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What is Stiffness and Inflammation?

Dogs, like their humans, are susceptible stiffness and inflammation for a number of reasons. Stiffness and pain in the joints can be a symptom of disorders as diverse as arthritis, bacterial encephalitis, and parasitic infestations.

Dogs may experience stiffness and inflammation for a number of reasons, from simple overexertion to dangerous illnesses. If your dog experiences unexplained stiffness, a veterinary professional should be consulted.

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Symptoms of Stiffness and Inflammation in Dogs

There are several indicators that your pet may be experiencing stiffness or inflammation somewhere in their body. Some of the signs of discomfort you may see can include:

  • Awkward gait
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Localized redness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle spasms
  • Reluctance to rise
  • Rigidity of the limbs
  • Swelling
  • Unusual vocalizations
  • Vomiting 

Types

Stiffness and Inflammation are not only conditions of the bones and joints, but inflammation can cause stiffness due to its effects on the muscles or nerves as well. 

  • Brain and Nerves - In some cases, inflammation of the brain and the nerves can cause a dog to be stiff or to have a stiffened gait; diseases like meningitis, bacterial encephalitis, and acquired myasthenia gravis, are known to cause inflammation that affects the nerves and the brain 
  • Joints - One of the most common causes of stiffness and inflammation in dogs is arthritis, an inflammatory disease of the joints; osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis, is due to stress on the joints and bones, whereas immune-mediated arthritis conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are caused by the immune system attacking the surfaces of the joints and the cartilage
  • Muscles - A temporary stiffness of the muscles is frequently related to simple overexertion, but it is not the only trigger of stiffened and painful muscles; parasitic infestations such as toxoplasmosis as well as some viral and bacterial infections can induce stiff and swollen muscles, as can an abnormal immune reaction to the muscles themselves

Causes of Stiffness and Inflammation in Dogs

Stiffness and Inflammation in canines can be activated by several conditions. Stiffness is frequently triggered by diseases that are typically associated with age such as arthritis and dysplasia, but infestations of parasites or viral or bacterial infections can also cause both inflammation and stiffness. These conditions can affect all the muscles, joints, or nerves in the body or may affect only small clusters of these tissues.

Diagnosis of Stiffness and Inflammation in Dogs

Your dog’s veterinarian will typically start the appointment by performing a thorough physical examination in order to evaluate the general health of the patient as well as to assist them in pinpointing the central location of the stiffness and pain. Standard diagnostic blood tests, such as a urinalysis, complete blood count, and biochemistry profile, would generally be recommended in order to determine if there are any infections or hormonal imbalances that may be contributing to the dog’s distress. X-ray imaging is frequently utilized to clearly visualize the condition of the bones as well as getting a clear image of any joints that may be involved. 

When disorders such as dysplasia or arthritis are suspected, the examining vet may also choose to take a sample of the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint capsule for further evaluation. If a neurological disorder is suspected, then the examining veterinarian may also choose to perform a neurological examination by evaluating the animal’s position, dilation of the eyes, and range of motion and reflexes.

Treatment of Stiffness and Inflammation in Dogs

The treatment for dogs that are experiencing stiffness and inflammation will vary depending on the underlying condition that is instigating the symptoms. If your dog is showing signs of distress or dehydration when you visit the clinic, they will be set up on an IV line both to provide hydration and help manage any imbalances. Dogs with certain types of severe arthritis may be able to reduce some of the stiffness, inflammation, and pain using surgical procedures, and medications may be offered, depending on the condition that is being treated. In most cases, some form of pain management, usually in the form of anti-inflammatory medication, will be offered, and in cases of infection or infestation, the proper antibacterial, antifungal, or insecticide will be administered to eliminate the invader. Immunosuppressant and steroid based drugs may also be recommended for dogs that are experiencing the stiffness and swelling due to an abnormal immune response.

Recovery of Stiffness and Inflammation in Dogs

There are many changes that you can make in your home environment to ensure that it is more comfortable for you pet if they are afflicted by a disorder that causes inflammation and stiffness. Some of the methods that can be employed can include:

  • Employing area rugs for traction on slippery floors
  • Ensuring food and water are within close reach
  • Maintaining a moderate temperature indoors
  • Providing a warm, padded bed 
  • Reducing narrow spaces, particularly spaces between furniture
  • Regularly checking and trimming nails 
  • Supplementing the dog’s diet with glucosamine and omega-3’s
  • Use non-stick stair treads on stairs to prevent falls 
  • Using specialized ramps or stairs to avoid jumping 
  • Utilizing skid-proof socks for your dog

Stiffness and Inflammation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Star
Border Collie/Beagle
10 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Hesitant to jump

I rescued an older dog from the shelter a little over a year ago. She is a medium small dog seemingly in great health, loves to lounge whenever I'm relaxing but is very active and spry at a moments notice. I was working and letting her play outside and she got herself nice and muddy. So I decided to give her a nice warm bath as it had been a few months anyways. I swear to god since we got done with the bath she hasn't been the same. She shows every sign of arthritis, I just wonder if the bath could have something to do with it.

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Lola
Aussie-poo
1 Year
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Stiffness

Hello everyone. My 1 year old aussiedoodle pup Lola suddenly has stiffness in her back legs when she gets up but it goes away after a few seconds. Her stiffness seems to be getting worse but still lasts a few seconds. I felt her back legs when it happens and the tendon just becomes stiff almost like a leg cramp. In the past 2 months she’s had dental surgery for impacted teeth and then right after she had giardia but was quickly treated and is fine now. For the surgery and giardia she had to take antibiotics and pain killers. I brought her to the vet twice last week and her heart worm test came back normal. The vet said she was hydrated but couldn’t find anything else. She spends 4-6 hours in a crate, 4-5 hours in day care where she’s free to play around other dogs (she loves that, totally obsessed with dogs). This started happening almost a month ago. She eats either Orijen or acana and natural organic treats most of the time. Sorry for the long description but thought it would help asnswer any background questions. Thanks in advance for your help!

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Ollie
Cavoodle
10 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Leg stiffness

My 10 yr old Cavoodle, Ollie, has in the past few days, been limping a bit and it seems it's his front left leg, which will suddenly go rigid, like it's cramped up or something. It seems to be happening more often as the day goes on. He'll be walking fine then all of a sudden his leg goes out dead straight. He seems fine otherwise but sometimes will whimper slightly when it goes rigid. He had a big swimming day last weekend which may have upset his joints or muscles somehow. He loves the water and he never seems to want to leave the beach. I'm reluctant to go to the vet due to the high cost of x-rays, blood tests etc. Should I give it a few days before seeing the vet. As I said, he seems fine otherwise. Thanks in advance.

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Sophia
Cockapoo
14 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Stiffness

My dog is 14 years old her name is Sophia, she is a pretty small cockapoo. A few days ago we noticed she was limping on her front right paw, now all of her legs are going stiff but she does not cry when I touch them or try to massage them. She’s barely walking, doesn’t want to play. And she is always laying down, she can’t stand for too long. She also trembles a little bit when she tries to stand up. Even sometimes when laying down. She doesn’t want to go up and down steps.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Older dogs may present with various different musculoskeletal problems, without examining Sophia it is difficult to say what possible injury or other issue (arthritis etc…) she may have; you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to check the leg and to get her some pain relief as required to make her more comfortable. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Nemo
Chihuahua
7 Years
Serious condition
2 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Confusion

My dog has stiff legs, won't move or walk, has to carried all the time. He doesn't cry when I touch his legs, but they are really stiff. It started on Friday night/Saturday morning when started to cry for me to take him out to do potty & he was also vomiting. I then noticed him not being able to walk straight, was walking backwards & his front legs where bending as if he was losing balance & falling on his face but his back legs where still strong. By Sunday morning he was completely different, not wagging his tail or moving his body from the neck down, he was not showing signs of pain although I gave him children's Motrin since I notice him the 1st time. I have been feeding him & he's doing well on eating & drinking. He's gone potty every time I take him outside, I just hold him up so can go. I've also been massaging his legs & giving "motion therapy" to help with blood flow & not have his muscles go completely stiff as well as a heating pad. He's been doing good when I do this & so far he's able now to bend one of his back legs. This happend to him before but not as severe as it has Now, not as many days. Now, what can b causing this to happen to him?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Thank you for contacting us about Nemo. I can't examine him or diagnose anything, but it sounds like he may have some spinal concerns. If he has a disc that is bulging and putting pressure on his spinal cord, he might show those signs. He could also have an infection or a growth in his spinal canal, or a systemic disease that is causing those signs. It would be best to take him today to see his veterinarian and have him examined and started on treatment.

