Dog with skin rashes on chest being held by owner

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Lupus isn't just a human ailment — our four-legged friends can suffer from it, too. As a pet parent, the word "lupus" might sound unfamiliar, or perhaps you've only heard it in human health contexts. However, just as in humans, lupus in dogs is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues, leading to health issues. 

If you've noticed unusual signs in your dog or simply want to be informed about potential health issues, understanding lupus can be a crucial step in ensuring your pet's well-being. Keep reading to learn more about lupus in dogs and how you can best support your pet diagnosed with this condition. 

What is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease seen in people and dogs. Like lupus in humans, dogs with lupus have an immune system that mistakenly identifies its own cells and tissues as foreign invaders, leading to an attack on its own healthy cells. [1]

The term "autoimmune" essentially means that the immune system, which is designed to ward off external threats like bacteria and viruses, begins to turn against the body. These misguided immune responses can lead to inflammation and damage in various tissues and organs. [1]

Types of lupus in dogs

There are two primary types of lupus in dogs: 

  1. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): This is the more severe form of the disease and can affect many parts of the body, such as the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain. SLE involves chronic inflammation that can lead to damage in various body tissues. [1]
  2. Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (DLE): Known as discoid lupus erythematosus, this type of lupus primarily affects the skin, causing a scaly rash. The lupus rash in dogs doesn't itch or hurt but can worsen symptoms. While DLE mostly affects the face and ears, it can spread elsewhere. In dogs, this form of lupus typically affects the nose. [2]

Lupus in dogs presents a unique challenge due to its ability to manifest in diverse ways, affecting everything from the skin, heart, and lungs to the kidneys, joints, and nervous system. [1]

List of symptoms of Lupus in dogs

Symptoms of Lupus in Dogs

If you look at pictures of lupus in dogs, you'll see a variety of symptoms. This condition presents a challenging diagnosis, given its broad spectrum of symptoms that often overlap with other health conditions. [1] Because lupus is an autoimmune disease, the body's immune system is attacking its own tissues, leading to various clinical signs. 

The initial lupus in dogs symptoms might be subtle or acute, ranging from sporadic fever to shifting lameness that migrates from one leg to the other. [1] Joint issues, such as arthritis, might emerge, affecting multiple joints and leading to visible discomfort. Muscle pain, anemia, swelling of the lymph nodes, and a reduced white blood cell count are also common indicators. [1] 

Skin-related symptoms are also common, making it crucial for pet parents to monitor their dog's skin closely. Manifestations like hair loss, crusty patches, ulcers, and scars can become prevalent. [1] In dogs with discoid lupus erythematosus, bacterial infections in these compromised skin areas might result in additional symptoms such as itchiness, flakiness, and scabs. 

Over time, the skin might undergo changes like depigmentation, with ulcers and erosions being especially concerning and signifying deeper skin damage, while signs like redness, pain, and scarring mimic symptoms of other health and skin issues . [3]

What causes Lupus in dogs?

What Causes Lupus in Dogs?

Lupus occurs when the body forms antibodies that target its own tissues. Unfortunately, the exact cause of lupus in dogs is unknown, much like in humans. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, and the factors contributing to its onset are multifactorial, possibly including: 

  • Genetics: Certain breeds appear more predisposed to developing lupus, suggesting a genetic component. These include Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Chow Chow, and more. [4]
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, certain drugs, and viral infections are believed to trigger lupus in predisposed people and pets. [4]
  • Hormonal factors: There's some speculation that hormonal imbalances might play a role, as lupus tends to be more common in intact females than intact males. [5] 

Diagnosing & Treating Lupus in Dogs

Diagnosing lupus in dogs can be challenging because of the diverse range of symptoms that mimic other conditions. Veterinarians usually follow a systematic approach to arrive at a clinical diagnosis. 

Your vet will perform a clinical examination to note any apparent symptoms like skin lesions, hair loss, or joint inflammation. A complete blood count (CBC) test may be performed to detect anemia, low platelet count, or low white blood cell count, all of which are potential indicators of lupus. [1]

If skin lesions are present, your vet may perform a biopsy to diagnose the cutaneous form of lupus. 

A urinalysis allows the vet to check the dog's urine to identify kidney abnormalities that might be associated with lupus. 

Meanwhile, if your dog is experiencing lameness or joint discomfort, a joint fluid analysis can be used to find inflammation. 

Lupus in dogs treatment primarily aims at reducing the immune system's attack on the body and managing symptoms. Drugs are the primary treatment for lupus in dogs. [1] Corticosteroids like prednisone can help suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also be used to manage joint pain and inflammation, but are not used in conjunction with steroids, as this can lead to stomach ulcers. Other immunosuppressive medications, such as cyclosporine, may also be used to manage lupus.

Dogs diagnosed with cutaneous lupus will require protection from the sun by limiting exposure or using sunscreens for pets. [3] Additionally, some diets and supplements can help reduce inflammation. A balanced diet and a specific vitamin supplement can support overall health. 

