Lupus in dogs is an autoimmune disease that can occur in two different forms. When the disease occurs, the immune system forms structures called antigen-antibody complexes which can lodge in the body's organs and cause additional symptoms. Lupus can develop at any point in a dog's life and has a variety of symptoms that can make it a difficult condition to diagnose.
Two Forms of Lupus in Dogs
The two main forms of canine lupus are discoid lupus and systemic lupus. Both can cause damage to various organs and can be fatal without treatment.Related Articles
Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE) in Dogs
According to VetStreet.com, the most common type of canine lupus is discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). Fortunately, this is the less serious form of the disease and is not known to progress to the systemic form. Collies, Shetland sheepdogs, German shepherds, and Huskies develop DLE more often than other breeds. It can occur at any age.
According to Wendy C. Brooks, DVM, DABVP, the symptoms of DLE are confined to the skin, and almost always involve the top of the nose, an area known as the nasal planum. The first signs that something is wrong may include hair loss or loss of pigment in that area. As the condition progresses, you may see ulcerated sores, crusting, or scabs. The nose may bleed easily if any of the sores are disturbed. A few dogs may develop skin problems in other areas, such as the eyelids, lips and mouth, ears, or footpads.
There are several conditions that can mimic DLE, so it is important to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian if you suspect this disease. Other causes of sores on the nasal area could include sunburn, hyperkeratosis, cancers, or other forms of autoimmune disease. A biopsy is required to determine if your dog does have DLE. This means that your veterinarian will need to remove a small piece of tissue from the affected area and will send that to a laboratory for evaluation. Even though the procedure is brief, your dog needs to be under anesthesia or heavily sedated.
Treatment for DLE can sometimes be accomplished with topical medications. These could include a corticosteroid cream or a newer drug called tacrolimus. For a more severe case of DLE, your dog may need oral medications that could include prednisone, vitamin E, a combination of tetracycline and niacinamide, or even a more powerful drug called azathioprine. It can also be helpful to avoid excessive sun exposure, which can worsen your dog's condition. If this cannot be avoided, you can apply a pet-safe sunscreen such as Epi-Pet sunscreen.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in Dogs
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) has been called the "great imitator" because this disease has such a wide variety of symptoms that it is not usually the first condition that your veterinarian will suspect. Often, the symptoms can be so varied that other diseases will need to be ruled out.
Causes of Disease
Collies and Shetland sheepdogs are among the dog breeds with the highest risk of developing SLE. Slightly more female dogs are affected than males. There is not a definitive answer regarding why dogs get lupus. In a few cases, a hereditary component has been found, but it is rare for this to be documented except for cases like a colony of dogs reported in an article called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in a Colony of Dogs in the January issue of The American Journal of Veterinary Research. For most dogs afflicted with SLE, there is no identifiable cause, although certain infectious diseases and environmental triggers may play a role.
Possible Environmental Triggers
Environmental triggers can include acute stress, medication, viral infections and long-term exposure to sunlight. Lupus can occur suddenly, while in other dogs it can present as a more chronic illness with a waxing and waning course.
Systemic canine lupus can affect nearly any part of the body, so the symptoms can vary greatly. According to W.H. Miller, Jr., VMD, DACVD, the most common organs affected are the skin, joints, and kidneys. Symptoms of skin involvement may appear similar to those seen in DLE, with sores and ulcers on the nose, ears, footpads, or more generalized over the body. Dogs with joint inflammation due to lupus will often become suddenly unwilling to stand or walk. If only one or two legs are affected, the dog may walk with a limp. Joints may appear swollen or can feel hot to the touch. For dogs with kidney disease caused by lupus, the symptoms can be more vague and could include:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased urination
- Excessive thirst
In a small number of dogs with SLE, the disease can cause additional autoimmune manifestations by triggering an attack on the body's red blood cells or platelets (cells that clot the blood). These are very serious conditions that may require aggressive treatment with blood transfusions. Symptoms of these concurrent syndromes can include:
- Pale gums
- Labored breathing
- Black tarry stool
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
Other parts of the body can sometimes be affected by SLE. Your dog could experience inflammation in the muscles, chest cavity, heart muscle, brain or spinal cord, or lymph nodes.
