Rheumatoid arthritis in dogs is a form of arthritis where a dog’s immune system turns against him. Your dog’s body becomes his enemy. His immune system actually attacks his joints.
Just like rheumatoid arthritis in people, rheumatoid arthritis in dogs affects a dog’s joints. It inflames the joints and causes heat, redness, swelling, pain and tissue damage in joints.
However, there is one big difference between the two. Osteoarthritis mainly affects joints, but rheumatoid arthritis also affects other organs like the skin, heart and lungs.
Sadly, rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease that affects the whole body.
Fortunately rheumatoid arthritis in dogs is not nearly so common as osteoarthritis in dogs.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis in Dogs
Like osteoarthritis, the symptom that you are most likely to notice is your dog limping or his lameness. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cause pain in a dog’s joints. But it’s important to note that dogs with rheumatoid arthritis have very painful joints.
These symptoms are typical:
- Lameness where a dog shifts his weight from leg to leg
- Difficulty climbing stairs or going up hills
- Slow and difficult, rising from a lying down or sitting position
- Even walking a short distance looks painful
- Your dog does not run anymore
- Trouble jumping into cars, onto a bed or sofa, or your dog just stops doing these things.
- Fever that doesn’t go away
- Loss of appetite
In dogs, the joints that are most commonly affected are the carpal or wrist joints, the tarsal or ankle joints and the toe joints. If you look closely, you will probably see some swelling and the affected joints will be warm to the touch.
In many cases, joint cartilage and bone beneath the cartilage is destroyed.
Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
When you take your dog to the vet, the first thing your vet will do is examine your dog’s joints. If your veterinarian is suspicious of rheumatoid arthritis, she will order more tests to confirm or deny that diagnosis.
These are the tests your vet would do to determine that:
- Your vet will take your dog’s temperature. She is looking for a fever. You may be asked to do that at home, to see if your dog runs a temperature frequently or all the time.
- X-rays of the joints – Is there swelling or any other indications of arthritis
- Blood tests
- Laboratory analysis of the fluid removed from the suspicious joints – commonly called a joint tap
Dog Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications and Diet
If your dog does have rheumatoid arthritis, you will want to make him comfortable.
In addition, your vet will prescribe some medications specific to rheumatoid arthritis.
It is important to follow your vet’s directions carefully. Some human medications like Rimadyl can put extra stress on your dog’s liver.
Equally important is your dog’s diet. Make sure your dog is getting all the nutrients that she needs for a healthy body and healthy joints.
Like many other diseases, this is especially important. That’s because some vets believe that there is a connection between rheumatoid arthritis and food allergies.
With all their allergy issues, Weimaraners need to get good food that doesn’t trigger allergic reactions.
Most authorities believe that you can protect your dog from rheumaroid arthritis by supporting his healthy immune system. As an aside, Purina’s Pro Plan Veterinary Diet for Joint Mobility has a proven formula for older dogs with stiff, sore joints.
In addition, dogs who have arthritis symptoms will also benefit from a couple of supplements that you might be taking, as well.
As an example, Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM supplements have been used successfully with senior dogs for pain relief of arthritis.
If your dog has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you can keep her comfortable and relatively pain free. Of course, some modifications to her environment will help, as will changes in your dog’s diet.
Even with treatment, recovery is uncertain. Unfortunately, relapses are common. Sadly, the causes of rheumatoid arthritis in dogs is not known.