This is exactly what is happening to our chihuahua. Is it fatal

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Max
Snorkie
4 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Stiffness

Within the last couple weeks I’ve noticed twice that my dog has had small episodes of stiffness where he can barely walk and his front and back legs clench up. These periods only last for a couple seconds or if I touch him he relaxes. I have also noticed a small rash one on his side and one near the top of his rear. Could his sudden stiffness be because of his rash? Or what do you think the stiffness can be caused from?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. WIthout examining Max, I'm not sure what might be causing the stiffness, but I doubt that it is related to the rash. It would be best to have him examined by your veterinarian, as they will be able to look at him, determine what might be going on, and get him any treatments that he might need. it would probably be helpful to have a video of the episodes, as he may not show the behavior during the appointment.

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Chica
Chihuahua
9 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Pain
Stiffness

My dog suddenly became very lethargic, when I come home from work she normally runs to the door wagging her tail and jumping up and down. Today she stayed laying on the couch. I picked her up and got her off the couch and onto the ground and noticed her hind legs looked stiff and she was walking uncomfortably as if she needed a good stretch. I started rubbing her to get her warm and she yelped in pain and I touched her hind leg. It's the end of the day and she's still in pain. She's eaten and is staying hydrated and she'll walk on her own, though sluggish.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
It sounds like Chica may be in pain, whether it is arthritis, joint pain, or an injury. It would be a good idea to have her seen by a veterinarian as soon as you can, as they can examine her, determine what might be going on, and get any treatment for her that she may need.

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John gotti
pitbull
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Medication Used

Phenobarbital

My pitbull has been having seizure attack took him to the vet they gave him meds the next day he was stiff from the neck down is he always going to be like this or what can i do to help with this stiffness

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
It really depends on what is causing the stiffness, however it is important to give John Gotti some time after this event to fully recover; give the medication as prescribed but if there is no improvement you should return to your Veterinarian to determine whether this is related directly to the seizure or another cause (slipped disc etc…). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Roxy
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
8 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Mass
Loss of Appetite

Took my dog 4 a walk less than a week ago over the past couple of days she is very stiff on her back legs drinking lots more water not eating & her eyes are very red & blood shot she os a Staffordshire bull terrier & unsure of her age as i rescued her from some one through a mutaual friend i habe an appointment booked at vets for tomorrow she isnt whining with pain or anything she is urinating alot more & has diohrrea is there anything i can do till she is seen by a vet

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
I can't think of anything that you need to do until your appointment with Roxy. She does sound like she needs to be seen, and evaluated to try and find out with is going on with her. For tonight, just keeping her quiet and making sure that she has enough water would be a good idea. I hope that all goes well for her.

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Trip
Chihuahua
4 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Stiffness
Fever
Painful movements
Sways while sitting
Doesnt want to move

Medication Used

Benadryl 25

My dog is running fever, crying when moves, shakes and stiff when you touch him. He doesnt want to walk or go out to potty. Has to be carried and/or lifted now. Its been going on for about a week. What could be causing this?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations

There are a few causes of joint pain and fever in dogs which include tick borne diseases (would need a prescription from your Veterinarian), Valley Fever (disseminated form - especially if you live in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, California or Utah), other infectious diseases, immune mediated polyarthritis among other causes; it would be best to have Trip examined by your Veterinarian as each condition has a different treatment and therefore requires an accurate diagnosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Breena
Boston Terrier
12 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Stiffness
Wobbly

