A Comprehensive Guide To Lupus In Dogs: Can It Be Cured?

Two types of lupus can occur in dogs. DLE, being the second most common autoimmune disease to affect the skin of dogs. Some dogs have a predisposition for developing lupus, but any dog can be affected. It’s essential for owners to be aware if their dog is predisposed, what symptoms look like and what to do to get the best care for their pet. Ultimately, a dog with a predisposition for lupus won’t necessarily develop the disease and can make a great family pet. Even dogs that do develop lupus can lead fulfilling lives, providing they have the right treatment.

What is Lupus in Dogs?

There are two types of lupus that can occur in dogs. These two types are autoimmune diseases and are believed to be genetic. Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), commonly known as collie nose, affects a dog’s face, particularly the bridge of their nose, their lips and ears. Sometimes DLE can also affect their feet and genitals. The other type is system lupus erythematosus (SLE) and is more serious to the health of a dog than DLE. SLE not only affects the skin but also the organs, including the heart, liver, and kidneys. Some dogs can experience painful joints, lameness, and lethargy too. Any autoimmune disease in a dog, such as lupus, is the body attacking itself, which will result in pain and discomfort for the dog.

Common Symptoms of Lupus in Dogs

There are several health conditions in dogs that can present similar symptoms to lupus, so it’s important to know what to look out for. Common symptoms for DLE include extreme redness, skin sores, cracked skin, itchiness and ringworm and/or loss of pigment on their nose. SLE’s symptoms include joint and muscle pain, which can be seen when they walk, lethargy, a loss of appetite, their fur falling out, swollen lymph nodes and seizures. Both types have the potential to be fatal.

What Causes Lupus and Can it be Prevented?

In general, it’s believed that lupus is a genetic disease, but environmental factors can play a part too, such as sun exposure, viral infections and having a reaction to certain medications. While a lot of research supports this as the cause, it’s not definitive. Previously, lupus was believed to come from a wolf’s bite, which is why it was named lupus, as it’s the Latin word for wolf. As there’s no concrete evidence to support the cause, it can be difficult to know how to prevent lupus, but most experts and vets will recommend a healthy lifestyle, consistent activity levels and avoiding excessive direct sunlight.

Are Some Breeds More Likely to Develop Lupus?

Any dog can develop lupus, but because it’s a genetic disease, some breeds are predisposed to it. DLE is more likely to occur in German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Chow Chows, Shetland Sheepdogs, German Shorthaired Pointers and Brittany Spaniels. On average, it’s likely to present itself in dogs over 6 years old, but onset can begin at any age. DLE is more likely to occur in the summer, as the sun will make symptoms worse, especially scaly skin and sores.

SLE, a predisposition, is seen in Shetland Sheepdogs, Old English Sheepdogs, Afghan Hounds, Beagles, Collies, Irish Setters, and Poodles. Owners with any of these breeds as pets should be aware of the symptoms of lupus and any other illnesses that are common in them so that spotting the symptoms early on is easy, and veterinary care is sought as soon as possible.

Should predisposed dogs be avoided?

Deciding which breed of dog to get is an important part of bringing a pet into a family home. Some of the breeds that are predisposed to lupus are great breeds that make wonderful pets and shouldn’t be dismissed because of this. The chance of developing lupus is relatively low, and any breed will be predisposed to developing certain illnesses. For example, German Shepherds are predisposed to lupus but are known for being smart, friendly and loving dogs that make an ideal family pet.

Similarly, Poodles have very few other predisposed health conditions and make loyal pets that are easy to train and will quickly become a valuable part of the family. Anyone buying a dog from a breeder should ask about the parent’s health to get an indication of their dog’s future health. It’s advised by vets that dogs with lupus shouldn’t be used for breeding to reduce how common it is.

Spotting Lupus and What to Do

Firstly, it’s important for owners to know if their dog is of a breed predisposed to developing lupus. Knowing the signs and symptoms of the condition can help them to spot it early on, which means treatment can be started sooner to prevent symptoms from becoming severe. It’s also essential to understand other diseases and illnesses that breeds are predisposed to that may have the overlapping symptoms. This can prevent owners from jumping to the conclusion that could get in the way of the correct diagnosis and treatment. If an owner ever suspects that their dog has lupus, they should make an urgent appointment with their vet. Keeping a diary of symptoms can be helpful for vets to make a correct diagnosis and start treatment.

The Big Question: Can it be Cured?

Sadly, the short answer is no. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can be done to help a dog with lupus. Without treatment, both types of lupus can be fatal. SLE symptoms can be relieved with corticosteroids, such as prednisone, and antibiotics. Keeping dogs out of  sunlight will help with the severity of symptoms, as well as keeping them active and healthy.

Sometimes vets may recommend chemotherapy. It can suppress the abnormal responses that the immune system is having. Also reducing how much the body attacks itself, as well as reducing pain. DLE is easier to treat, but still cannot be cured. Topical corticosteroids are to be used to reduce inflammation of the skin and sores. Prednisone and antibiotics are also used to prevent and treat secondary infections, such as from skin sores.

Alternative Treatment Options

Sometimes the traditional method of treating lupus won’t work. Some owners would rather try natural approaches to avoid nasty side effects. Alternative treatment options for lupus include massage therapy, acupuncture, and dietary changes. Vitamin E and Omegas 3 and 6 fatty acids can also be added to the diet. They can help to relieve symptoms, particularly pain. The ultimate goal is to get dogs with lupus as healthy as possible. Giving their body a better chance at healing and functioning well.

How Dogs Daily Lives are Affected by DLE

DLE mainly affects a dog’s skin. The hardest parts for owners, is that they will likely be uncomfortable from their skin being sore, itchy and cracked. This irritation can have an effect on their personality and temperament. Owners may find that their dog becomes aggressive out of frustration, so it can be best to keep them away from children and strangers that could set them off, especially during a flare-up. DLE symptoms are generally worse when dogs are exposed to too much sun. It can benefit them to be walked early morning or evening when the sun isn’t as strong.

 cute red dog border collie lying in the snow, portrait

How Dogs Daily Lives Are Affected by SLE

SLE is more severe than DLE. SLE can have a much bigger impact on a dog’s life, as well as their owner’s. While symptoms can improve, lethargy and pain can make it difficult to achieve or maintain this. Short, frequent walks will be best for dogs with SLE, and if they’re on pain medication, it’s best to exercise shortly after it’s been taken when it’s most effective. Ideally, this will also be in the morning. When they’ve had a long night’s sleep, energy levels are at their highest. Seeing a dog have a seizure can be very stressful for an owner, and also means they have to take full responsibility for their dog’s safety. This means owners need to be with their dog at all times in case of a seizure. They may need to be cleaned up if they lose control of their bladder or bowels during a seizure.

A breed with a predisposition to lupus isn’t guaranteed to develop the disease and can still make a great pet. Even dogs that do develop lupus can still have a good quality of life with thorough and prompt treatment. Some adjustments will need to be made, but they’re always worth it as owners get a loyal companion in return.

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