Initial Testing for SLE
Your veterinarian will not test for lupus initially because the symptoms are so varied. VCA Animal Hospitals lists the wide variety of signs of SLE. There are numerous, more common diseases that have to be ruled out first. According to the Compendium on Continuing Education for Veterinarians, , volume 21 (Canine Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Part II. Diagnosis and Treatment), there are a variety of tests that will be done first.
- Your vet will probably want to do blood tests to evaluate the red blood cells, white blood cell counts, platelets, kidney function, liver enzymes, blood sugar, protein levels, and electrolytes.
- If your dog is having trouble walking, blood tests for tick-borne diseases will typically be performed.
- If a specific joint is swollen or painful, x-rays will probably be taken to rule out injuries or orthopedic conditions.
- A urinalysis is important to help evaluate kidney function. If the symptoms are limited to the skin, your veterinarian will probably check for mange and infections by performing skin scrapings, microscopic evaluation, or a fungal culture.
Confirmation of SLE
Once some of these initial tests are completed, your veterinarian may begin to suspect canine lupus. More specific testing can be done and may include:
- ANA titer
- Aurine protein to creatinine ratio
- Coomb's test
- Joint fluid analysis
- Skin biopsy
Research studies, such as this one in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, have shown that in order to diagnose SLE, certain criteria need to be met. There is not always a single diagnostic test that will give you a definitive diagnosis for SLE. Your veterinarian will have to evaluate all aspects of your dog's condition to decide whether a diagnosis of SLE can be made.
According to Becky Lundgren, DVM, treatment for the systemic effects of SLE is based on the use of immunosuppressive drugs. Most commonly, prednisone is used. This is a corticosteroid type of medication which is used for many medical conditions. When it is used to treat an autoimmune disease, high doses are needed and come with numerous potential side effects, including:
- Excessive thirst or urination
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Loss of muscle mass
- Stomach ulcers
- Slow healing
- Increased susceptibility to infections
Azathioprine is another immunosuppressive drug that is often used in combination with prednisone so that the dose of prednisone can be gradually decreased as your dog begins to feel better. Any adjustment to the dosing regimen or treatment for side effects needs to be done with the guidance of your veterinarian. There can also be side effects from stopping prednisone treatment suddenly.
Other Medications and Treatment Options
In a few mild cases of SLE, other medications can be used initially. According to Rod A.W. Rosychuk DVM, DACVIM, these could include fatty acids, tetracycline, and niacinamide, or pentoxifylline. Other medications could be used, depending on your pet's exact symptoms. For very severe cases in which prednisone and azathioprine are not effective, your veterinarian could use drugs such as cyclosporine, levamisole, mycophenolate mofetil, or dapsone. Often, you will need to consult with a veterinary internal medicine specialist if your dog's case of lupus is complicated.
Follow-Up and Long-Term Care
Once your dog begins to feel better, it is important to be diligent with follow-up visits and testing. Blood or urine monitoring may be needed, depending on your pet's exact symptoms and initial test results. According to the University of Prince Edward Island, relapses with canine lupus are common, and the long-term prognosis is always guarded with a systemic autoimmune disease. Future vaccinations are not recommended for dogs with SLE. Moderate exercise can help your dog retain joint flexibility and can reduce pain, but this should be avoided if your dog is suffering from anemia or any bleeding disorders.
Dietary Considerations for Lupus
An anti-inflammatory diet that is grain-free may be of benefit to dogs suffering from lupus. Supplements, including Vitamin E, Omega 3 and 6, and fish oils have also been found to have some positive side effects.
Is Canine Lupus Contagious?
