Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease, isn’t a disease that’s exclusive to humans — dogs can get lupus, too. Let’s break down the causes, symptoms, and treatments of this disease a little further.
There are two types of canine lupus. The first (and most common) is called discoid lupus erythematosus, or DLE; this kind of lupus affects your dog’s skin, especially the areas around the nose and face. Scientists have not yet discovered the cause of this disease, although they do know that sunlight makes DLE worse (causing lesions, crusting, and depigmentation to worsen).
The second type of canine lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Although not as common, this disease is far more serious and can target different parts of the body, which can make it difficult to diagnose. SLE often affects the joints, kidneys, and skin but can damage any organ. While the cause of SLE is not fully understood, middle-aged female dogs seem to be most at risk, and breeds such as Afghan Hounds, Beagles, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Old English Sheepdogs, and Rough Collies are also predisposed.
The symptoms of DLE are not terribly serious, but can still cause discomfort and pain. According to Dogtime, they might include:
- Pale skin on the bridge of the nose
- Redness of the skin, especially on the nose, lips, and face
- Scaly, flaky, or crusty skin
- Sores or ulcers
- Pain at the affected sites
- Itchiness or scratching
- Bacterial infections
Symptoms of SLE, on the other hand, are much more serious and should not be taken lightly; this condition might become deadly since it attacks cells and tissue. Pet parents should look for:
- Loss of appetite
- Shifting leg lameness
- Arthritis, muscle pain, and general stiffness
- Sores on the skin
- Hair loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
- Enlarged liver, spleen, or kidneys
- Increased thirst or urination
DLE is fairly easy to diagnose — your vet may simply take a biopsy of your dog’s skin and analyze it to determine whether DLE is causing the symptoms.
LE, however, is more complex to figure out since its symptoms can apply to so many other diseases as well. In order to diagnose SLE, you’ll need to keep careful track of all your dog’s symptoms so you can tell your vet. Then your vet will most likely do a blood test to narrow down what’s going on.
Lupus cannot be cured — it’s a chronic illness that will need to be managed and treated for the rest of your dog’s life.
Luckily, DLE is simple to treat. Your dog will most likely need to take oral steroids, antibiotics, and supplements; your vet will probably recommend a topical steroid as well. Keeping your dog out of the sunlight as much as possible is the only other thing to do.
SLE treatment is a little more intense. Sometimes dogs will undergo chemotherapy to relieve their pain. Your vet also might recommend steroids or immunosuppressive drugs. And some pet owners choose to focus on a holistic approach, using natural methods to help their dog feel better and still enjoy a full life.
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