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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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Stiffness and Inflammation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Labrabull

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Six Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly

I have a six year old male Lab/Pit mix. He woke up yesterday morning and did not eat his breakfast but my roommate informed me he ate later in the day and ate dinner. However over night he could not sleep, threw up, and is now urinating for very long periods of time (up to four minutes). Has had no appetite today, has been drinking water though, and since I got home a few hours ago he has been very stiff and looks like he is "drunk walking". I am calling the vet tomorrow to schedule an appointment, but my roommate and I think we may need to take him to an emergency veterinarian.

Aug. 13, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. If he is still acting wobbly or unstable, I would take him into the ER. If he seems to settle down and was able to go to sleep, and is acting a little bit more normally, then I think calling your veterinarian this morning would be best. I hope that all goes well for him.

Aug. 13, 2020

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Rat Terrier mix

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Twelve Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Stiffness And Swelling

My sweet 12 year old rat terrier mix has had two separate episodes. She get very stiff, her legs, body and especially her neck. Walks very little and wobbly. Just wants to lay down. She whimpers and moans loudly. First time it took a day to recoup, then about a month later we are dealing with another episode. She has had diarrhea and no appetite. We will get her to a vet as soon as we can, but with Covid issues we need to look into which vet is practicing social distancing. No sure what to do for her till we take her to the vet.

Aug. 6, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that she is having these problems, she sounds quite uncomfortable. I do not think that there is anything that you can do at home for her, and I think it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian. Most ER veterinarians are accepting new patients, seeing clients, and practicing social distancing, so that would be where I would start. I hope that all goes well for her.

Aug. 7, 2020

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Rottweiler

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Ten Months

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Rear Gait Stiffness

Came home to puppy “drunk like walking” along with throw up on the floor. Will not eat or drink and is very lethargic. Had one episode of stiffness where he raised his paw and cried. He is very alert.

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, So sorry to hear about your dog. It sounds like he had some toxin exposure that really needs to see your vet. They can treat his wobbly gait and make sure that there is nothing else causing your dog to walk like this.

Aug. 1, 2020

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German Shepherd

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Stiffness

Dog is having trouble walking on front legs and back legs, very stiff after coming back from walk with wife. They said he never yelped

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello Thank you for your question. Stiffness after a walk could be due to joint issues, for example osteoarthritis. He may have overexerted himself on the walk depending on how long the walk was. German Shepherds are prone to something called degenerative myelopathy, which is a disease of the spinal cord. Your pup is not likely to have this right now but it is something to be award of later on in his life. I recommend that you take him to a veterinarian for an exam so they can look at him and give you an idea on what is going on. Good luck.

Aug. 1, 2020

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Bulldog and pitbull

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Two Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Stiffness, Loss Of Appetite, Mopey

My dog shivers like she is cold, is very stiff all over, won't eat, and has not motivation. I can thg get her into a vet until next week and I have no clue what to do for her.

July 22, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. From your description, your dog does sound quite ill, and I might try to get her seen sooner rather than later. If you call your veterinarian, and tell them what is going on with her, they may be able to get her in sooner. If not, there may be a 24-hour or emergency facility near you that can see her. I hope that everything goes okay for her.

July 22, 2020

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Lacey

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Staffy Bull Pit

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Sometimes after a long walk my 1 year old staffy Lacey gets really stiff backlegs and struggles to get out off her bed or climb up stairs. It’s like she is a old dog. But the next day she is better again and dying to go for another walk. The walks I go on are not really long just about 1 hour and have another staffy and it’s not problem for him. She’s ok after the walk it’s once she has lies down then tries to get back up. And it’s jyst now and again this happens not after every walk

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Pepper

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Chihuahua

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Muscle Tremors
Muscle Atrophy
Seizures

My chihuahua is a little over a year old. Usually is very playful, full of energy. All of a sudden 2 nights ago, I woke up to hear screaming/crying. Her legs, arms and neck were very stiff. After a minute, her legs and arms loosened up but her neck remained stiff. She continued to shake for a few hours afterwards. I thought maybe it was a seizure, as she lost all bowel movement & urinated all over herself. She has slowly gotten better, but still isn't 100%. Her back legs are stiff, sometimes she refuses to put any weight on them but other times she walks fine. Her eyes are also all watery. I have an appointment tomorrow with the vet.

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Jake

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Pomeranian/collie

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8 Months

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Limp After Rest.

I have an 8month old mix breed Medium size male dog. He has started limping after rest and cant get comfortable to take a nap. Its his left hind leg. He is suddenly needy and always needs to be close but can nip every now and again. He was never like this. Been to the vet but they said probally just a sprain but its not getting better

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Pizza

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Cockapoo.

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5 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Stiffness, Loss Of Mobility,

My Cockapoo is 5yrs old. She was playful and full of life, I took her to the groomers and she left fine walk right out. Well that night she started limping a little and the next day she started walking like she was drunk stumbling and stumbling and her back legs started acting weird. I had her lay down on her bed in her crate to monitor her. The next day her hind legs are stiff and she is only using her front legs she doesn’t cry when I touch her back or legs. She seems perfectly happy despite this.

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Nikki

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Hairless rat terrier

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Fever
Neck Pain When Lifting Head
Swollen Front Leg Joints

Nikki has been to the vet, had X-rays, blood tests, and no idea. They thought it was a pinched nerve but I don't see that causing fever and joint issues. We went to another vet that thought it was autoimmune because of the sunken in part above her eyes. She does not have any mouth pain and chews/eats fine. She just doesn't want to move to get to the food. On Prednisone, she improves dramatically in 24 hours and everything looks normal in 48. I don't think we have found the problem and really need ideas to talk to our vet about.

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