Luckily Lupus in dogs is not contagious to other dogs or to humans. However, some research has found there may be a risk of humans with SLE transmitting it to their dogs as a zoonotic disease. It is not conclusive if the dogs are getting the disease from their owners, or if common factors in the household and environment are causing the SLE in both the dog and the dog parent.
Proper Care Is Critical
While it is common to feel some guilt over your dog's illness and to wonder if you could have done anything to prevent it, with DLE and SLE, there are no precautions that can be taken to prevent the disease. With a combination of medications, frequent follow-ups, and a careful attention to your dog's symptoms, your canine companion can live comfortably with lupus for some time to come, although the effects of the disease can shorten your dog's lifespan if not treated in time.
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Lupus in Dogs
Lupus is a disease that affects the immune system of a dog by attacking its tissues. This can be a frightening disease to a dog owner due to the variety of life threatening symptoms it can cause. Because of this, it's important for a dog owner to be familiar with lupus and how it is treated.
What Is Lupus in Dogs?
Lupus is an auto immune or immune mediated disease and there are two main types seen in dogs - systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). Other species, including humans, can also develop lupus.
Discoid lupus erythematosus is also known as cutaneous or facial lupus erythematosus and there are also various forms of DLE that affect the skin, nasal planum, and mucous membranes or gums of dogs. Systemic lupus erythematosus, on the other hand, affects more than just external tissues of a dog. SLE attacks the internal tissues and therefore affects multiple bodily systems and functions. It can vary from dog to dog depending on what part of the body the immune system is attacking but can affect various organs, muscles, the skin, glands and more in a dog.
Systemic lupus erythematosus can cause an array of symptoms since it can affect so many different parts of the body.
Signs of Lupus in Dogs
- Decreased appetite
- Limping that switches legs
- Skin redness
- Skin thinning
- Skin and lip ulcerations
- Loss of skin pigment
- Thinning or loss of fur
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Decreased muscle size
- Crying when pet
Lethargy and a decrease in appetite may be seen due to the overall discomfort and general unwell feeling in dogs with lupus. Lupus can also cause muscle pain which results in a dog limping and crying when attempting to stand or walk. The limping can switch between legs since the muscle pain is often in more than one place and an attempt to pet a dog's leg that has lupus may even result in a dog crying if it is hurting enough. The muscles also may appear to shrink over time resulting in muscle atrophy.
Skin and fur changes are often seen in dogs with lupus. Thinning of the fur and skin, fur loss, a decrease in pigmentation of the skin, and even skin redness can occur. Many dogs also experience ulcerations on the skin and at the corners of the mouth. Finally, enlarged lymphnodes in the neck, armpits, and other regions may be seen or felt in a dog with systemic lupus erythematosus.
Causes of Lupus in Dogs
Systemic lupus erythematosus is considered to be an immune mediated or auto immune disease. This is because no one knows why the immune system starts attacking the tissues of a dog with lupus. Numerous causes of this condition have been suspected and include genetic factors, viruses, various immunologic disorders, different medications, and even environmental factors but the cause remains unknown.
Diagnosing Lupus in Dogs
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose due to the varied presentation of symptoms. A veterinarian will begin by performing a full physical examination, obtaining a medical histroy, and checking some blood work and running urine tests. The platelets, white and red blood cell counts, kidney enzymes, protein content in the urine, and other results will be analyzed from these tests. If the symptoms and test results indicate a possibility of lupus, a special test called an antinuclear antibody (ANA) titer may be performed. If this test titer is positive, a diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus is made.
Treatment of Lupus in Dogs
In order to treat systemic lupus erythematosus, various medications may be used to manage the symptoms and suppress the immune system. Prednisone, prednisolone, azathioprine, and cyclophosphamide are most commonly used in lupus patients but thymosin fraction V and levimasole may also be tried if the other drugs are not helping. If anemia is also present in a dog with SLE, surgical removal of the spleen may be necessary.
