What is Rheumatoid Arthritis for Pets?
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease caused by the overreaction of the immune system to normal tissues, particularly the joints. A healthy and normal immune system works to identify and destroy foreign substances. These foreign substances are recognized by the presence of certain antigens. Once the antigens have been identified, the immune system produces antibodies to bind these antigens, effectively marking them for destruction. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body fails to properly identify normal tissues as normal and necessary. Instead the body produces antibodies for these normal tissue antigens. This destruction of normal tissues by the body is cause for the signs and symptoms, including inflammation.
Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is most commonly associated with joint inflammation, including the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. However, it is possible for rheumatoid arthritis to spread to certain organs. Rheumatoid arthritis has many signs and symptoms including:
- Joint aches
- Lack of appetite
Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare
The symptoms of arthritis are not typically constant, but vary based on environmental and genetic factors. When inflamed tissues are present, the disease is known to be active. When the inflammation has subsided, the disease is known to be in remission. Periods of remission can be caused by certain treatments or occur naturally depending upon the individual pet and surrounding circumstances. These periods of remission are typically associated with symptom relief lasting from short to extended periods of time. The rheumatoid arthritis flare is a period of time where signs and symptoms are prevalent. Arthritis flares are associated with increases in symptoms, particularly muscle and joint pain and aches, redness, fatigue, and low grade fever.
Identifying Joint Problems
There are many ways to identify if the joints of your pet are the cause of the problems. It is important to look for swelling or heat associated with the joints. Look for the presence of any tenderness when flexing or palpating a joint or redness. Some pets will become lame if the rheumatoid arthritis is currently flared. Your pet may not use the leg that is sore or may put more weight on one leg versus another. It is important as an owner to know your pet to identify problems.
Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
The diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is made possible only by the attention of the owner. Pets will show certain signs and symptoms during the development of rheumatoid arthritis. If your pet is showing any signs or symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis or joint pain in general, it is suggested that you contact your pet's veterinarian.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Prognosis
Currently there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are certain methods that can be used to decrease the overall presence of signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, these methods typically try for the prevention of further joint injury. It is possible to create an environment for your pet that enhances their overall quality of life.
Photo Credit: William J. Gibson, the Canuckshutterer