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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 erythematosus.

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 drug therapy.

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 your veterinarian.

Infectious Arthritis

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.

WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"

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