Rheumatoid Arthritis In Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment Approach

27 October 2016
 Categories: Pets & Animals, Blog


Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any breed of dog and is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the joints. Your dog's immune system starts attacking a harmless protein in their body by releasing antibodies, but the antibodies cluster together with the protein in your dog's joints and cause inflammation. This inflammation can impact greatly on your dog's quality of life, and as the immune system continues to be in overdrive, the condition gets progressively worse without treatment.


Rheumatoid arthritis can cause your dog to experience the following symptoms:

  • Joint pain that can affect the way they walk or use their legs
  • Noticeable joint swelling, which may worsen after exercise
  • Irritability, which may present as withdrawing from play and interaction or showing of their teeth if they are disturbed
  • Loss of appetite, which can be due to joint pain causing lethargy

Diagnosis And Treatment Approach

Rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed using blood tests and diagnostic imaging, such as a CT or MRI scan. Your vet will take a sample of your dog's blood to check their C-reactive protein levels, as raised levels indicate inflammation. Images of your dog's joints can allow the vet to establish if the joint surfaces are irregular, which commonly occurs with this type of arthritis.

Once a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is made, the vet will recommend a treatment plan. Conservative treatment includes weight management and medication. Carrying extra weight can put too much pressure on the joints and exacerbate the pain and inflammation that's already present. Your vet will conduct a diet and lifestyle review and provide you with a weight management plan for your dog that includes regular low-impact exercise.

A short course of corticosteroids, such as prednisolone, may be prescribed to help get the swelling around your dog's joints under control. Long-term management of rheumatoid arthritis often requires suppression of your dog's immune system with drugs, such as cyclophosphamide or azathioprine. Your dog will have regular blood tests while taking an immunosuppressant to ensure they are receiving the correct dose to keep their symptoms under control.

If your dog's symptoms are severe, stem cell therapy may be recommended. A veterinary surgeon will remove stem cells from fat tissue while your dog is under general anesthesia and inject them into the affected joints. Stem cells have the ability to change into other types of cells, and they become new cartilage cells when placed in the joints. Increasing the cartilage in your dog's joints can reduce pain and improve their mobility. This procedure is usually carried out as a day case and doesn't require any recovery time.

If your dog is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, have them checked over by your vet as soon as possible.