosis, and spirochetal
arthritis with Lyme
disease. (All of these are tick-borne diseases.) Fungal arthritis is a rare
complication of a systemic fungal infection.
Treatment: Most of the tick-borne diseases respond to doxycycline or
tetracycline. Some dogs will have permanent joint damage.