Special diets, supplements, and other treatments may also be recommended depending on the specific symptoms being experienced by each lupus patient. If the kidneys are not severly damaged, most dogs are able to be managed long term with medications but if kidney damage is present, it unfortunately progresses into kidney failure and has a fatal outcome.
How to Prevent Lupus in Dogs
Since there may be some genetic factors that can cause lupus, dogs that have been diagnosed with systemic lupus should not be used for breeding. Otherwise, since no one knows exactly what causes lupus, there is no good way to prevent it from occurring in a dog. Some veterinarians recommend supporting the immune system with various supplements or being careful not to over stimulate the immune system with too many medications or vaccinations at one time or for prolonged periods but there is no definitive prevention plan for lupus.
Is Lupus Contagious to Humans?
No, lupus is not a contagious or infectious disease to animals or humans.
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Canine discoid lupus erythematosus
This article is about discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs. For the disease in humans, see lupus erythematosus.
Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is an uncommon autoimmune disease of the basal cell layer of the skin. It occurs in humans and cats, more frequently occurring in dogs. It was first described in dogs by Griffin and colleagues in  DLE is one form of cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE). DLE occurs in dogs in two forms: a classical facial predominant form or generalized with other areas of the body affected. Other non-discoid variants of CLE include vesicular CLE, exfoliative CLE and mucocutaenous CLE. It does not progress to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in dogs. SLE can also have skin symptoms, but it appears that the two are either separate diseases. DLE in dogs differs from SLE in humans in that plasma cells predominate histologically instead of T lymphocytes. Because worsening of symptoms occurs with increased ultraviolet light exposure, sun exposure most likely plays a role in DLE, although certain breeds (see below) are predisposed. After pemphigus foliaceus, DLE is the second most common autoimmune skin disease in dogs.
The most common initial symptom is scaling and loss of pigment on the nose. The surface of the nose becomes smooth gray, and ulcerated, instead of the normal black cobblestone texture. Over time the lips, the skin around the eyes, the ears, and the genitals may become involved.Lesions may progress to ulceration and lead to tissue destruction. DLE is often worse in summer due to increased sun exposure.
DLE is easily confused with solar dermatitis, pemphigus, ringworm, and other types of dermatitis. Biopsy is required to make the distinction. Histopathologically, there is inflammation at the dermoepidermal junction and degeneration of the basal cell layer. Unlike in SLE, an anti-nuclear antibody test is usually negative.
Avoiding sun exposure and the use of sunscreens (not containing zinc oxide as this is toxic to dogs) is important. Topical therapy includes corticosteroid and tacrolimus use. Oral vitamin E or omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also used. More refractory cases may require the use of oral niacinamide and tetracycline or immuno-suppressive medication such as corticosteroids, azathioprine, or chlorambucil. Treatment is often lifelong, but there is a good prognosis for long-term remission.
Commonly affected dog breed
- ^American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, "Discoid Lupus Erythematosus".
