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Polyarthritis in Dogs

Polyarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnoses, and Treatment

Polyarthritis in dogs refers to a joint inflammation condition that affects multiple joints in the body, leading to swollen joints, mobility issues, and general discomfort. 

Polyarthritis is caused by immune-mediated, infectious, bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, genetic predisposition, or trauma resulting from injuries to multiple joints.

Symptoms of polyarthritis in dogs, known as polyarthropathy, include limping or lameness, stiffness after rest, swollen and warm joints, being less active, and showing signs of pain such as whimpering or reluctance to be touched. Dogs develop a fever in certain instances.

Veterinarians diagnose polyarthritis and similar joint problems in dogs through a physical examination, X-rays, blood tests, joint fluid analysis, and joint biopsy. 

Treating polyarthritis in dogs involves a combination of medications, therapies, and exercises to reduce inflammation and pain. Medications like NSAIDs help alleviate pain and inflammation in cases of sudden swollen joints in dogs, while immune-suppressing drugs are prescribed in immune-mediated cases.

What is Polyarthritis in Dogs?

Polyarthritis in dogs is an inflammatory condition affecting the joints, leading to pain, swelling, and reduced mobility. The condition is a form of arthritis where the immune system attacks the joints, causing chronic inflammation and discomfort for the affected dogs. “Polyarthritis in dogs is characterized by suppurative inflammation in two or more joints, with underlying disease processes often not identified with intestinal disease, neoplasia, and SLE being uncommon causes, and Lyme disease seropositivity being common,” according to the study by Rondeau, M., Walton, R., Bissett, S., Drobatz, K., & Washabau, R. titled “Suppurative, nonseptic polyarthropathy in dogs,” 2005.

Polyarthritis is a form of arthritis in dogs that manifests differently in each canine, with some exhibiting mild symptoms and others experiencing severe limitations in movement due to swollen joints in dogs. Ongoing inflammation leads to cartilage damage and degeneration. A common symptom of polyarthritis is lameness, where a dog favors one limb or shows reluctance to engage in physical activities. Polyarthritis progresses rapidly, affecting multiple joints simultaneously and causing swollen joints in dogs with immense pain in severe cases.

How common is Polyarthritis in Dogs?

Polyarthritis is relatively uncommon in dogs, with some breeds or individual dogs being more susceptible than others. “Polyarthritis is a common cause of locomotor abnormalities in dogs, but true lameness and articular pain are not common clinical findings. The incidence of polyarthritis in dogs was 0.37%,” according to the study by Jacques, D., Cauzinille, L., Bouvy, B., & Dupré, G. titled “A retrospective study of 40 dogs with polyarthritis,” 2002. 

Veterinarians diagnose polyarthritis in dogs based on specific symptoms, blood tests, and joint examinations to determine the extent of the condition. Cats rarely suffer from polyarthritis compared to dogs. “Inflammatory arthritis in cats is relatively rare compared to dogs, with infectious causes being far more common,” according to the study by Perry, K. titled “The lame cat: inflammatory arthritis,” 2015.

Some dog breeds have a higher predisposition to polyarthritis in dogs due to genetic factors. Environmental influences like diet, exercise, and overall health play a role in developing joint swelling in dogs.

Is Polyarthritis a Common Dog Autoimmune Disease?

No, polyarthritis is not a common dog autoimmune disease. Polyarthritis in dogs is an autoimmune disease, specifically immune-mediated polyarthritis, where the immune system mistakenly targets the joints, leading to inflammation and joint damage. “Type I immune-mediated polyarthritis (IMPA) in dogs is a rare autoimmune disease, with chemotherapy immunosuppression resulting in complete cure in 56% of dogs,” according to the study by Clements, D., Gear, R., Tattersall, J., Carmichael, S., & Bennett, D. titled “Type I immune-mediated polyarthritis in dogs: 39 cases (1997-2002),” 2004.

The immune-mediated response causes the dog's body's defense system to attack the joints, triggering an inflammatory cascade that results in pain, swelling, and stiffness. A dog’s immune system attempts to protect the body and harms the joints it is supposed to safeguard. The dog autoimmune disease affects the joints' structural integrity and hampers their function, leading to mobility issues for the affected dogs.

What are the Causes of Polyarthritis in Dogs?

The causes of polyarthritis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Infectious Diseases: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections lead to polyarthritis. Examples include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, leptospirosis, and fungal infections like blastomycosis.
  • Immune-Mediated Diseases: Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's tissues, causing polyarthritis. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus fall into the autoimmune disorder category.
  • Joint Trauma or Injury: Joint injuries, such as fractures, ligament tears, or joint instability, cause inflammation and polyarthritis.
  • Degenerative Joint Diseases: Conditions like osteoarthritis, where joint cartilage wears away over time, lead to inflammation in multiple joints, observable as joint swelling in dogs.
  • Genetic Predisposition: Genetic factors make certain breeds more susceptible to developing polyarthritis.
  • Tick-borne Diseases: Tick-borne illnesses like Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis cause joint inflammation and other symptoms.
  • Systemic Diseases: Systemic conditions, such as systemic fungal infections or certain types of cancers, manifest with joint inflammation as one of the symptoms.
  • Nutritional Imbalance: Inadequate nutrition or imbalances in the diet contribute to joint inflammation and related conditions.
  • Toxicity: Ingestion of certain toxins or exposure to harmful substances leads to joint inflammation and other health issues.
  • Endocrine Disorders: Conditions affecting hormone regulation, such as hypothyroidism, sometimes result in polyarthritis.

Is Polyarthritis in Dogs Hereditary?

Yes, polyarthritis in dogs is hereditary in some instances. Polyarthritis has various underlying causes, including joint diseases or autoimmune conditions. Some conditions feature a genetic root that passes down within certain breeds. “Juvenile-onset polyarthritis syndrome in Akitas resembles juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in humans, with heritable components and immunosuppressive drugs showing effectiveness in treating the condition,” according to the study by Dougherty, S., Center, S., Shaw, E., & Erb, H. titled “Juvenile-onset polyarthritis syndrome in Akitas,” 1991. 

Environmental factors, diet, and lifestyle affect the condition's occurrence. Proper breeding practices, health screening, regular veterinary care, and early intervention are essential for managing polyarthritis and improving the quality of life for affected dogs.

Can Polyarthritis Affect Dog's Mobility?

Yes, polyarthritis can significantly affect a dog's mobility. The condition causes stiffness, pain, and discomfort in the joints, reducing movement and activity levels

The inflammation and damage by sudden swollen joints in dogs associated with polyarthritis in dogs hinders the dog's ability to walk, run, or perform everyday activities. Limited mobility manifests in various ways, such as reluctance to climb stairs, difficulty getting up from lying down, or a change in gait.

What are the Symptoms of Polyarthritis in Dogs?

The symptoms of polyarthritis in dogs are listed below.

  • Lameness or Limping: Dogs with polyarthritis exhibit lameness or limping tendencies if multiple joints are affected.
  • Reluctance to Move: Dogs with polyarthritis show unwillingness to move or seem stiff, particularly after periods of rest.
  • Swollen Joints: Inflammation appears as puffy or dog joint inflammation, with heat emanating from the affected areas.
  • Pain on Touch: Dogs become less active or reluctant to participate in activities they once enjoyed due to joint pain and discomfort.
  • Fever: A dog with polyarthritis sometimes develops a fever if an infectious agent causes the inflammation.
  • Lethargy: Dogs with polyarthritis appear sluggish or tired, as inflammation and pain affect their overall energy levels.
  • Appetite Loss: Some dogs experience a loss of appetite or decreased food intake due to pain or discomfort.
  • Stiffness: The dog’s affected joints have a reduced range of motion and difficulty bending or flexing its limbs.
  • Behavioral Changes: Dogs in pain exhibit changes in behavior, such as increased irritability, restlessness, or reluctance to be touched.
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes: Polyarthropathy in dogs is caused by an infectious disease where swollen lymph nodes and joint symptoms are palpable.

