Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis

Kelly Roper
Contributor: Mychelle Blake
Senior Labrador Retriever Outdoors

Canine rheumatoid arthritis is a fairly rare yet painful condition suffered by some pets. Learn more about this chronic condition, how to spot it and what a vet can do to help an affected canine.

About Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis

Canine rheumatoid arthritis (CRA) is a chronic condition that causes joint pain and eventual deformity. It's mainly caused when the immune system misidentifies some of the body's own protein as foreign matter. The immune system then produces antibodies known as rheumatoid factors that bind with the misidentified protein to create immune complexes. These complexes build up in the joints and cause the classic inflammation associated with arthritis.

There also seems to be a connection with the distemper virus in some cases. Traces of that virus have been found in the joints of some affected animals. Rheumatoid factor antibodies can also attack these traces of virus and cause damage to the joint tissue and adjoining bones. CRA is often referred to as rheumatism although this term encompasses other types of non-immune-related arthritis such as osteoarthritis and septic arthritis.

What Dogs Are Affected by Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis

CRA is actually much less common than osteoarthritis in dogs. It primarily affects small and toy dogs and can also be found in cats and humans.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis in Dogs

There are a number of symptoms produced by canine rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Painful joints
  • Swollen joints
  • Severe joint deformity in advanced cases
  • Muscle wasting in long-term cases
  • Intermittent fever
  • Stiffness
  • Lameness
  • Loss of appetite

These symptoms can appear in almost any combination, and they also seem to come and go. A dog is usually affected in more than one joint, and the pain and stiffness may actually appear to switch from one side to another, depending on where the rheumatoid factors happen to be the most concentrated on any given day.

Reaching a Diagnosis

Diagnosing a case of rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult. Veterinarians can look for rheumatoid factors in blood samples, but the factors are not always present if the dog isn't currently having a flare up. Vets depend more on a physical examination to help them diagnose a case, and this includes close examination of the leg joints to check for pain, heat, and swelling. Vets can also examine synovial fluid samples from the joints to check for cloudiness and a thinner than normal consistency, both of which can indicate CRA. A canine rheumatoid factor test is an immunologic test performed by a veterinary lab to detect the presence of the rheumatoid antiglobulin factor in your dog's blood.

Help for an Affected Dog

The treatment plan for CRA varies from one dog to the next, and it can take a number of adjustments to find a course of treatment that provides the most relief. You should always consult with your veterinarian to create the best course of action for your dog's health.

Using Medication for Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis

Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis and Physical Therapy

  • Hydrotherapy can also be useful to increase a dog's mobility because it works the joints under weightless conditions.
  • Gentle massage therapy may also be useful because it increases oxygen in the tissues.
  • Acupuncture and chiropractic medicine can provide dogs with the same benefits as it does in humans with arthritis.
  • Laser therapy is a noninvasive option that has become more popular for providing relief for dogs with arthritis.
  • Regular exercise such as walking your dog is important for his health provided it's low intensity and adjusted for your dog's comfort level.
  • You can also provide an orthopedic dog bed. The beds are made of high-density foam that offers more cushion than a conventional dog bed. Many are equipped with heat and massage features for added comfort. A bed like this lessens the stress on the joints and may actually make it easier for the dog to rise after resting.

Rheumatoid Arthritis in Dogs and Natural Remedies

Caring for a Dog With CRA

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, so managing the symptoms is really the best that vets can do for an affected animal. The average canine rheumatoid arthritis prognosis can be good with some adjustments in your dog's lifestyle, diet and treatment options. With proper care, patience and affection, a dog can live for years beyond the initial diagnosis.

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Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis