Bursitis in Dogs – Treatment and Causes

Bursitis in Dogs - Treatment and Causes

The bursa or synovial membrane is a bag-shaped structure that surrounds the synovial joints, which can become inflamed and lead to a process known as bursitis.

Bursitis usually produces obvious symptoms of joint pain and swelling, which allows caregivers to detect this process easily. However, its definitive diagnosis requires a correct orthopedic examination carried out by a veterinary professional. Therefore, remember the importance of going to your trusted veterinarian as soon as possible whenever you detect any sign of joint pain.


What is bursitis in dogs?

A bursa or synovial bag is a bag-like structure , lined by a synovial membrane and filled with synovial fluid, that is located between two joint surfaces to provide cushioning to bones, tendons, and muscles during movement.

When the synovial bursa is affected by an inflammatory process, it is called bursitis. In these cases, the synovial membrane thickens and excess fluid is produced, which causes pain at the level of the involved joint. Synovial bursae are highly irrigated and innervated structures , hence injuries involving them are especially painful.

Although it can appear in any breed, it is especially prevalent in large and giant breeds , such as the Great Dane or Dalmatian . In addition, despite the fact that it is a pathology that can affect any synovial joint, we must point out that elbow bursitis is especially frequent in dogs .

Symptoms of bursitis in dogs

Bursitis is an easy process for most caregivers to detect, as it causes fairly obvious signs. In dogs with bursitis it is common to observe:

  • Pain at the level of the affected joint : pain is observed both on palpation and on movement of the joint.
  • limp _
  • Swelling at the level of the affected joint .
  • Reduced range of motion at the level of the affected joint.

Causes of bursitis in dogs

Bursitis typically develops as a result of joint trauma, both blunt force trauma and repeated minor trauma. These traumas usually occur frequently:

When dogs drop onto a hard surface when lying down.
In dogs that practice sports such as Agility : since when they jump obstacles they drop all their body weight on their forelimbs. Hence, elbow bursitis in dogs is especially common. If you want to know how to get started in Agility , take a look at this post that we recommend.
Although repeated trauma is the most common cause of bursitis, this process can also occur as a result of weight overload on one limb when the contralateral limb is affected by any other cause.

For example, a dog with a fracture in a forelimb must support all the weight on the contralateral limb, which causes local stress at the level of this limb as a result of weight overload, and in these cases bursitis may develop.

Diagnosis of bursitis in dogs
As we have explained before, bursitis usually causes symptoms that are usually easily detected by caregivers. In the face of any sign of joint pain, it is important that you go to your trusted veterinarian so that they can carry out a correct diagnostic protocol and establish early treatment.

Specifically, the diagnosis of bursitis in dogs should include:

Orthopedic examination : lameness or claudication, pain at the level of the affected joint and decreased range of joint movement will be observed.
Ultrasound : Under normal conditions, the synovial bursa is not usually seen on ultrasound. However, in cases of bursitis, the thickened synovial membrane and the distended bursa with the presence of fluid inside can be observed. If you want to know how an ultrasound for dogs works , do not hesitate to read this post.
MRI : In cases where ultrasound is not available, diagnostic MRI may be used. However, ultrasound is always the first method of choice, as it does not require patient sedation, is non-invasive, fast, effective and low cost.

Treatment of bursitis in dogs

The treatment of bursitis in dogs can vary depending on the severity of the process and the presence or absence of complications.

  • Mild bursitis : they are usually treated with compression bandages, anti-inflammatory drugs (usually NSAIDs), rest and cryotherapy (cold). In some cases, an antibiotic is added prophylactically, to prevent infection.
  • Moderate bursitis : usually require drainage of the synovial fluid by performing a fine needle puncture, combined with a compressive bandage. It is essential to carry out this procedure in perfect aseptic conditions, to avoid the inoculation of germs that cause an infection and complicate the process.
  • Serious bursitis or those that are complicated by infection, ulceration, etc.: require surgical treatment based on surgical excision of the synovial bursa.

Having explained the different therapeutic options, you may be wondering how long it takes to heal bursitis in dogs . As you can imagine, the healing process will vary depending on the severity of the pathology and the effectiveness of the established treatment, although it is normal for it to vary from several weeks to several months .


Prevention of bursitis in dogs

The prevention of bursitis should be based on the following points:

  • Avoid repeated trauma to the joints – It is important to provide dogs with soft, cushioned surfaces to rest on. Inside the home, it is advisable to offer dogs beds, cushions, rugs or carpets in their rest areas. Outside, hard floors, asphalt or cement, should be avoided, grass or sand being preferable to reduce daily impact and thus reduce joint stress.
  • Warm-up exercises before competing : in dogs that practice sports such as Agility , a previous warm-up period of between 5 and 15 minutes is recommended, performing a gentle jog. After warming up it is advisable to practice active stretching exercises to prepare the joints for movement.

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