Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis In Dogs

Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints due to the immune system treating some of its own protein as a foreign invader. This triggers the immune system to attack the protein using antibodies, but as the protein is harmless, the antibodies and protein combine and are then deposited in the joints. This triggers an inflammatory response due to your dog's body interpreting the protein deposits as an injury. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any dog, but smaller breeds tend to be more susceptible to the condition. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis in dogs:


Dogs with rheumatoid arthritis tend to experience pain in several joints and their gait is often affected. You may notice your dog sometimes seems stiff, walks with a limp, or has trouble using one or more of their legs. There tends to be visible swelling around the affected joints and the associated joint pain can lead to dogs being irritable, withdrawing from play and seeming unwilling to exercise. Fever and loss of appetite can also occur when your dog is symptomatic, but as dogs with the condition have periods of remission, there may not always be visible symptoms.

Diagnosis And Treatment Options

Your vet will diagnose rheumatoid arthritis by taking details of your dog's symptoms and health history. Diagnostic imaging can be used to show abnormalities in your dog's joints, as this type of arthritis creates irregular joint surfaces. A blood sample can also be used to check your dog's inflammatory markers and confirm the presence of inflammation.

Once the vet establishes your dog has rheumatoid arthritis, they will outline a treatment plan. Corticosteroids can be prescribed to bring down swelling, while immunosuppressant drugs are often prescribed for long-term management of the condition. If your dog is overweight, the vet may recommend a weight loss plan that includes low-impact exercise, such as swimming, as losing weight will reduce the pressure on your dog's joints.

A more recent treatment for arthritis in dogs is stem cell therapy. Stem cells lie dormant in your dog's fat tissue and can change into other types of cells. When stem cells are cultivated from fat tissue and injected into your dog's joints they become new cartilage cells. This treatment is effective at improving mobility and reducing pain and is carried out as a day case procedure. Your dog will need to have a general anaesthetic, but there's no recovery time required and stem cell therapy for arthritis is not associated with any adverse effects.

If you're concerned about the health of your dog's joints, schedule a consultation with your vet as soon as possible.