Joint Effusion (Swelling) - Page 1

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Joint Effusion (Swelling)

By: Dr.Douglas Brum

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Joint effusion is an increase in fluid within the joint space. This increase in joint fluid often leads to a distention of the joint capsule and a swelling of the joint. The general causes of joint effusion include:

  • A traumatic injury to a joint
  • Chronic degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis
  • Infectious joint disease
  • Immune mediated polyarthritis
  • Breed specific causes of polyarthritis
  • Clotting abnormalities
  • Tumors of the joint capsule or bone

    What to Watch For

  • Lameness
  • External wounds
  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to move or stand

    Many animals with joint effusion in multiple joints often have a very stiff gait and appear to be "walking on egg shells."


    A complete physical examination and accurate history is critical for accurate diagnosis. It is the most important part of the work up in evaluating an animal with joint effusion. Additional tests include radiographs (x-rays) of the affected joint.

    Many times a diagnosis can be made on the basis of the physical exam findings, with or without radiographs. If a more systemic illness is suspected, additional diagnostics might include:

  • Arthrocentesis of the affected joint or joints
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Chest and abdominal radiographs
  • Infectious disease titers
  • Immune profile
  • CT or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Synovial or bone biopsy


    An accurate diagnosis is needed for proper therapy. Pending a definitive diagnosis, certain treatments may be appropriate:

  • Pain relief
  • A padded support bandage
  • Intravenous fluid support
  • Intravenous antibiotics
  • Doxycycline or tetracycline
  • External wounds may be cleaned and bandaged

    Home Care and Prevention

    In cases of acute joint swelling, restricted physical activity is always advised. In acute joint swelling, especially if the joint is warm, cold water compresses may be applied to reduce the swelling.

    If a wound is noted, it can be cleaned with warm soapy water or hydrogen peroxide. If possible, foreign debris can be removed. Once cleaned, a light wrap may be applied.

    Contact your veterinarian to see if giving a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as aspirin, would be indicated to relieve the pain until seeking veterinary care.

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