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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

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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

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Chihuahua / Pameranian

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Pain

Right where my wife’s hand is it feels a bit swollen or inflamed and a bit hard on both sides. She will occasionally welp when she jumps, runs or even turns in a certain manner. We already know she suffers from a floating knee but this can’t be related. We noticed this week so it is something new. The medication was given for her knee.

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. Since I cannot see her or examine her, and this seems to be bothering her, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 15, 2020

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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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0 found helpful

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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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Elliot

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Shiba Inu

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12 Weeks

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Stiff Back Legs When Pooping And Pe
Stiff Back Legs When Pooping

On Friday I rescued a 12 week old Shiba Inu. When we took her home we noticed that whenever she went to poop her back legs would stiffen and give out. This would happen until she pooped and then last a few minutes & then she is back to normal playing, running jumping and doing all things s puppy should do. We brought her to the vet for a check up since she was adopted and wanted to just make sure all was good, we showed the vet a video as well of her going to the bathroom. They told us her heart & lungs were clear & she was healthy. They also took an X-ray of her spine and back two legs & back hips and said they seen nothing wrong with any of her bones, spine, hips & no soft tissue damage. They told us to go to a neurologist. Mind you my puppy also has a parasite giardia. The vet gave her antibiotics and a medicine to put in her food to get rid of the parasite. She is now constipated & hasn’t pooped in 9 hours. When she tries her legs get stiff again and now she is wining and crying.

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Star

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Border Collie/Beagle

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10 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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

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Aussie-poo

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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

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Cavoodle

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10 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

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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