Chronic Inflammation: The Root Cause of Disease in Dogs and Cats

Chronic Inflammation: The Root Cause of Disease in Dogs and Cats

While acute inflammation is beneficial for healing, chronic inflammation leads to a state of constant “dis-ease” within your dog or cat’s body. Find out how chronic inflammation affects your four-legged friend, and how you can treat or prevent it.

Inflammation is a natural bodily process. It is intricate and complicated, yet in the right circumstances can be gentle enough to heal. As with most natural processes in the body, however, balance must be maintained to allow for optimal wellness, and inflammation is no different. It can be a necessary part of the healing process, but if left unchecked, chronic inflammation can lead to many of the diseases seen in our dogs and cats. Let’s take a closer look at what chronic inflammation is, what causes it, and how it can be treated and even prevented.


The body has numerous mechanical and physiological responses to injury. Inflammation is one of these processes.

Fast Fact: According to the Cleveland Clinic, “The body activates the immune system, which in turn sends out inflammatory cells to attack and protect against foreign pathogens or aid in healing damaged tissue.”

Several types of biochemical mediators are released during inflammation, and can intensify or perpetuate the inflammatory cycle because of their pro-inflammatory nature. Complement-derived peptides, bradykinin, histamine, serotonin, and cytokines are just some of these pro-inflammatory mediators. Specific mediators may act locally at the site of injury, while others can influence the whole body by acting systemically. The stimulation of pro-inflammatory mediators follows an intricately interconnected process whereby they are released at different stages of injury, inflammation, and healing.


Inflammation can have a very positive influence by protecting the body during times of trauma or illness caused by invading pathogens. The immune system’s rapid response to injury or illness triggers a very targeted and controlled pro-inflammatory response. This positive response focusses on eliminating the threat, and is self-limiting, with inflammation dissipating once the concern has been addressed.

Inflammation plays an important role in the process of tissue healing. The desired outcome of the inflammatory process is to eliminate the consequences of acute trauma, and eliminate any specific pathogens that could inhibit or delay the overall healing process. In other words, inflammation prepares the foundation for tissue repair.


There can be a dark side to inflammation if it is not regulated, and is allowed to run rampant through the body.

Fast Fact: Both physical and emotional factors of a dog or cat’s environment can create situations in which inflammation becomes unregulated. This creates chronic, low-grade inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can lead to disturbances in the body’s immune response, affecting the latter’s response to infections and causing the dog or cat to become more susceptible to infectious agents as well as the development of tumors and cancers. A weakened immune system along with chronic inflammation can also create changes within the cellular physiology of the animal, leading to issues in the organs. Heart disease, liver disorders, kidney concerns, allergies, and chronic gastrointestinal diseases are some of the most common disorders linked to chronic inflammation.


Chronic inflammation can cause mitochondrial damage with increased release of free radicals, which in turn exacerbates the inflammation. If left unchecked, chronic inflammation can damage the cells of the heart muscle and allow for the formation of fibrosis within the heart tissue.


Chronic inflammation activates specific cells in the liver responsible for producing the organ’s extra-cellular matrix. Over time, the increased production of extra-cellular matrix can lead to the production of fibrotic tissue, resulting in liver fibrosis.


Kidney disorders, especially chronic kidney disease, often involve chronic inflammation as both a cause and result of the disease process. Chronic low-grade inflammation coupled with oxidative stress allow for mitochondrial dysfunction and fibrosis to occur.


Allergies and skin disorders in dogs and cats include chronic inflammation as a major contributing factor. It weakens the immune system to a point where it cannot fight off the allergens the animal may encounter. It is also important to consider chronic inflammation in skin disorders where secondary bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections have occurred.

Fast Fact: With the immune system in a weakened state, the normal flora of the body can overgrow and cause problems.


Chronic inflammation is a critical factor when considering gastrointestinal problems. It has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative disorders of the GI tract, alterations within the gut microbiome, and the development of gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers.


As the immune system is altered and its defensive mechanisms weakened by chronic inflammation, the body gets out of balance and homeostatic mechanisms are constantly trying to keep up. The longer this goes on, and the longer the inflammation persists, the more adequate conditions become for cancer to form. Chronic inflammation can allow pro-neoplastic mutations to occur. It can also allow for changes in the body that can promote a more positive survival environment for the cancer cells.


One of the best approaches to treating a disease is to try and prevent it before it occurs. Inflammation is no different, and while the acute phase of inflammation is very beneficial to the healing process, chronic inflammation can cause serious problems for your dog or cat’s health. Taking steps to ensure a healthier lifestyle and stronger immune system is the best prevention approach.

Interestingly, prevention can sometimes mirror treatment, and includes considerations such as quality exercise, fresh water to provide hydration and keep the body detoxified, a high quality, species specific anti-inflammatory diet, and high quality supplements to help detoxify, provide antioxidant qualities, and reduce inflammatory factors within the body.


Exercise is an important part of a healthy life. It is also important for preventing and treating inflammation. Clinical studies have demonstrated that exercise can trigger immune responses, while more regular exercise can reduce circulating inflammatory markers.


Drinking plenty of fresh water is crucial for keeping our dogs and cats happy and healthy. Since the majority of an animal’s body consists of water, it’s no wonder it’s such an important resource for maintaining health. Water supports production of lymph, which helps drain areas of the body and rid it of harmful and damaging materials.


A proper diet is critical for reducing chronic inflammation. What our dogs and cats eat can either feed a disease, or provide nourishment to strengthen the immune system. It’s always recommended to feed a species-specific diet rich in organic, whole food nutrients. The diet should be properly prepared with minimal processing, as the latter often destroys vital nutrients.

Fast Fact: Processing can produce thermal changes in the food; this may create heat, which when taken into the body can increase inflammation.

It’s best to work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian when developing an anti-inflammatory diet for your dog or cat. Recommendations may vary depending on different holistic philosophies such as TCVM or Ayurvedic medicine. Some research recommends avoiding inflammatory vegetables such those in the nightshade family — i.e. potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Diets should be rich in antioxidants known to have anti-inflammatory properties.


Vitamins and supplements play an important role in reducing chronic inflammation. Essential fatty acids and vitamins such as C, E and A are among those known to help reduce chronic inflammation. It is important to consider how these products are sourced, and to choose the highest quality organic supplements available.



a. Duration of one to three days

b. Includes clinical signs such as heat, redness, swelling, pain, and loss of function


a. Duration of three to four days up to a month

b. This is the “cleaning phase” before repair can occur


a. Occurs if the subacute phase is not resolved within one month

b. Inflammation can last several months and sometimes years

c. Can lead to “dis-ease” within the body and the immune system, which in turn will develop into true disease conditions and illnesses if left unchecked

While acute inflammation can be beneficial for healing, chronic inflammation can lead to a state of constant “dis-ease” within the body. If left unchecked, the body’s immune system becomes weakened over time, allowing full disease processes to take hold. Understanding the consequences of chronic inflammation helps lead to better outcomes from treatments and preventive measures — and better health for your dog or cat.

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The post “Chronic Inflammation: The Root Cause of Disease in Dogs and Cats” by Jared Mitchell, DVM, CVMA was published on 04/26/2024 by