Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a serious disease normally associated with humans that can affect pets, although it is a rare condition in animals. The disease is especially painful for dogs but there are ways to learn how to identify the most common symptoms and provide our dogs with proper medical treatment in time.
About Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis (CRA)
Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition that affects primarily the joints, causing joint pain, cartilage degradation and eventual deformity in the limbs. It is caused by the misidentification of somebody proteins, specifically the ones in charge of building up the joints, as foreign matter by the immune system, which then tries to eradicate the foreign bodies as usual. Sometimes CRA is also associated with the distemper virus since traces of this virus have been found in the joints of some animals with this condition.
CRA tends to affect small and toy breeds like Miniature Poodle and Shetland sheepdog, but it can also affect bigger breeds like Greyhounds.
The most characteristic symptoms of CRA are:
- Painful Joints
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen Joints
- Intermittent Fever
- Limb atrophy
- Kidney Disease
- Muscle wasting and severe joint deformity in advanced cases
The order of appearance of the first symptoms can vary from dog to dog and seem intermittent, but it is necessary to pay special attention to joint pain and the level of stiffness because these can appear in more than one joint and switch from one side to another.
CRA could be classified into two categories, depending on the affected breed:
Idiopathic: Can occur in all dogs, but mostly small breeds. The onset of symptoms is between two to four years of age, in both male and female dogs.
Erosive: This affects Greyhounds, with an onset between three months to 2.5 years of age. Normally, the symptoms for the erosive disease are similar to those of the idiopathic disease, but with slower progress and less destructive to the joints.
As well as the human condition, causes for Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis are relatively unknown. Also, it is kind of difficult to make a diagnose because the factors are not always present in blood samples if the dog is currently having a burst of symptoms, and that’s the main reason why its symptoms are normally associated with other affections or diseases. There are some genetic markers discovered to predict if CRA will develop or not but sometimes CRA appears as a complication of another condition, such as Cancer.
The most common methods to diagnose CRA are Blood Tests and Radiology. Radiology can reveal the swelling and other problems in the joints or other organs, like the kidneys or the lack of bone mass. In addition, the veterinarian can choose to do the biopsy on a tissue to check inflammation or examine the synovial fluids from the joints to check for cloudiness and consistency.
Treatment and Recovery
Since CRA is a chronic condition, there is no cure available now, but the treatment can help the dog feel better and be a little more active by reducing the intensity of the symptoms. Most treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, based on steroids or immunosuppressive. Medications used in humans for RA, like methotrexate, are also used for CRA in dogs.
As for therapies, hydrotherapy is highly recommended to increase the dog mobility as well as massage therapy for tissue oxygenation. Dietary changes and supplementation with Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and Fish Oils are used in case the affected dog is overweight. For recovery, an orthopedic dog bed made from high-density foam and equipped with heat features is helpful with pain and stress relieving from the joints.