Regular vet visits are crucial to monitor the progress of the disease, assess organ function, and make the necessary treatment adjustments. While lupus can be managed, it's a chronic condition with no cure. Regular check-ups, timely medication, and monitoring for new or worsening symptoms are crucial for maintaining your dog's quality of life. 

FAQs

How long do dogs with lupus live?

The prognosis for dogs with lupus varies based on the type, its severity, the organs affected, and how well the disease responds to treatment. [3] Discoid lupus erythematosus is the milder form of the disease, primarily affecting the skin. With appropriate management, dogs with DLE can lead a normal lifespan. However, it's crucial to prevent sun exposure to the affected areas, as UV radiation can worsen this condition. 

On the other hand, systemic lupus erythematosus is a more severe and systemic form of lupus that can affect multiple organs. The prognosis is more variable, with some dogs responding well to treatment and leading relatively normal lives and others suffering complications related to organ damage. 

The lifespan of dogs with SLE can be shortened, especially if the disease affects vital organs like the heart, lungs, or kidneys. 

Regular check-ups and quick treatment adjustments can improve the outcome. The key is early diagnosis and aggressive treatment to minimize organ damage. Pet parents should work closely with their veterinarians to manage the condition and adjust treatment plans based on the dog's response. Regular monitoring, a consistent medication schedule, and a supportive environment can maximize the quality and length of life for a dog with lupus. 

Can dog lupus be cured?

No, there is no cure for dog lupus. However, it can be managed effectively with the right treatment. The primary goals of treating lupus in dogs are to suppress the abnormal immune system response, reduce inflammation, manage the symptoms, and improve the overall quality of life for the dog. 

Discoid lupus erythematosus symptoms can often be managed with topical treatments, sun protection, and oral medications. Meanwhile, systemic lupus erythematosus requires more aggressive treatment, including corticosteroids, to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune response. Other immunosuppressive drugs might be used if the dog doesn't respond to steroids alone or if there are concerns about long-term steroid use. 

What are the warning signs of lupus? 

Lupus in dogs can present with a wide variety of symptoms, and the signs can vary depending on whether the dog has DLE or SLE. Since DLE primarily affects the skin around the face and nose, warning signs include: 

  • Loss of pigmentation around the nose
  • Skin sores
  • Crusty, scaly lesions on the skin
  • Ulcers or open sores
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Itchiness
  • Sensitivity to sunlight, leading to worsening symptoms after exposure

Again, systemic lupus erythematosus is more complex and affects multiple systems in the body. Therefore, it can manifest with a wide range of symptoms, including: 

  • Joint pain and swelling , often leading to arthritis
  • Muscle pain
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Unexplained fever
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Skin abnormalities
  • Kidney problems, which might manifest as increased thirst and urination
  • Respiratory issues, such as coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Neurological problems like seizures or behavioral changes
  • Anemia or other blood-related issues, like a reduced number of platelets
  • Mouth ulcers

Unfortunately, lupus can be challenging to diagnose due to the diverse and sometimes non-specific symptoms of lupus. If you observe any of these warning signs, seek veterinary advice as quickly as possible to determine the cause behind them. 

Close-up of a dog’s elbow joint. Joint pain and arthritis is a key symptom of lupus in dogs

Final Notes 

Lupus in dogs is a multifaceted autoimmune disorder with symptoms that can affect multiple body systems. It can manifest as either discoid lupus erythematosus and primarily affects the skin or systemic lupus erythematosus and affects various organs within the body. Unfortunately, diagnosis can be challenging due to the wide range of symptoms, making it essential for pet parents to be vigilant and seek veterinary care when they notice symptoms. Effective management and treatment can provide dogs with a better quality of life. 

Dutch offers a convenient solution if you're looking for guidance or have questions about your pet's health. Avoid the stress of in-person vet visits and get professional advice from licensed vets from the comfort of your home. We ensure your pet gets the timely attention they deserve and you remain informed about the best health options for them. Try Dutch today.

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References

  1. Tizard, Ian Rodney. "Disorders Involving Immune Complexes (Type III Reactions) in Dogs - Dog Owners." Merck Veterinary Manual, 5 Oct. 2023, www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/immune-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-involving-immune-complexes-type-iii-reactions-in-dogs#v3204891. 

  2. Brooks, Wendy. "Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE) in Dogs." VIN, 15 June 2022, veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4952581. 

  3. Flowers, Amy. "Lupus in Dogs, Causes and Treatments." WebMD, 5 Dec. 2021, www.webmd.com/pets/dogs/what-to-know-about-lupus-in-dogs. 

  4. Betbeze, Stephanie. "Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in Dogs." PetMD, 18 Feb. 2022, www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/endocrine/c_dg_lupus_erythematosus. 

  5. Pedersen, Niels C. “A Review of Immunologic Diseases of the Dog.” Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 Aug. 1999, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7119806/. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $7/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.