Arthritis is the term used in both human and veterinary medicine to describe any type of joint inflammation. Several types exist, including rheumatoid, degenerative, and infectious arthritis, each having a different cause. Infections, autoimmune diseases, trauma, and certain drugs, such as sulfa antibiotics, can promote joint inflammation.
The clinical signs associated with joint disease are basically the same. Stiffness or lameness involving one or more limbs is often the most obvious sign of a joint problem, usually aggravated by cold weather and/or exercise. New medications and surgical techniques have been introduced in the treatment of canine joint disease.
Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, describes the condition in which a cartilage defects or erosion occurs. It can be inherited but is usually a part of the normal aging process in older dogs. Infectious arthritis is caused by bacteria that gain entrance to the blood stream causing inflammation in one or more joints. Bacteria from the gums, periodontal disease, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease can cause damage to the cartilage and joint structure.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune-related disease seen frequently in toy breeds. Caused by an overactive immune system, antibodies coalesce within the joints causing inflammation. Fever and depression are also features of these diseases. Hip dysphasia refers to a hereditary arthritic condition which begins as a partial dislocation of the hip joints. In time the cartilages lining the joint surfaces wear down because of abnormal strain on the joints.
The key to lessoning the effects of any form of arthritis is early detection and treatment. Your veterinarian can prescribe antibiotics, immunosuppressive drugs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as vitamins and supplements, and even cortisone if needed. The real key is you and your observations to your veterinarian.