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Common Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs

What Is An Autoimmune Disease in Dogs?

Autoimmune diseases refer to health conditions in dogs that arise from an overactive immune system. A dog’s immune system wrongly attacks its own cells within the body, resulting in disease. There is no cure for these diseases but they can be managed with appropriate medications to keep the immune system in check.

Here we will discuss the most common types of autoimmune disease in dogs, including how to recognize symptoms and ways veterinarians diagnose and treat them.

What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease in Dogs?

Many signs and symptoms are shared by various diseases that dogs may experience, and autoimmunity is just one. Here are some of the common symptoms you may notice:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness or lack of energy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever
  • Pale gums or skin
  • Heavy breathing

Most Common Types of Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs

There are many autoimmune diseases in dogs. Although this list is not exhaustive, some of the most common conditions include the following:

Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia

This condition arises when the immune system destroys red blood cells which causes anemia. Common symptoms include pale gums, rapid breathing, weakness, yellowing of the skin or eyes, and increased heart rate.

Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia

This disease results from destruction of platelets by the dog’s immune system. Symptoms may include skin bruising, bleeding from the nose or gums, blood-tinged urine, and dark or bloody stools.

Pemphigus Foliaceus

This is an autoimmune skin disease resulting from the breakdown of the epidermis (the top layer of the skin). Symptoms may include itchiness, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, and crusty or ulcerated skin. It mainly affects the head, face, ears, and paw pads.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca

This eye condition results when the immune system attacks the glands within the eye that produce tears. Therefore, the eyes are not properly lubricated. Symptoms include eye pain, squinting, thick eye discharge, corneal ulcers, and red eyes.

Immune-Mediated Arthritis

This disease occurs when the immune system destroys the cartilage or produces significant inflammation within the joints of dogs. Symptoms include limping, swollen or warm joints, joint pain, fever, and lethargy.

Myasthenia Gravis

This condition occurs when the immune system creates antibodies that interfere with muscles and nerves. Symptoms include muscle weakness, lethargy, drooling, and tremors.

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus

This is a condition resulting from the immune system attacking the skin. Common symptoms include loss of pigmentation on the face and ears, skin rash, hair loss, and scaly or ulcerated skin.

Uveodermatologic Syndrome

This condition develops when a dog’s immune system targets melanin, the pigment-producing substance of the skin. Symptoms include loss of pigmentation around the eyes, red eyes, eye pain, squinting, skin ulcers, and white discoloration of the fur.

How Does a Veterinarian Diagnose Autoimmune Disease in Dogs?

Veterinarians use a variety of tests to diagnose autoimmune diseases in dogs depending on what they suspect the underlying cause may be. Testing may include the following:

  • Complete blood count
  • Biochemistry panel
  • Coagulation panel
  • Serology
  • Urinalysis
  • Coomb’s test
  • Slide agglutination test
  • Skin biopsy
  • Schirmer tear test
  • Joint aspirate
  • Radiographs (x-rays)

Some tests are specific for certain autoimmune diseases while others can be helpful for any ill dog. Your veterinarian can determine which tests are appropriate for your individual dog’s symptoms.

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs?

Because autoimmune diseases result from an overactive immune system, there is no way to prevent them. However, many of these diseases are thought to have a genetic component and therefore, choosing not to breed dogs with these conditions may prevent some future cases.

Some types of cancers, infections, and medications can trigger the immune system to become overreactive, but the exact mechanisms for this are unknown and are therefore difficult to prevent.

Treatment for Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

Treatment for autoimmune diseases includes immunosuppressive medications to control the immune system. This may include azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, or high doses of corticosteroids, such as prednisone. Some conditions benefit from topical ointments, such as antibiotics, steroids, or immunosuppressive drugs. In severe cases, dogs may need hospitalization and supportive care, such as oxygen or intravenous fluids. Dogs with severe anemia or low platelet counts may also benefit from blood or plasma transfusions.