What is Lupus Disease
By definition, lupus in dogs is an autoimmune disease in which the dog’s immune system sees its own body’s cells, tissues, and organs as dangerous threats and therefore attacks them with antibodies.
There are two different types of canine lupus:
- Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE)
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
The two types of lupus have varying symptoms and treatment options. It is important for dog owners to understand the signs of each type of the disease so that they can seek immediate medical intervention and ensure their dog receives a proper diagnosis and treatment.
What Causes Lupus in Dogs
The word lupus is Latin for wolf. In the 19th century, the disease was given the name because it was thought to have been caused by a wolf bite due to the wolf-like facial rash that appeared on people when they had the disease.
Obviously, we now know that this is not the case. However, beyond recognizing that the disease doesn’t come from a wolf bite, the disease still puzzles experts. Even with massive advancements in technology, the definite cause of lupus disease continues to be unknown.
Some experts believe that genetics play a huge role in lupus and that the disease is most likely inherited. Other experts believe that certain factors and conditions may cause the disease.
These factors include:
- Ultraviolet light (sunlight)
- Adverse reactions to medications
- Viral infections
Again, these causes are, while educated, still speculation to a degree. The definite cause of canine lupus still remains unknown.
Symptoms of lupus disease depend on which type of lupus your dog has and can vary from being completely benign to incredibly severe.
Let’s get into the differences of these two types of lupus and tell you what you may need to look out for.
Types of Lupus in Dogs
As previously mentioned, there are two types of canine lupus disease: DLE and SLE.
What is Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE)
DLE is the more common form of lupus disease. Discoid lupus in dogs is confined to only affecting the skin and is often referred to as “collie nose” or “nasal solar dermatitis” due to it most often affecting the skin of the nose.
While DLE is as much of an autoimmune as SLE, the difference is that with DLE, the immune system only attacks and damages skin cells and tissues.
Discoid lupus erythematous most commonly affects the nose, face, lips, mouth, ears, and areas around the dog’s eyes. Although rare, DLE can cause symptoms on the feet or genitals. Dogs with DLE will show one or several symptoms, but commonly appear to be very healthy otherwise.
Dog owners should be aware of the following symptoms of DLE:
- Redness of the skin, particularly the nose, lips, and face
- Pale skin on the bridge of the dog’s nose
- Loss of nose pigment
- Flakey, scaly, or crusty skin
- Sores or ulcerations or skin lesions
- Itchiness of scratching at the nose, face, lips, and/or mouth
- Pain at the affected areas
- Bacterial infections
- Hair loss
The symptoms of DLE are also associated with symptoms of ringworm of the nose, staph infection, and nasal lymphoma. In order to provide an accurate diagnosis, your veterinarian will have to take a biopsy of the nose.
Breeds Commonly Affected by DLE
Most often, dogs over the age of six are most likely to develop DLE. However, it can happen at any time. Additionally, there are a number of breeds that appear to be at a higher predisposition for DLE. Those breeds include:
- German Shepherds
- Siberian Huskies
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Chow Chows
- Shetland Sheepdogs
- German Shorthaired Pointers
- Brittany Spaniels
Treating Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs
Neither DLE or SLE are curable, therefore, veterinarians focus on managing and easing the symptoms that the disease causes. The symptoms of DLE are fairly simple to treat.
Veterinarians will focus on controlling and healing any skin lesions, sores, or ulcers that are present. Your veterinarian may prescribe topical antibiotics to ease inflammation and skin irritations. Additionally, your vet may prescribe oral steroids such as prednisone until the symptoms are under control.
Pet owners may also be encouraged to incorporate supplements such as supplements, including Vitamins B and E and Omega-3 fatty acids into their dog’s diet to provide an extra boost of wellness.
Many experts believe that exposure to ultraviolet light, including sunlight, can worsen the dog’s overall condition, so pet owners should limit their dog’s exposure to it.
What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a relatively rare form of lupus disease. However, when SLE does occur, it is much more serious than DLE and potentially fatal. SLE can target almost any part of the dog’s body. Symptoms of SLE depend on the organ that the disease is targeting.
Often the symptoms of SLE are also clinical signs of other diseases. A proper veterinarian diagnosis is necessary in order to begin treatment for SLE.
Symptoms of SLE can occur acutely (all of a sudden) or chronically (subtly, over a matter of time). The symptoms may wax and wane over time, meaning that the dog may appear to get better and then get worse again. Often, the more that SLE progresses, the more symptoms will appear.
- Joint and muscle pain
- Stiffness or lameness in the legs
- Skin lesions
- Lamness that appears to move from limb to limb
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Enlarged spleen
- Enlarged liver
Breeds Commonly Affected by SLE
SLE tends to be seen more commonly in middle-aged, female dogs. However, studies show there have been cases of SLE occurring in dogs as young as six months old. The following breeds also appear to be at a higher predisposition for the disease:
- German Shepherd
- Old English Sheepdog
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Rough Collie
- Irish Setter
- Afghan Hound
Treating Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs
Again, unfortunately, there is not a cure for either form of lupus in dogs. Due to the potential severity of SLE in dogs, treatment plans will vary greatly from DLE wherein the symptoms are simply treated and then managed.
SLE treatment will also vary depending on the area or specific organ that the lupus is targeting. The treatment is aimed to reduce inflammation and subdue the immune response that is responsible for the damage.
Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe steroids, NSAIDs, and immunosuppressive drugs. Chemotherapy can also reduce pain and further suppress the immune response.
SLE often comes with secondary infections. Your veterinarian will also treat any additional infections that the dog may have developed.
As with DLE, many experts believe that sunlight can lead to further damage and should be avoided if your dog receives a lupus diagnosis.
The treatment for SLE and DLE will have to continue for the rest of the dog’s life.
How to Diagnose Lupus in Dogs
In order to receive an accurate diagnosis, you’ll have to have a veterinarian examine your dog and administer a handful of tests.
ALthough DLE mimics other diseases, it is easier to diagnosis. Your veterinarian will take a biopsy of the affected area (most likely the nose). The biopsy will be able to rule out other diseases such as ringworm and nasal lymphoma and provide an accurate diagnosis.
SLE is more complicated to diagnose as it also mimics other diseases based on which organs are affected. Diseases such as different cancers and kidney disease as well as conditions caused by adverse reactions to medications all have similar clinical signs showing that something is very wrong with your dog.
Your veterinarian will administer blood tests to rule out other diseases and help move towards an accurate diagnosis. Your vet will look antinuclear antibodies in your dog’s blood. These antinuclear antibodies are telling, clinical signs of SLE.
Canine Lupus Prognosis
As we have discussed, there isn’t a cure for canine lupus. It is a disease that pet owners will have to treat (often on a daily basis) for the rest of their dog’s life. However, this doesn’t mean that lupus can’t be managed.
The prognosis of DLE is usually always very positive. As long as the symptoms are managed, dogs with DLE usually get right back to their lively selves and can live long, healthy, happy lives.
Dogs with SLE have an unpredictable prognosis as the disease is difficult to treat and can be extremely inconstant and in some cases, progress very quickly. Lupus causes the immune system to attack it’s own body, however, suppressing the immune system also comes with an extreme amount of serious side effects.
Consulting with your veterinarian about an appropriate treatment plan is key. Every dog is different and at the end of the day, what works for one may not work for the next.
Learning that your dog has an autoimmune disease can be extremely scary, but it doesn’t mean the end of your dog’s life. Learning all you can about the disease is the first step in helping your beloved dog get back on their feet and live the best life that they can.
Is Lupus Contagious?
No lupus is not contagious.
Is Lupus Hereditary
The definite cause of lupus is still unclear, however, experts strongly believe that there is definitely a heredity component to the disease.
Is Lupus Fatal
Yes and no. SLE can be fatal without proper treatment of the condition. DLE is rarely fatal but also requires proper treatment and medication.