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Bursitis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. March 22, 2022
Bursitis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment

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The synovial bursa is a structure around a joint which provides cushioning against trauma and general wear and tear. Since bones can cause friction when rubbing against each other, the synovial bursa helps to prevent damage from being worn down. When this structure is inflamed, it leads to a condition known as bursitis. Joint swelling and pain are the most obvious symptoms, but there are other conditions which can cause these symptoms. For this reason, diagnosis of canine bursitis needs to be carried out by a professional veterinarian.

At AnimalWised, we help you know what to expect with bursitis in dogs. We look at the causes and symptoms of this condition, as well as what treatment options may be available.

You may also be interested in: Eclampsia in Dogs - Causes and Treatment


  1. What is bursitis in dogs?
  2. Symptoms of bursitis in dogs
  3. Causes of bursitis in dogs
  4. Diagnosis of bursitis in dogs
  5. Treatment of bursitis in dogs
  6. Prevention of bursitis in dogs

What is bursitis in dogs?

The synovial bursa is a fluid-filled sac which surrounds the joints of a dog's limbs. The sac is surrounded by a synovial membrane and filled with synovial fluid, creating a type of padding which helps a dog's joints from being worn down. Located between two joint surfaces, the dog's bursae provide cushioning to bones during movement, as well as tendons and muscles.

When the synovial bursae are affected by inflammatory processes, it results in bursitis. When this occurs, the synovial membrane thickens and excess fluid is produced. This inflammation causes pain in the dog's joints. Since synovial bursae are located in highly innervated structures (they contain a lot of nerve endings), it can be particularly painful for the dog. Know if your dog is in pain by looking out for the signs of pain in dogs.

Although it can appear in any breed, it is especially prevalent in large and giant breeds, such as the Great Dane or Dalmatian. 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 male dogs. Senior dogs are also more likely to be affected by bursitis, but young dogs can also be affected.

Bursitis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment - What is bursitis in dogs?

Symptoms of bursitis in dogs

Bursitis is relatively easy for most caregivers to detect. This is because the symptoms of bursitis in dogs are relatively obvious. In dogs with bursitis it is common to observe:

  • Pain of the affected joint: pain is observed both on palpation and with movement of the joint.
  • Change in gait: it is most common to see the dog limping on the affected joints.
  • Swelling: inflammation of the affected joints.
  • Reduced range of motion: the dog will not be able to move the affected joints due to the pain.

Although dogs are usually good at hiding their pain, the intensity of bursitis pain make this difficult. They may even change their demeanor and become easily agitated due to frustration from the pain.

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 most often occur:

  • When dogs drop onto a hard surface to lie down.
  • In dogs that practice high-intensity sports and activities. An example is agility training which requires the dog to jump high obstacles, something which puts a lot of weight on their forelimbs. This is why we can often see bursitis in the shoulder and elbow of the dog. Training dogs in this way requires caution and education. See what you need to know in our article on how to get started with dog agility training.

Repeated trauma is the most common cause of bursitis, but there are other factors which can be mitigating factors. For example, obesity can put additional strain on a dog's joints and lead to greater incidence of bursitis. Additionally, if a dog receives an injury to one limb, they will often over-compensate and put more weight on another. This can lead to bursitis in the latter limb.

Diagnosis of bursitis in dogs

As we have explained before, bursitis usually causes symptoms that are relatively easily detected by caregivers. However, there are other types of inflammation which can lead to inflammation of the joints such as arthritis or tumor development. For this reason, you will need to go to a qualified veterinarian to carry out a differential diagnosis. This will likely involve:

  • Orthopedic examination: lameness or claudication (pain when walking), pain 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. Learn more about this type of imaging with our article on ultrasound for dogs.
  • MRI: in cases where ultrasound is not available, a 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 is lower 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: usually treated with compression bandages, anti-inflammatory drugs (usually NSAIDs), rest and cryotherapy (where available). In some cases, an antibiotic is added prophylactically, i.e. to prevent infection.
  • Moderate bursitis: usually requires 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 aseptic conditions to avoid the inoculation of germs that cause an infection and complicate the process. This is one reason why you should never attempt to drain canine bursitis on your own.
  • Serious bursitis: this includes bursitis in dogs when complicated by infection, ulceration, etc. This requires surgical treatment based on surgical excision of the synovial bursa.

Having explained the different options for treatment of bursitis in dogs, you may be wondering how long it takes to heal. 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.

Bursitis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment - Treatment of bursitis in dogs

Prevention of bursitis in dogs

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

  • Avoid repeated trauma to the joints: it is important to provide dogs with soft, cushioned surfaces on which to rest. 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, in turn, reduce joint stress.

  • Warm-up exercises before competing: in dogs that practice sports such as canicross and agility training will need a warm-up period of between 5 and 15 minutes prior to performing the activity. This can be as little as taking them out for a gentle jog. After warming up it is advisable to practice active stretching exercises to prepare the joints for movement.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Bursitis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

  • Gomes, C., Anderson, A., & Stewart, J. (2018). Sciatic neuropathy in a dog secondary to a bursitis. VCOT Open, 2(1), 1-4.
  • Mercado, M., Jurado, A., Fort, S., Chan, D., Gandara, E., & Pallares, C. (2018). Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation: Diagnosis and Management of Tendoligamentous Injuries in Athlete Dogs Using Musculoskeletal Ultrasonography, InVet, 20(2).
  • Sharma, A. K., Kumar, P., Kumari, L., Kumari, L., Chandrakala, G. M. K., Kumar, S., & Kumar, P. (2015). Surgical management of olecranon bursitis in Belgium Shepherd dog. Res. J. Vet. practice, 3(4), 76-79.
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Bursitis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment