Dog Owners Guide To Canine Lupus
There are two forms of canine lupus – one that is referred to as discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and the other form that is known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Although both types are relatively rare in dogs when the condition does develop the symptoms can be quite debilitating for the affected dog and of course upsetting for the owner.
DLE this is one of the more common skin diseases to affect the facial area in dogs (and is considered to be milder in relation to the symptoms compared to SLE). With DLE the condition targets the facial area causing a variety of symptoms including skin depigmentation (especially around the nose). The affected dog’s skin may also start to develop open sores and appear crusty. It is also possible for the disease to affect the dog’s ears, eyes and the area around the mouth and lips.
A dog with DLE may also scratch the area that has been affected which can lead to secondary skin infections including Pyoderma.
Are some breeds more prone to the condition?
It does seem to appear that some breeds are more predisposed to developing DLE including Huskies, German Shepherds, German Short Haired Pointers, Brittanys and Shetland Sheepdogs.
Diagnosis & Treatment For Canine Lupus
Diagnosis & treatment for DLE (Discoid lupus erythematosus) will normally be relatively easy for a vet as the skin area that is affected will be local to the facial area (common with the condition) and typical symptoms and appearance of a dog experiencing DLE will aid the vet in making a clear diagnosis.
Treatment for this form of the disease will normally involve the vet prescribing Corticosteroids and a course of vitamin E. It is also very important that a dog with DLE is kept out of strong sunlight as ultra violet rays can make the condition much worst. If your dog is in need of a walk owners should avoid peak sun light hours and if they do need to go outside a sun protector should be applied around the affected area.
For SLE Lupus, which is also known as Systemic canine lupus erythematosus, is considered a very serious health condition as it not only affects the dog’s skin but can cause problems with the heart, kidneys, skin and also the dog’s joints.
This condition is also an auto-immune mediated disease where the dog’s own antibodies start to attack the dog’s body leading to a variety of symptoms. The symptoms of Systemic canine lupus erythematosus can include:
1. Lameness (this is normally one of the first symptoms that owners notice in their dog). The dog may appear lame or have walk in a strange manner. The dog’s joints may also become inflamed and swollen.
2. The affected dog may also appear tired and out of sorts. Exercise may be more difficult and the dog may get really tired much faster than normal.
3. Skin problems may also develop – with similar symptoms to DLE: Discoid canine lupus erythematosus. The affected area of the skin (again this will normally be around the facial area) may develop pustules, lesions and open sores. There may also be some depigmentation of the skin.
4. A dog may also become depressed and show some behavioral changes.
5. Owners should also take notice of much food their pooch is eating as a loss of appetite and weight loss are also common symptoms of a dog experiencing DLE.
6. The dog may also need to drink more water and experience excessive urination.
7. Ulcers may start to develop in the mouth and the gums may start to appear pale in color.
8. The paw and foot pads may start to develop ulcers and the texture of the skin may harden and appear thicker.
9. The organs may start to swell and become larger including the liver, spleen and lymph nodes.
10. Systemic canine lupus erythematosus can also lead to Pyoderma (bacterial skin infections). Secondary pyoderma is one of the main causes of death in affected dogs.
11. The dog’s muscles may start to waste away (also known as atrophy).
12. Alopecia (hair loss) is also very common with Systemic canine lupus erythematosus.
13. Anemia may also develop.
Diagnosis & treatment for lupus in dogs
SLE is normally diagnosed through a thorough physical examination and a skin biopsy. This will normally be undertaken by the vet performing a (ANE – also known as an Antinuclear Antibody Test).
Treatment for the condition will normally involve the vet examining how advanced the disease has progressed including what organs have been affected (and treating the symptoms accordingly). Of course the vet will advise on how the secondary symptoms can be treated including any skin infections and pain etc. In some cases the vet may need to perform chemotherapy.
Interesting facts about Lupus
1. Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is also known as ‘Collie nose’. DLE is not as serious as Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). DLE normally targets the areas around the face and ears. However, with SLE this targets the organs (specifically the kidneys, joints, liver and heart).
2. An exact cause of Lupus is not fully understood. However, genetics is thought to play a strong part in the condition developing. There are other factors that experts think may also contribute to the illness including infections caused by viruses, stress related issues and even exposure to strong sunlight.
Interestingly, the condition does seem to be more common during the summer months when the ultraviolet sunlight is at it’s strongest. If you do live in a hot climate you can purchase a sunblock that can be rubbed into the nose to reduce the chances of damage to the skin. Don’t forget strong sunlight can also be a contributing factor in cancer related conditions.
3. Although an effective diagnosis can be reached for both forms of the condition it is more difficult for vets to diagnose Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). To get an accurate diagnosis the vet will need to rule out a variety of other health problems that have similar symptoms such as bacterial, viral or fungal infections, cancer, kidney problems/disease, heart disease and tick related diseases.
Once the vet has ruled out any other possible illness that has similar symptoms the vet may perform blood tests and a urinalysis to get an accurate diagnosis. Radiographs and skin biopsies may also be taken. The vet will also perform an ANA (also known as an antinuclear antibody test). This is a test to see if there are any specific antinuclear antibodies present in the dogs system (these are present in higher than normal numbers in dogs with an autoimmune disease).
Additional autoimmune diseases
As previously mentioned, Lupus (both types) are classed as autoimmune diseases, but what does this actually mean? An autoimmune disease is caused when the dog’s body starts to attack itself. This can happen either through the formation of antibodies targeting the tissue or through the formation of antibodies targeting the organs. This is how many autoimmune diseases are diagnosed (through blood tests to look for specific antibodies).
The actual causes of autoimmune diseases are unknown but experts do think that the causes are closely related to Cancer. Whatever the cause whether it’s through a viral, environmental or genetic factor there is a serious failure of the autoimmune defense system which leads to some of the symptoms described on this page.
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