How do Veterinarians Diagnose Polyarthritis in Dogs?

Veterinarians diagnose polyarthritis in dogs through a combination of clinical examinations, blood tests to assess inflammatory markers, joint fluid analysis, and imaging studies like radiographs or ultrasounds. The comprehensive approach helps determine the extent of joint involvement and guides treatment decisions for the affected dogs.

Diagnosing polyarthritis involves blood tests to determine the inflammatory response within the dog's body. Joint fluid analysis confirms the diagnosis by examining the synovial fluid for the presence of inflammatory cells and crystals. “The diagnosis of polyarthritis in dogs is based on clinical features, joint swelling, pain, muscle atrophy, and chronic active inflammation in muscle and synovium,” according to the study by  Bennett, D., & Kelly, D. titled “Immune‐based non‐erosive inflammatory joint disease of the dog. 2. Polyarthritis/polymyositis syndrome,” 1987.

Imaging techniques such as radiographs or ultrasounds allow veterinarians to visualize structural changes in the joints, aiding in identifying any erosions, soft tissue swelling, or joint effusion.

What are the Tests done to diagnose Swollen Joints in Dogs?

The tests done to diagnose swollen joints in dogs involve veterinary laboratory examinations to analyze joint fluid for signs of inflammation and infection. Imaging tests like ultrasounds or radiographs provide detailed insights into the extent of joint damage and the underlying causes of dog arthritis swelling. “Diagnosis of septic arthritis in dogs is confirmed by physical and orthopedic examinations, evaluation of radiographs, and synovial fluid analysis including leukocyte and neutrophil counts, cytological examination, and bacterial culture,” according to the study by Soontornvipart, K., Kohout, P., & Proks, P. titled “Septic Arthritis in Dogs: A Retrospective Study of 20 Cases (2000-2002),” 2003.

A sample of joint fluid is collected through arthrocentesis for laboratory examinations. The sample is analyzed for cell counts, protein levels, and the presence of microorganisms. The veterinarian performs the tests to determine if elevated levels of white blood cells or bacteria indicate the presence of infection or inflammation.

Ultrasounds are beneficial for visualizing soft tissue structures within the joint, while radiographs offer detailed images of bone structures. Both tests reveal abnormalities such as joint effusion, cartilage damage, or bone erosion, aiding in accurately diagnosing polyarthritis and other joint disorders.

How serious are Polyarthritis Dogs?

Polyarthritis in dogs is a serious condition that leads to chronic pain, joint deformities, and secondary infections if left untreated. “Polyarthritis in dogs is a common cause of locomotor abnormalities, with 80% having difficulty walking and 35% being lame,” according to the study by Jacques, D., Cauzinille, L., Bouvy, B., & Dupré, G. titled “A retrospective study of 40 dogs with polyarthritis. Proper management and control of polyarthritis are essential to prevent further complications and ensure the well-being of the affected dogs” 2002.

Polyarthritis causes significant discomfort for the dog when it sets in, affecting their mobility and overall quality of life. The inflammation in multiple joints progresses rapidly, impacting the dog's ability to move freely. The heightened risk of joint deformities results in permanent damage and mobility issues. Untreated polyarthritis makes the joints more susceptible to infections, further complicating the condition and posing risks to the dog's systemic health.

Can Dogs Die from Arthritis?

No, dogs cannot die from arthritis. Arthritis is not a direct cause of death in dogs, but severe cases of untreated arthritis or complications from related conditions impact a dog's overall health and lifespan. 

Arthritis in dogs leads to decreased mobility and chronic pain, which affects their daily activities and comfort. Reduced mobility contributes to obesity, further exacerbating joint strain and discomfort.

