Lupus is a serious condition that does not only happen to humans but also to some animals, especially dogs. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body produces antibodies to attach varying organs, as well as cells and tissues.
It is definitely heartbreaking to find out that your precious dog has lupus. Worst, realize it too late. While it’s not a good habit to obsess about the possibility of your pets developing a serious disease, it’s also not a bad idea to educate yourself about various health problems in dogs and find out how they can be prevented or cured.
What is Lupus in Dogs?
Lupus in dogs is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the nervous system and vital organs.
It has two types:
Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) –
the most common type of lupus in dogs that affect the canine’s skin. Symptoms include lesions, crusting, and depigmentation which are usually found on top of the nose. The cause of DLE is still unknown, but experts believe that exposure to sunlight makes it worse.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) –
A little uncommon, SLE is a more serious type of lupus in dogs which could attack many parts of the body, including the skin, joints, and kidneys. It comes with multiple clinical signs or symptoms, ranging from skin problems to fever and lethargy. Same with DLE, the primary causes of SLE are unknown.
Because it can target almost any part of a dog’s body, it can be difficult to determine if it’s really lupus just by basing on the symptoms alone. If you suspect that your dog has this illness, take him to a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Treatments for lupus can be costly because they involve long-term medications. It is important for every dog owner to have enough savings to cover emergency financial needs if their pets have an autoimmune disorder like lupus.
Causes of Lupus in Dogs
“Lupus” is a Latin word for “wolf” – a name given to the disease during the 19th century because then people believed that it was caused by a wolf bite.
While there are no specific scientific findings pointing to the specific causes of lupus, experts believe that it may be gene-related or hereditary.
Lupus is also associated with certain risk factors, such as stress, viral infection, exposure to ultraviolet light, and reaction to medications.
Symptoms to Watch Out
The symptoms depend on what type of lupus is affecting your dog.
DLE usually affects the face, particularly the nose, lips, mouth, ears, and areas around the eyes. The most common symptoms of DLE include:
- Redness of the skin on the face.
- Scaly or crusty skin
- Skin sores or ulcers
- Itchiness and pain in the affected areas
SLE can affect any part of the body. It targets various cells and tissues, and often, this type of lupus can be deadly. Below are possible signs and symptoms of SLE:
- Fever and seizures
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
- Frequent urination along with an increased thirst
- Enlarged liver, spleen, or kidneys
What breeds are more at risk of lupus?
While any dog can develop lupus, DLE is more likely to occur in medium to large breeds like German Shepherds, Alaskan Malamutes, Shetland Sheepdogs, Siberian Huskies, and Brittany Spaniels. Meanwhile, Old English and Shetland Sheepdogs, Beagles, Irish Setters Afghan Hounds, and Poodles are at a higher risk of developing SLE. A dog can have lupus at any time, but it usually develops at the age of 6.
Long-term Effects of Lupus in Dogs
Dogs with SLE may develop other serious conditions in the long run, such as:
- Kidney failure/Nephrotic syndrome – characterized by low levels of blood albumin, fluid accumulation, and inflammation of the filtration system of the kidneys.
- Sepsis – severe inflammation that leads to organ failure.
- Non-erosive polyarthritis – arthritis affecting the joints, which results in painful muscles, skin sores and blisters, fluctuating fevers, and swollen lymph nodes.
Diagnosis of lupus involves some medical tests which will be performed by a licensed veterinarian. These tests normally include blood sampling to check the blood count and chemical composition, platelet count, and breakdown of red blood cells. Additionally, the veterinarian will ask about the history of your dog’s health, when the symptoms began to show, and how severe they are. They will also conduct a physical examination to check for skin lesions and other physical symptoms.
As there are many symptoms associated with lupus, it can be difficult to diagnose. Autoimmune disorders such as lupus involve determining which autoantibodies are up and this alone requires a lot of work and thorough examination. Veterinarians are also advised to “rule out other things” and avoid presumptive diagnoses.
Lupus in Dogs: Is it Curable?
Just as the causes of lupus in dogs are unknown, there are also no precise treatments for both DLE and SLE. For this reason, treatments for lupus are generally geared towards managing the disease and making the dog’s quality of life better.
Treatment Options for DLE
Compared to SLE, DLE is easy to manage. Treatments are focused on healing and controlling lesions, sores, and ulcers that may appear. The veterinarian may prescribe topical and oral steroids to alleviate the inflammation and suppress the immune response that leads to the said symptoms. In addition to steroids, dogs with lupus are given antibiotics to treat infections, along with supplements to improve their condition. These include Vitamins B and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. In some cases, chemotherapy may be recommended to reduce the pain and the autoimmune response.
Lifestyle management is also important. Dogs suffering from the condition should be given a balanced diet and moderate physical activity. They should not be exposed to the sun for too long as it could aggravate the symptoms.
Treatment Options for SLE
Treatments for SLE depend on the body areas affected. For instance, if it’s affecting the joints, painkillers are prescribed, along with restricted activity and more rest. If the kidneys are affected, the vet will advise a modified, high-quality protein diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
While most dogs with SLEs are treated as outpatients, in some cases (especially when the disease is targeting the dog’s red blood cells), hospitalization may be required.
Dogs with SLE will also have to take anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids to suppress the abnormal immune system response. Some dogs will develop an overwhelming infection or sepsis. If corticosteroids and antibiotics are not enough to control the symptoms, the dog will have to take certain chemotherapeutic agents.
Some veterinarians prefer a holistic approach to treating lupus because prescription medications like steroids and chemotherapy agents can have a lasting impact on the dog’s health. Holistic medicine involves natural remedies (e.g., plant sterols and sterolins) and supplements designed to calm the immune system. By taking a holistic approach, dogs may be given antioxidants to strengthen their immune system and remove free radicals in their bodies.
Management of Lupus in Dogs
Lupus in dogs requires long-term treatment and lifestyle interventions. The goal is to strengthen their immune system by providing them with adequate nutrition and physical activity. Their diet, in particular, has to be free from anti-inflammatory foods like corn, soy, and grains. It is important to give them a stress-free lifestyle as stress can weaken their immune system and trigger the onset of symptoms.
Lidia Staron has been working as a writer, editor and literary coach for 5 years. She contributes articles about the role of finance in the strategic-planning and decision-making process. You can find really professional insights into her writings.