- ^Griffin, C.E.; Stannard, A.A.; Ihrke, P.J.; Ardans, A.A.; Cello, R.M.; Bjorling, D.R. (November ). "Canine discoid lupus erythematosus". Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology. 1 (1): 79– doi/(79) PMID
- ^Olivry, Thierry; Linder, Keith E.; Banovic, Frane (December ). "Cutaneous lupus erythematosus in dogs: a comprehensive review". BMC Veterinary Research. 14 (1): doi/s ISSN PMC PMID
- ^Banovic, Frane (January ). "Canine Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus". Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 49 (1): 37– doi/j.cvsm PMID
- ^ abEttinger, Stephen J.; Feldman, Edward C. (). Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine (4thed.). W.B. Saunders Company. ISBN. OCLC
- ^ abGriffin, Craig E.; Miller, William H.; Scott, Danny W. (). Small Animal Dermatology (6thed.). W.B. Saunders Company. ISBN. OCLC
- ^Mueller, Ralf S. (). "Immune-mediated skin diseases"(PDF). Proceedings of the 50° Congresso Nazionale Multisala SCIVAC. Retrieved
- ^ abOsborn, S. (). "Autoimmune Diseases in the Dog". Proceedings of the North American Veterinary Conference. Retrieved
- ^Kiriluk, Ellaine (). "Protect your dog from the extreme heat of summer". Daily Herald. Arlington Heights, Illinois. Archived from the original on 18 July Retrieved
- ^Devera, Carina (). "Beware the hidden toxins that seem harmless but can be deadly". Marin Independent Journal. San Rafael, California. Archived from the original on 9 July Retrieved
- ^Griffies, J. D.; Mendelsohn, C. L.; Rosenkrantz, W. S.; Muse, R.; Boord, M. J.; Griffin, C. E. (August ). "Topical % tacrolimus for the treatment of discoid lupus erythematosus and pemphigus erythematosus in dogs". Veterinary Dermatology. 13 (4): – doi/j_3.x. ISSN
- ^Griffies J, Mendelsohn C, Rosenkrantz W, Muse R, Boord M, Griffin C (). "Topical % tacrolimus for the treatment of discoid lupus erythematosus and pemphigus erythematosus in dogs". J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 40 (1): 29– doi/ PMID
Lupus in Dogs
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly referred to as lupus, is a rare autoimmune disease in dogs. It causes the dog’s own immune system to attack multiple body tissues or organs.
In This Article
Lupus in dogs can be difficult to diagnose and treat; it requires lifelong management. However, understanding the symptoms, diagnostic process, and the available treatment options can help you manage your dog’s condition as well as your own expectations.
Signs & Symptoms of Lupus in Dogs
Symptoms of lupus in dogs will vary depending on which organs or tissue systems are affected. The signs can be acute, chronic, or both, and may vary in intensity and severity from case to case. Some of the most common signs include:
Loss of appetite
Pain and swelling in the joints
Initial symptoms of lupus in dogs often include signs of general malaise, like lethargy, appetite loss, weight loss, and lameness. Approximately one third of affected dogs will develop dermatological symptoms, like hair loss, ulceration, crusty skin, and scarring; about half of all dogs with lupus experience arthritis in multiple joints (polyarthritis).
Some of the more serious symptoms of lupus include kidney problems and anemia, both of which can be fatal. Signs of kidney involvement include increased thirst and urination, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and muscle-wasting. Approximately 30% of dogs with lupus will develop a form of anemia called Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA). If your dog has lupus, be aware of the signs of IMHA, which include weakness, pale gums, exercise intolerance, rapid breathing, and bruising. Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) can also be a problem.
Additional symptoms of lupus in dogs include a low white blood cell count, mouth ulcers, dementia, swollen lymph nodes, seizures, proteinuria, and involvement of other organs, like the spleen or thyroid gland, which can cause organ-specific symptoms.
How Did My Dog Get Lupus?
Dogs develop lupus when their bodies form antibodies targeting their own body tissues. Unfortunately, there’s often no definitive explanation for why this occurs. SLE can be heritable, while in other cases, it seems to be triggered by an infection or certain medications.
Some breeds are statistically more likely to develop lupus than others: German Shepherds, Beagles, Poodles, Collies, and Shetland Sheepdogs are particularly prone to the disease. Additionally, young and middle-aged dogs appear to be more commonly afflicted.
However, lupus can affect any dog breed at any age.
Diagnosing Lupus in Dogs
Diagnosing lupus in dogs is a complicated and often frustrating process. There is no single test that can definitively diagnose the disease. Instead, veterinarians must rule out other potential causes for your dog’s symptoms while also looking for markers of autoimmune conditions. Often, dogs present with secondary conditions like skin disease, lameness, anemia, or kidney damage, all of which can have a wide variety of causes. Your dog’s age, breed, and health history may also initially cause your veterinarian to suspect other conditions.
