Rheumatoid Arthritis In Dogs -
 Not Just A Senior Pet Issue!

Rheumatoid arthritis in dogs is categorized as an autoimmune disease - which means that the immune system is not functioning correctly. If you find that your dog is suffering from a great deal of joint pain, he or she may have rheumatoid arthritis.

This inflammatory disease results in the deterioration of joints and bones. Many dog owners don't initially realize that this type of arthritis differs from osteoarthritis, which is caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage.

dog on bed looking into roomCourtesy: Viktoria

To understand this further...

When a normal dog’s body encounters what it believes is an unwanted foreign substance, there is an immune response referred to as an antigen. His body then produces antibodies, which bind to this antigen.

However, when a dog has rheumatoid arthritis, his or her body believes that the foreign protein is part of its own body.

As a result, the body attacks its own joint tissues and the immune system creates antibodies that fight its own body. These immune complexes are deposited in the joints and painful inflammation results leading to deterioration of cartilage and bone.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

On a day-to-day basis, dogs will experience stiffness, and swollen, painful joints. Dog owners may also find that their dog’s joints palpitate and are warm to the touch.

Other signs of the disease to watch for include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty climbing stairs

Rheumatoid Arthritis that progresses to a more severe level may result in:

  • Kidney problems,
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Tonsillitis
  • Pneumonia 

If you take your dog to his veterinarian, the disease can be diagnosed with x-rays, which will reveal a loss of bone. Bones almost look as though holes have been punched in them. There is also a blood test that can tell if the dog has the “rheumatoid factor".

Mobility Issues

The impact of rheumatoid arthritis in dogs can be quite heartbreaking, as the mobility of the animal can be severely limited.

While some dogs with this disease are still able to walk, others will completely lose their ability to do so. Most dogs with rheumatoid arthritis will have trouble rising or walking up stairs. Many will, understandably,  be less interested in playing or running.

Causes Of Rheumatoid Arthritis In Dogs

Unfortunately, the exact causes of this disease are still unknown. Some speculate that the canine distemper virus results in rheumatoid arthritis. Others believe that rheumatoid arthritis in dogs is just the result of genetics or inherent immune system problems.

There is a connection, however, with the size and shape of the dog:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is most common in dogs that are small in size. Therefore, toy breeds are more at risk.
  • It has also been observed that dogs more commonly get this disease when they are 5-6 years old.
  • Further, overweight dogs are more susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis.


Don't worry! There's a lot you can do to help prevent rheumatoid arthritis in dogs:

  • Pet parents should make that their dog is getting a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. A proper diet can make a big impact towards keeping a dog free of immune disorders.
  • Weight management should be a high priority since overweight dogs are more at risk to get any arthritic condition.
  • Foods enriched with omega-3 fatty acids like fish and fish oil should be included in the diet as they are extremely beneficial for dogs. These nutrients help a dog’s body with normal processes.
  • Vitamin C can also prevent joint deterioration.
  • Dietary supplements, for example, chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine suphate, can also fight the weakening in dog’s bones.

If you are concerned that your dog might be predisposed to rheumatoid arthritis, you may want to consider adding daily supplements to his or her food.

The following are some highly rated supplements to consider.

Dog Arthritis Treatment Options

Steroids and NSAIDS (or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are commonly prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis in dogs. For example, aspirin is a NSAID that is often administered while under the control of a veterinarian.

Medication can help subside the pain that your dog is experiencing. However, while these treatments might be helpful in the short run, stomach ulcers and liver and kidney problems can result after time from persistent use of pain medications.

There are also drugs, like azathioprine and cyclophosphamide, which counteract the dog’s immune reactions. However, when dogs are on immunosuppressive drugs, a variety of side effects can occur.

For instance, they can develop infections and have problems with their bone marrow.

While these drugs can help control the body’s immune reactions, they can be too harmful to dogs in the long-run. These medicines can also cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Therefore, some experts believe that immunosuppressive drugs are not a good idea for dogs with this condition.

Taking your dog to a holistic veterinarian who can provide information about both mainstream and alternative treatments can be very helpful in choosing the best options for your pet.

Natural Help For Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are a variety of natural measures that owners can take to relieve the symptoms and assist with this disease.

  • First of all, it is important that your dog is getting ample rest. In this regard, orthopedic beds, which have more support and padding, are a good choice for dogs with RA.
  • Provide a natural diet that contains all the nutrients to support the immune system and maintain his weight at a healthy level. Excess weight just adds further stress to already painful joints.
  • Regular exercise is actually beneficial to the healing process. If your dog is in pain or overweight, of course, he or she may feel less like exercising. However, try to make sure that your four-legged friend is getting some gentle exercise every day.

Acupuncture has also been shown to be helpful in treating rheumatoid arthritis in dogs. This technique has been practiced for thousands of years and is renowned for its abilities to heal the body and manage pain.

This treatment is also believed to allow the dog’s body to create natural painkillers. You may find that this treatment improves your dog’s mobility and his or her quality of life.

Also on a day-to-day basis, canine rheumatoid arthritis can be helped by various changes that you can make to keep your dog’s life more pleasant.

  • Try to keep the dog warm, as cold conditions can aggravate the inflammation in your dog’s body. Also massage and warm baths can help manage the pain.
  • You can also consider adding items to your home that will make your pet’s life easier, for example, pet ramps that allow your pet to transport him or herself without straining.

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  • Always consult your veterinarian when you have health-related questions. Information on this website is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified professional.
Resource: PubMed on Rheumatoid Arthritis
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