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Lupus in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

Here's an overview of lupus in dogs, including the symptoms and available treatment options.

Your dog is an important member of your family, so it can be scary and overwhelming to think about the different health issues he may develop throughout his life. While you should never drive yourself crazy by obsessing over a list of uncommon “what if” scenarios, it’s always best to know signs and symptoms you should be aware of so that you’re ready to take action if necessary. Here’s everything you need to know about lupus in dogs.

What Are the Two Types of Lupus in Dogs?
Here’s an overview of the two types of lupus that your dog may develop:

  1. Discoid Lupus Erythematosus
    The most common form of lupus in dogs is discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), an autoimmune disease that affects a canine’s skin. The signs you should watch out for include lesions, crusting and depigmentation. In cases of DLE, the “lesions are usually localized to one region of the skin, like the top of the nose,” says Dr. Michel Selmer, a holistic veterinarian at Advanced Animal Care Center in Huntington Station, New York. Unfortunately, the underlying cause of this condition has yet to be confirmed.

    However, it’s clear that exposure to sunlight tends to make DLE worse. You should make sure that a pet suffering from this disease has plenty of sun protection when going outside.

    To read more about skin conditions in dogs, read Dog Skin Cancer: An Overview of This Condiiton and How To Prevent It.

  2. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
    The second form of canine lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a much more serious condition. Unfortunately, this disease has the potential to attack your dog’s body in different ways. According to Dr. Selmer, “joints, kidneys and skin are most commonly involved but almost any organ can be affected.”

    Because this disease has multiple clinical signs, it’s often called “The Great Imitator.” If your dog develops this condition, his symptoms will depend on the affected area of his body. For instance, he may display skin symptoms, run a fever or seem lethargic. As with DLE, the primary causes of this strain of lupus have yet to be determined.

Is Lupus Difficult to Diagnose?
As there are many symptoms of SLE in dogs, in can be difficult to diagnose this disease. But, because this condition can be quite serious, veterinarians are “under a little more pressure to try to come up with an answer early,” explains Dr. Mark Setser, a veterinarian and the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Making this diagnosis involves determining which autoantibodies are up, which can often be difficult, he says. Dr. Setser explains that SLE often calls for vets to “rule out other things and make presumptive diagnoses.” This allows them to see if the afflicted dog’s condition improves as a result of providing treatment for a certain type of disease.

What Types of Treatment Options Are Available?
Treatment for canine lupus is dependent upon the symptoms involved in a particular case. For instance, vets often prescribe steroids that will reduce inflammation, such as prednisone or dexamethasone. In some cases, Plaquenil, an anti-malarial drug, has also proven to be effective.

Your pet may also respond well to an integrative approach that combines Eastern and Western medicine. “Treatment is typically lifelong, and the prognosis is guarded depending on the organ systems involved,” explains Dr. Selmer. “Although the cutaneous signs are relatively easy to control, systemic signs may not respond well.”

It’s also important for you to remember that you play a big role in your pet’s treatment process. “Flare-ups can occur and client compliance and monitoring have a big influence on the prognosis,” says Dr. Selmer. It’s crucial that you and your dog sitter pay very close attention to any changes in your dog’s symptoms or behavior. If you notice anything unusual, you should have it checked out by your veterinarian, stresses Dr. Setser.

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a freelance writer, editor and fantasy author who’s written pet articles for The Daily Puppy, The Nest and Paw Nation. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her husband, two cats and an eight-pound Chihuahua who runs the show.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.