A full work-up is required in most cases of lupus. This includes routine blood and urine tests, which can show abnormalities like low platelet counts, anemia, altered kidney function, and elevated protein levels in the blood and urine. Radiographs of the abdomen and joints are often recommended, while an ultrasound of the kidneys can enable veterinarians to make an even more accurate evaluation of their condition. Depending on the results of initial tests, additional urine tests may be required, along with diagnostic tests for other conditions with similar symptoms, like tick-borne diseases (such as Lyme disease).
Once other causes have been ruled out, the vet may recommend performing several immune assays. These tests can yield a partial diagnosis, but none are definitive by themselves. Your veterinarian may also suggest aspirating fluid from inflamed joints for analysis and/or performing additional immunological tests or biopsies from joint tissues, kidneys, and skin.
Ultimately, a diagnosis of lupus involves ruling out other conditions, documenting the involvement of at least two separate organ or tissue systems, and at least one positive result from an immunological test.
Treating Your Dog for Lupus
First, your veterinarian will treat any serious or life-threatening symptoms, like kidney damage and IMHA. This can include hospitalization and supportive care, in the case of kidney failure, or blood transfusions, in the case of IMHA.
Once these symptoms have been resolved, your veterinarian will most likely recommend a course of treatment designed to decrease the autoimmune and inflammatory activity causing your dog’s symptoms. Anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications like corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone), and sometimes additional immunosuppressive medications like cyclosporine, azathioprine, and cyclophosphamide, may be prescribed. Other medications or lifestyle adjustments, like a change in diet or exercise, may be required to help resolve other symptoms.
In most cases, your veterinarian will start your dog off on a high dose of corticosteroids. Once the disease is under control, the dosage can be tapered, but it may need to be adjusted over the course of your dog’s life. Further medications may also be required to treat the side effects of anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications.
Is There a Cure for Lupus?
There is no cure for lupus. Dogs with lupus will live with the condition for the rest of their lives.
Is Lupus Contagious for Humans or Other Pets?
Lupus is not contagious for humans or other pets.
What Is the Cost for Treating Lupus?
Lupus can be expensive to diagnose, treat, and manage. Diagnostic testing, medications, other treatments, and follow-up vet visits all add up. Because it’s a lifelong disease, with the potential for complications down the road, the cost of treating lupus can easily come to hundreds or thousands of dollars over time. Talk to your veterinarian about any financial concerns you may have.
Recovery and Management of Lupus
Your dog’s prognosis depends on several factors, including the organs or tissues targeted, the severity of the symptoms, and how well your dog responds to medication. In all cases, lupus requires lifelong management. This entails regular veterinary visits, medication, and an understanding of the symptoms of lupus flare-ups and dangerous complications, like kidney damage and IMHA. Many dogs live relatively healthy lives once their symptoms are under control. However, damage to organs and tissues can have potentially fatal consequences.
Furthermore, the medications required to manage lupus can themselves have damaging and potentially fatal effects. This is why it is essential to rule out other conditions before beginning treatment for lupus. Corticosteroids like prednisone can damage the liver, in addition to having other side effects. Certain immunosuppressants may also have adverse effects on liver function, kidney function, and blood cells. Regular laboratory tests will help monitor the health of your dog’s organs.
Sunlight can aggravate lupus and cause flare-ups of symptoms. Consider changing your dog’s exercise routine to early morning and later in the evening, and limit the time spent outside during the day to reduce the frequency of flare-ups.
Can You Prevent Lupus in Dogs?
Lupus is an autoimmune condition—and like most autoimmune diseases, it cannot be prevented. However, regular veterinary visits and a healthy lifestyle may make it easier for your veterinarian to manage the condition once it has been diagnosed.
Is There a Vaccine for Lupus?
There is no vaccine for lupus.
Summary of Lupus in Dogs
Lupus is a rare autoimmune disease in dogs that causes their own immune system to attack the body. Symptoms and severity can vary from dog to dog, often depending on which part of the body is affected, and it can be fatal. Lifelong treatment is required, which may involve anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications, diet and lifestyle changes.
Canine contagious is lupus
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