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Lupus in Dogs

Lupus in dogs is an autoimmune disease affecting different body organs, including the skin, kidneys, heart, and joints. This page looks at the two types of canine lupus (discoid lupus and systemic lupus) including their symptoms and treatment.

Canine lupus (medically known as Lupus Erythematosus Complex) can be acute or chronic.

The exact cause of the disease is unknown.

Two forms of lupus can be found in dogs:

Let's take a look at each type of canine lupus.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Commonly known as canine systemic lupus, or canine lupus, this type of lupus is a dog-specific autoimmune disease that occurs rarely.

Canine lupus is a complicated disease in which different body organs (the skin, heart, kidneys, joints, nervous system) are affected. Simply put, dogs with systemic lupus have unusual antibodies circulating in their blood. These antibodies attack different protein types and as a result different organs in the body are affected.

Symptoms of Canine Systemic Lupus

Symptoms vary depending the part of the body being attacked by the antibodies. For example, if the joints are affected, you will notice that the dog limps and the lameness goes from one joint to another. The dog may also have painful muscles in various locations, resulting in weakness and lethargy.

If the skin is involved, usually the areas over the nose and muzzle and about the face are affected, although elsewhere in the body may be affected as well. The affected skin will have pus-filled lesions, crusting, and hair loss. The footpads may become ulcerated and thickened.

Eventually, other organs such as the lungs, nervous system, and lymph nodes may also be involved. The dog may develop bleeding and suffer from anemia.

Due to the numerous symptoms that may arise, this form of lupus is difficult to diagnose. Dogs suspected of having systemic lupus will undergo various blood tests and possibly biopsy.

Treatment of Canine Systemic Lupus

Treatment of this form of lupus obviously depends on what organs are affected, but generally includes relatively high doses of steroids in combination with chemotherapy.

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus

Discoid lupus in dogs is a more common form of lupus. It is an autoimmune skin disease. The area affected is limited to the face.

Some breeds of dogs are more prone to discoid lupus than others. Most commonly affected dog breeds include:

  • Brittanys
  • Collies
  • German Shepherds
  • German Shorthaired Pointers
  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • Siberian Huskies

Symptoms of Discoid Lupus in Dogs

One typical symptom of this form of lupus in dogs is depigmentation of the nose. You can see that the dog's nose surface has become smooth. Then there will be destruction of the nose surface tissue. In advanced and serious cases, open sores and crusts (or scabs) are formed. Some dogs may also have skin inflammation on the face. UV-ray tends to make the condition worse, so dogs are more prone to this type of lupus in the summer when sunlight is stronger.

Treatment of Discoid Lupus in Dogs

Conventional treatment of canine discoid lupus is the use of oral and/or topical corticosteroids.

Oral vitamin E is also frequently given in conjunction with steroids.

Since UV-ray can aggravate this form of skin disease, it is advisable to keep a dog with discoid lupus indoors when the sunlight is the most intense (between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.). Topical sunscreens (with an SPF greater than 15) should be used during periods of exposure to sunlight.
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