"Septic Arthritis in Dogs

"Septic Arthritis in Dogs

Health & Safety

Septic arthritis is an extremely painful condition that severely affects a dog's joints. The disorder usually flares up after a joint has been injured in any way which exposes it to the elements. Once exposed, microorganisms enter the wound and joint causing all the damage. However, the bacteria can also get into a dog's blood stream when they have undergone any sort of surgery and once in their system, these microorganisms enter into a dog's joints. Septic arthritis can develop in one or more of a dog's joints resulting in a tremendous amount pain and discomfort, but the condition is different to arthritis.

The Difference Between Septic Arthritis and Arthritis

Septic arthritis is not the same as arthritis because unlike the latter which sees inflammation in a dog's bone joints, septic arthritis not only involves inflammation of the joint, but also the damaging bacterial microorganisms which get into fluids found in an affected joint.

Breeds Most at Risk

Studies have shown that certain breeds appear to be more at risk of developing septic arthritis although research has also established the condition is more common in male dogs than their female counterparts. The condition seems to affect male dogs when they are anything from 4 to 7 years of age. The breeds more predisposed to developing the condition includes the following:

  • German shepherd
  • Doberman
  • Labrador retriever

Symptoms Associated with the Condition

When dogs develop septic arthritis, there are certain signs to watch out for which are associated with the condition. These are as follows:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen joint or joints
  • Joint is hot to the touch
  • Dogs often cannot move or flex an affected joint
  • Lameness

The Causes

As previously mentioned, there are a variety of reasons why a dog might develop septic arthritis which includes the following:

  • Injury to a joint where it is exposed to the elements allowing bacteria to enter
  • During surgery, microorganisms can enter a dog's blood stream and then into a joint
  • Infections in other areas of the body that sees bacteria travel to a joint or joints
  • A compromised or abnormal immune system
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • A bite from another dog or animal
  • Fungal infections

Diagnosing the Problem

When dogs develop septic arthritis, they are usually quite lame which is a good indication that something is seriously wrong. A vet would ideally need to have a dog's full medical history and be told how the onset of any symptoms first presented themselves. The more information a vet can be given, the better because it allows them to establish a diagnosis. The vet would thoroughly examine a dog checking for any injuries and to establish if one or several joints are affected. It is important to rule out any other reasons why a dog's joint or joints might be painful and swollen and as such the vet would typically recommend carrying out the following tests:

  • A complete blood count
  • A full biochemistry blood profile
  • A urinalysis
  • X-rays of an affected joint
  • Arthroscopy which allows a vet to examine the interior of the joint

The vet would also need to take a sample of the fluid found in a dog's joint and to do this, a dog would need to be anaesthetised or sedated which in short, means they would need to be hospitalised for the procedure to be carried out. By taking a sample of the fluid found in a dog's joint, the vet would be able to offer a definitive diagnosis that they are indeed suffering from septic arthritis. Should the vet find that a dog has developed a bacterial infection in another part of their body, this would need to be treated in order to prevent any bacteria from causing further damage to a dog's system and joints.

Treatment Options

Once a vet has established a definitive diagnosis they would be able to set in place a treatment plan to fight off the bacterial infection. Dogs suffering from septic arthritis would be put on a course of antibiotics and it's essential for the course be completed for the treatment to be effective. Should the joint be severely affected, a vet might recommend draining and cleaning it with the end goal being to prevent any further damage being done to the joint. A dog would have to be hospitalised for the procedure to be carried out.


Providing a diagnosis and a treatment plan is set in place earlier rather than later, the prognosis is usually quite good for dogs suffering from septic arthritis. With this said, the prognosis also depends on the underlying cause of a dog's condition and how well they respond to their treatment. Once dogs have suffered from the condition, they would need to be checked over by a vet on a regular basis which would involve taking fluid samples from an affected joint to make sure there is no infection still present.

Living with a Dog with Septic Arthritis

Any dog recovering from septic arthritis should not be over exercised which means limiting their walks until their condition is resolved. Vets often recommend placing hot and cold compresses on an affected joint which helps promote blood flow and thus reduce any swelling which in turn speeds up the healing process. As previously mentioned, if a vet has prescribed a course of antibiotics, it is essential for the course be completed for it to be effective even if a dog seems better and more comfortable after a couple of days.

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