Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis for Dogs

Your veterinarian can use several tests to make a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis in your dog. These can include a physical examination, x-rays, blood tests or analysis of the fluid found in your pet’s joints. If your dog suddenly goes lame in more than one leg or develops unexplained joint stiffness that may travel from leg to leg on different days, make an appointment to have him evaluated for rheumatoid arthritis.

What Rheumatoid Arthritis Looks Like

Rheumatoid arthritis most often occurs in small dogs that are about 5 years old. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that it is caused by the overreaction of a dog’s immune system. An affected dog’s immune system perceives otherwise normal components of his body as threats and begins attacking them, much as a normal dog’s immune system would fight off an infection or other disease.

In addition to the lameness and stiffness mentioned earlier, other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can include:

  • appetite loss
  • fever
  • joint swelling
  • kidney problems
  • swollen lymph nodes 
  • pneumonia

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Is Diagnosed

As noted earlier, your veterinarian can use a variety of tests to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis in your dog. He or she will probably begin by giving your pet a physical examination and taking a complete history on your dog’s symptoms. You may be asked when the symptoms began, if they seem more or less severe at different times of the day, or if your dog injured himself prior to the symptoms beginning.

After the physical examination is complete, your dog may have some x-rays taken. Dogs with rheumatoid arthritis typically have bone loss that is visible on an x-ray. Many dogs appear to have holes in their bones, and their joints appear rough or are prone to spur-like projections growing on them.

Blood tests can also help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, but they can be less reliable than other diagnostic tests since the rheumatoid factor that the test detects is not present in all dogs that have rheumatoid arthritis.

Synovial fluid from your dog’s joints may be tested to see if it shows indications of rheumatoid arthritis, such as a cloudy appearance or thinner-than-normal consistency.

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Is Treated

Depending on the severity of your pet’s symptoms, his rheumatoid arthritis can be treated with a variety of medications, including anti-inflammatories or steroids. In some cases, special medications called immunosuppressives are used to control the dog’s overactive immune system, which can help control symptoms.

Do not attempt to use human arthritis medication on your dog without discussing it first with your veterinarian. Some human medications have proved useful for treating canine rheumatoid arthritis, but they must be administered under veterinary supervision to prevent complications.

In addition to medication, your dog may need to alter his daily routine. He may have to become accustomed to resting instead of playing all the time, but he will still require gentle exercise to help maintain his weight. His diet may also have to change to help prevent him from becoming overweight.

Presently, no cure exists for rheumatoid arthritis, but the condition can be successfully managed with medication and lifestyle changes to give your dog a good quality of life.