Lupus in Dogs | Symptoms & Treatment

Lupus in Dogs | Symptoms & Treatment

Author WDF Staff


Humans and dogs share many things. Unfortunately, there are many similar diseases we share, and one of them is lupus. This is a dangerous disease no dog owner ever wants to hear their dog has. If you are worried about your dog’s health and want to know a little bit more about lupus in dogs, here’s what our experts have to say about it.

What is lupus in dogs?

Lupus in dogs is a dangerous autoimmune disease. It will cause the dog’s immune system to turn on them and start attacking their own tissue on a cellular level. Different species can get it, even humans. There are two types of lupus dogs can get. The first is discoid lupus erythematosus or DLE. The second one is systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

The systemic lupus erythematosus is the more serious of the two types of lupus in dogs. This type can attack any part of the dog’s body. Not only is this type of disease very dangerous, but it can also mimic symptoms from other diseases.

labrador closeup

Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE)

This type of lupus is less dangerous. Vets and owners often call it the “collie nose.” This type of disease will mainly affect the tissue and cells on the dog’s face and nose.

How can I know if my dog has lupus?

The tricky thing about lupus, especially SLE, is that it will mimic symptoms from other diseases. Even vets misdiagnose it often. However, most dog owners will notice something’s “off” with their dog, which is when they decide to visit their vet. If that happens, the vet will examine the dog and diagnose the disease. However, figuring out your dog has lupus is exceptionally tricky. The best thing you can do is learn the symptoms and try to make an educated guess.

Symptoms of lupus in dogs

As we already mentioned, the best way to discover the disease in your dog is by learning the symptoms and making an educated guess. However, that is extremely tricky and quite hard to do. Even the most experienced vets have trouble diagnosing it. However, noticing DLE in dogs is easier than noticing SLE because the symptoms are different. Here are the main differences;

DLE symptoms

DLE will mostly affect the dog’s skin, nose, and face. Noticing that is a lot easier than seeing unknown symptoms of the other lupus type. Here are the most common DLE symptoms;

  • Pain in the affected area
  • Erosions
  • Ulcers
  • Depigmentation
  • The hairless area around the nostrils becomes extremely smooth
  • Redness of the affected skin
  • Scarring
  • Itchiness
  • Subsequent bacterial infections
  • Scaly or flaky skin

white dog on leaves

SLE symptoms

SLE is an autoimmune disease that is extremely hard to notice. The main problem is that the disease attacks different body parts, which means it can mimic every existing illness. The symptoms will be completely different, and they will be based on the part of the body lupus attacks. However, the most common SLE symptoms in dogs are;

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Leg lameness (shifting from one limb to another)
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Lesions or sores
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Seizures
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Enlarged kidneys, liver, or spleen
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination

How can dogs get lupus?

Even with modern technology and scientific advances, we still don’t fully understand how or why dogs get lupus. Some breeds seem to be more prone to it. Scientists still research this disease, and there are a few things that we know. Some of the things that affect dogs and “help” the development of lupus are stress, medications, exposure to ultraviolet light, and viral infections.

WORLD DOG FINDER TIP: Some breeds seem to be more prone to developing lupus, and those breeds are Old English Sheepdogs, Beagles, German Shepherds, Afghan Hounds, Irish Setters, Collies, and Shetland Sheepdogs.

How is lupus in dogs diagnosed?

Since there are two different types of lupus, vets use various techniques and tests to diagnose them. If your dog has DLE affecting the area around their nose, the vet will take a biopsy of the affected area. After a lab examination, the vet can confirm DLE.

dog on beach

The second type of lupus in dogs, SLE, is very tough to diagnose. SLE can mimic bad medication reactions, cancer, liver or kidney diseases, Cushing’s disease, or anything else in the affected area. However, you can help your vet by telling them all the symptoms you noticed in your dog. After they start suspecting lupus, the vet will begin looking for antinuclear antibodies. These antibodies will point the vet in the SLE direction.

Can lupus in dogs be treated?

The bad news is that both types of lupus are not curable. Treatment is focused on symptom management. In the case of DLE, vets will focus on curing ulcers, sores, or lesions. One of the things vets can use is Prednisone. They will prescribe topical steroids to dogs with DLE to suppress the immune reaction and control the inflammation.

SLE is a lot harder to treat. Vets usually react to the dog’s symptoms, and to that cause, they can use Prednisone, antibiotics for infection, immunosuppressants, and NSAIDs. Another way vets try to control the immune response is through chemotherapy (dogs handle it a lot better than we do).

What is the prognosis?

The exact prognosis will depend on the type of lupus your dog develops. In the case of DLE, the prognosis is good. The treatment is usually successful, and even though it will last for the remainder of the dog’s life, the dog can live with it.

The prognosis for dogs with SLE lupus is not the best. While there are medications that can control the symptoms, the dog will not cope well with them. Suppressing the immune system comes with many risks, and the side effects of that are terrible. The disease is progressive and unpredictable. Even the most experienced vets are cautious when giving any kind of prognosis.

World Dog Finder team

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