Managing arthritis in dogs involves targeting the symptoms and providing supportive care to strengthen their immune system. A compromised immune system makes dogs more susceptible to infections and other illnesses, worsening their overall condition.

What are the Treatments for Polyarthritis in Dogs?

The treatments for polyarthritis in dogs are listed below.

  • Anti-inflammatory Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce inflammation and alleviate pain in affected joints. The medications improve mobility and overall comfort in dogs with polyarthritis. NSAIDs must be used under veterinary supervision due to side effects.
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are prescribed to suppress inflammation and relieve joint pain and swelling. The medications carry side effects and are typically used for short-term management or combined with other treatments.
  • Disease-Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs (DMOADs): DMOADs, such as polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs) or pentosan polysulfate sodium (PPS), slow the progression of arthritis and protect joint cartilage. The drugs are normally administered through an injection.
  • Pain Management: Additional pain management strategies include tramadol, gabapentin, or other analgesic medications to control pain and improve the dog's quality of life.
  • Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation: Physical therapy techniques such as therapeutic exercises, massage, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture improve joint mobility, strengthen muscles, and alleviate pain in dogs with polyarthritis.
  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for dogs with arthritis, as excess weight exacerbates joint pain and strain. A balanced diet and regular exercise tailored to the dog's abilities help manage weight and reduce joint stress.
  • Nutritional Supplements: Supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants support joint health and reduce inflammation.
  • Surgery: Severe joint damage or instability requires surgical interventions, joint replacement, or corrective procedures to improve mobility and alleviate pain.
  • Management of Underlying Conditions: Treatment of the underlying cause is essential for managing joint inflammation if polyarthritis has an underlying condition such as an infection or autoimmune disease.
  • Regular Veterinary Monitoring: Dogs with polyarthritis require regular veterinary monitoring to assess their response to treatment, adjust medications as needed, and address any new developments or complications.

How can CBD Oil help treat Polyarthritis in Dogs?

CBD oil helps treat polyarthritis in dogs by reducing inflammation, alleviating pain, and improving overall joint function. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound derived from the cannabis plant. CBD is one of over a hundred cannabinoids found in cannabis, but unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it does not produce a "high" sensation. CBD for dogs usually contains CBD extract derived from hemp plants added with flavors.

The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD for pets complement traditional treatment approaches and provide additional relief for managing polyarthritis dogs. “CBD, especially liposomal formulations, shows potential in relieving canine osteoarthritis pain and increasing mobility without significant adverse effects,” according to the study by Verrico, C., Wesson, S., Konduri, V., Hofferek, C., Vazquez-Perez, J., Blair, E., Dunner, K., Salimpour, P., Decker, W., & Halpert, M. titled “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of daily cannabidiol for the treatment of canine osteoarthritis pain,” 2020.

How can Boosting a Dog's immune System help prevent Polyarthritis in Dogs?

Boosting a dog’s immune system can help prevent polyarthritis in the following ways. 

  1. Reduces Inflammatory Responses: A robust immune system is well-regulated and effectively manages inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a key component of polyarthritis, so a balanced immune response helps prevent excessive joint inflammation, reducing the risk of polyarthritis development.
  2. Prevents Autoimmune Attacks: Polyarthritis sometimes results from autoimmune disorders where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's tissues, including joint tissues. A healthy immune system with proper regulation helps prevent such autoimmune attacks, reducing the likelihood of autoimmune-related polyarthritis.
  3. Enhances Overall Health: A strong immune system indicates positive overall health. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, adequate rest, and stress management contribute to a dog immune system boost. The body is better equipped to fend off infections and inflammatory conditions like polyarthritis by maintaining overall health.
Aids in Quick Recovery: A strong immune system aids in the healing process if a dog develops joint inflammation or injury. A well-functioning immune system helps clear pathogens, promotes tissue repair, and resolves inflammation efficiently, leading to quicker recovery from joint-related issues and reducing the risk of chronic inflammation that leads to polyarthropathy.