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Pemphigus in Dogs

Pemphigus is an autoimmune skin disease. There are four types of canine pemphigus - pemphigus foliaceus, pemphigus vulgaris, pemphigus erythematosus, and pemphigus vegetans. This page looks at the symptoms and treatment of canine pemphigus.

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Canine pemphigus is an autoimmune skin disease in dogs.

Autoimmune skin diseases occur when the dog's body recognizes a specific component of his own skin as foreign and makes antibodies (called autoantibodies) against that component.

In pemphigus, the autoantibodies target and attack the walls of the skin cells, making these cells unable to remain attached, so they separate.

As a result, the outer layer of the skin splits apart and fills with fluid and cells, forming fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) and pustules.

The trigger or stimulus for the autoantibody formation is unclear.

There are four types of pemphigus in dogs - Pemphigus foliaceus, pemphigus erythematosus, pemphigus vulgaris, and pemphigus vegetans.

Pemphigus foliaceus is the most common autoimmune skin disease in dogs. Pemphigus erythematosus is a localized variant of pemphigus foliaceus. Pemphigus vulgaris and pemphigus vegetans are uncommon in dogs. This page focuses on pemphigus foliaceus.

To learn more about autoimmune diseases, please visit this page.

Pemphigus Foliaceus in Dogs

Pemphigus foliaceus is a pustular dermatitis that tends to begin on the bridge of the nose and the ears and progress to the feet, including the foot pads, and legs. Eventually the skin of the trunk and the rest of the body are affected.

At the beginning of the disease, you may see red skin patches that involve the face and ears, and later may progress to the feet and eventually generalized. The red skin patches rapidly develop into blisters and pustules. They then become dry, yellow crusts which stick to the underlying skin and hair.

When the feet are involved, the foot pads become thickened and cracked, causing pain when the dog puts weight on his feet. In some cases of pemphigus foliaceus, only the foot pads are affected. Therefore, if your dog has a painful limp with thickened and cracked pads, he may be suffering from pemphigus foliaceus.

In addition, dogs with pemphigus foliaceus may have a fever and refuse to eat.

Pemphigus foliaceus is mostly seen in dogs from 2 to 7 years of age. Dogs that are predisposed include Akitas, Bearded Collies, Chow Chows, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinschers, Finnish Spitz, Newfoundlands, and Schipperkes.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pemphigus in Dogs

A definitive diagnosis can be made by skin biopsy.

There is no cure for any form of pemphigus in dogs.

However, about 50% of dogs suffering from pemphigus foliaceus can be kept relatively free of symptoms by drugs that suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids (e.g. prednisone).

High doses of corticosteroids can work rapidly and offer quick relief to dogs with this disease. However, since long-term use of corticosteroids can cause numerous side effects, corticosteroids are usually used early in the treatment and then other immunosuppressive drugs that act more slowly and have fewer side effects (such as azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, or chlorambucil) are introduced to allow steroids to be decreased or eliminated.

Sometimes gold salt injections (chrysotherapy) are being used as an alternative when the immunosuppressive drugs have been ineffective or the side effects have been too unbearable for the dog.

Treatment of this disease is life long.
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