My blind dog has been distant for the last month. I thought maybe with her worsening sight she’s lost at night. Then I found an infected tooth and she had a dental to have 4 bad teeth removed. Thought she might feel better but got worse to where it looked like her hips were weak. I made a vet appointment for the next day for her hips but that night she started falling over, standing and trembling and wobbling. Her back leg had a mind of its own the her front leg started the same thing. On the right side only. She was on Rimadyl from her dental (2 weeks ago) so that did not help. I took video and showed my vet. She doesn’t correct her feet when we bend them. We took X-rays but didn’t see anything. She doesn’t cry but will tremble and pant if I pick her up to lay with me then she’s restless and wants to get down then walks circles around the couch. My obsessive cuddler doesn’t want to cuddle. She eats and drinks good. We started giving her steroids and muscle relaxers to rule out muscle pain for 3 days now. I can’t tell if she’s getting better or just getting better at living with it but she’s not getting worse. They mentioned neurological and to get a CT scan.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
As I was reading your question I was thinking at a minimum, a neurological examination with a Specialist would be the next steps given the symptoms and changes in behaviour (cuddly dog not cuddling). You may try a medical route with steroids and muscle relaxants as you are trying right now, but it would be best to wean Breena off the steroids before visiting any Specialist as they may skew the results of an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Tobby
Cocker Spaniel
6 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

limping / not eating

woke up this morning and my dog is very quiet didint want to go for a walk just laying all the time . did not ate most of the day . now he is limping. what shall I do ?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Without examining Toby it is difficult to say what is causing the symptoms, however you should try to keep him rested and monitor for improvement; if there is no improvement you should pop into your Veterinarian for an examination to look for signs of trauma or anything else concerning. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Mister
Chihuahua.
9 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Moans when you pick him up

My dogs mid section is very hard and rigid. He had 2 X-rays and they found a couple of kidney stones and bacteria. He was given antibiotics and pain meds but 3 days later he is still very stiff. He paces and pants and doesn’t want to be in the same room with us or jump on the couch. All labs normal, but he is clearly in pain and very stiff.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
If Mister has been diagnosed with kidney stones, those can be quite painful, and he may need supplemental pain medications. I don't know what medications he is on, but it would be a good idea to contact his veterinarian and let them know that he is not comfortable.

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Teira
Labrador Retriever
5 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Stiffness

My dog is usually very bouncy, runs everywhere up and down off the sofa and bed, running up the stairs and also bounces on her hind legs. The past few days she hasn’t done any of these. She is taking the stairs slow and taking to lying on the floor which is not like her. She hasn’t shown any signs of pain other than one small Yelp when trying to get onto the sofa. I have rubbed all her legs, feet and hips and no sign of discomfort

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Dogs can sometimes injure their necks, or backs, or have pinched nerves that cause them pain. The things that Teira is doing make this seem like she might have injured herself in this way, somehow. Since is has been going on for a few days, it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian, as they will be able to assess her neurologic function, determine where she is hurting, and get her medications so that she feels better. I hope that everything goes well for her.

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Bambi
Miniature Pinscher
9 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Stiffness

My dog suddenly collapsed a few days ago. He now has muscle stiffness on just the right side of his body. He shivers all the time but doesn’t seem to be in any pain. He’s unable to stand up on his own.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Bambi should be seen by a veterinarian immediately if he is having the signs that you are describing. Without examining him, I cannot determine what might be going on with him, but a veterinarian will be able to look at him, determine what might be happening, and get any treatment for him that he needs.

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Titan
Golden Retriever
11 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Stiff, trouble walking, whimper

I took my 11 year old golden retriever to the groomer for a summer cut three days ago. While in the past he has come back a bit stiff and cannot walk for 24 hours, this time it is worse than usual. It seems his front left leg is not moving as well. He does have weak hind legs; otherwise he is in great shape and even that morning we played fetch. He cries when I try to pick him up and his left front leg just collapsed on him. He had some appetite yesterday but today is worse. Any ideas?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
When a dog is groomed there is a certain amount of restraint and handling which may result in some stiffness or soreness especially if Titan isn’t calm during grooming (in no way am I suggesting the groomer mistreated Titan). However, if he is still sore after three days I would recommend that you visit your Veterinarian to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Diamond
Morkie
8 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Walking tenderly

My dog Diamond is walking real stiff and not jumping on bed. I walked her shortly this morning and seemed ok. When I Came home this evening she was fine walking/jumping on bed and playing. She is eating/drinking and using bathroom fine. Later this evening she is walking stiff again in her back legs. She is not crying but does moan a little when I pick her up.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Without examining Diamond and possibly taking an x-ray or two (if indicated) I cannot say what the specific cause is; hip disorders, patellar disorders, spinal issues, abdominal pain among other issues may cause similar symptoms. Try to give Diamond some strict rest for a few days and visit your Veterinarian if you don’t see any improvement. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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