What is Polyarthritis?
Polyarthritis is multiple inflamed joints at the same time. Polyarthritis can be infectious or noninfectious, and symptoms will include fever, lameness, swollen joints, lethargy, and inappetence. Dogs with polyarthritis will experience joint stiffness, swelling, and pain in multiple joints simultaneously. Difficulty moving is common in dogs with polyarthritis.
The joints most often affected by polyarthritis are in a dog’s leg. The carpal joint, hock joint, and stifle or knee). To be diagnosed with polyarthritis, a dog must have at least five joints affected by the condition.
Signs of Canine Polyarthritis
In many cases, the signs and symptoms polyarthritis can develop quickly. Here are the signs that your dog’s joints are affected:
- Stiff walk
- Lameness or limping
- Reluctance to exercise, jump, or climb the stairs
- Exhibiting signs of pain such as whimpering, shaking, or lapping at joints. These symptoms may worsen when dog stands up and walks.
If your dog exhibits any signs of joint pain, discomfort, or swollen joints they need to be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Infectious Polyarthritis is known as septic arthritis. This is commonly seen after a traumatic injury has exposed the joint to contamination by environmental microorganisms after surgery, or when microorganisms enter the joints through the bloodstream causing inflammation.
After drawing blood to confirm septic polyarthritis, your dog will be placed on an antibiotic. You will also need to clean and flush out the infected joint to ensure the infection being treated stays away. While your dog is healing, you can alternate between icing and heating the affected joints to ease the pain and limit your dog’s movement. Depending on the joints affected, a splint can be helpful to keep joints stable while they heal, or a lifting harness can help you ease the weight put on your dog’s joints.
Noninfectious forms of polyarthritis arthritis can be classified as erosive such as rheumatoid arthritis, Greyhound polyarthritis, and feline progressive polyarthritis or non-erosive. Non-erosive forms are called Immune-mediated Polyarthritis. Immune Mediated Polyarthritis is an abnormal immune response by the body attacking the joints. This abnormal immune response can be caused by an auto-immune response by the body against its own joint tissues or, less commonly, by an infection.
After taking blood tests, urine and joint cultures, and joint taps to determine if the arthritis is not caused by an infection, it will be diagnosed as “autoimmune” polyarthritis.
After diagnosis, your vet will prescribe prednisone, a corticosteroid hormone that suppresses the immune system. Treatment can take several months, and as the symptoms reduce, your vet will gradually lower the dosage of medications until they are no longer needed. However, often dogs do relapse and need to be treated again.
Splints for Dogs with Polyarthritis
To help stabilize the affected joint while being treated, splints are an excellent healing aid. Look for a leg splint that will support multiple points on the lower leg, such as the wrist and carpal or ankle and tarsal joint. In addition, dogs whose toes are affected will need a splint that fully protects under the paw as well as the leg.
Different dog splints include:
- Adjustable Splint – this splint is for front or back legs. The adjustable width adjusts to accommodate swollen joints comfortably. This is the ideal solution for dogs with inflamed joints due to polyarthritis in the lower leg.
- Rear Splint – a lower leg splint for the hind leg that supports the hock joint, ankle, and paw.
- Front Splint – a front leg splint that supports the lower leg, including the carpal, wrist, and paw.
- Carpal Splint – supports the lower front leg and carpal only.
- Hock Splint – a hind leg splint that supports the lower back leg and tarsal joint only.
Before selecting a splint, always confirm with your veterinarian that your are picking a splint that will offer the right joint support. Dogs with painful and swollen joints may have difficulty bearing full weight on the affected leg or legs. A dog wheelchair or support harness can help to reduce the weight placed on the inflamed joint and make it easier for the dog to walk during recovery.