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Dog Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune Disease in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

An autoimmune disease in dogs occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's cells, tissues, or organs, causing inflammation and tissue damage.

The causes of dog autoimmune disease are genetic predisposition, environmental triggers, and imbalances in the immune system that lead to the body attacking its cells. 

Symptoms of autoimmune diseases in dogs manifest as skin issues, lethargy, weight loss, joint problems, recurring infections, digestive disturbances, and alterations in behavior, signifying the body's immune response has gone awry. 

Diagnostic techniques for autoimmune disease in dogs include blood tests, urinalysis, imaging, biopsy, and specific autoimmune tests such as antinuclear antibodies (ANA) for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). 

Diagnosing a dog autoimmune disease is challenging, as symptoms vary widely and mimic other conditions. Skin scraping and cytology are performed for autoimmune skin diseases in dogs. 

Treatment options for autoimmune skin disease in dogs include medications, dietary adjustments, nutritional supplements, and supportive care to manage the immune system's aberrations and improve the quality of life for affected canine companions.

What is Autoimmune Disease in Dogs?

Autoimmune disease in dogs happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's cells, tissues, or organs, leading to inflammation and various health issues. The study by Gershwin, L., "Autoimmune diseases in small animals," 2010, indicates, “Autoimmune diseases in dogs and cats share commonalities with humans, with genetics and environmental factors playing a role in predisposition and autoimmune etiology.”  

An overactive or confused immune system produces autoantibodies that target healthy cells, mistaking them for harmful invaders. The process disrupts the normal functioning of the body, causing a range of symptoms such as joint pain, skin problems, and fatigue.

Typical dog autoimmune diseases include hypothyroidism, lupus, and immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. In these conditions, the immune system fails to recognize its proteins, launching an attack that damages vital organs like the kidneys or liver.

Are Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs Common?

Yes, Autoimmune diseases in dogs are common, with the prevalence of autoimmune disorders in dogs depending on the specific condition and breed predispositions. “Autoimmunity in dogs is influenced by breeding selection, highlighting the importance of genetics in the development of autoimmune diseases,” according to the study by Gershwin, L. titled “Veterinary Autoimmunity,” 2007.

Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is the common variant of autoimmune disease. The condition “is the most common autoimmune disease in dogs, resulting in significant morbidity and mortality,” according to the study by Swann, J., Woods, K., Wu, Y., Glanemann, B., & Garden, O. titled “Characterisation of the Immunophenotype of Dogs with Primary Immune-Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia,” 2016.

What are the Causes of Autoimmune Disease in Dogs?

The causes of autoimmune diseases in dogs are a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental triggers, and imbalances in the immune system that lead to the body attacking its cells. “Exposure to common environmental factors or transmissible agents may have a role in causing autoimmune disease in dogs,” according to the study by Jones, D., Hopkinson, N., & Powell, R. titled “Autoantibodies in pet dogs owned by patients with systemic lupus erythematosus,” 1992.

Genetic factors significantly predispose certain breeds to autoimmune conditions, and environmental influences such as exposure to allergens, toxins, or infections trigger the diseases. Autoimmune skin disease in dogs is caused by “distinct antibodies against different organs,” according to the study by Hasegawa, T., Matsuoka, K., Ono, K., Watari, T., Goitsuka, R., Nishimura, R., Nakayama, H., Goto, N., & Hasegawa, A. titled “Immune mediated skin lesions in a dog with autoimmune hemolytic anemia,” 1990.

Environmental factors like diet, air quality, and living conditions impact a dog's immune response. Medications like steroids necessary for treating various conditions sometimes disrupt the delicate balance of the immune system, leading to autoimmune reactions.

What are the different Types of Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs?

The different types of autoimmune diseases in dogs are listed below.

  • Myasthenia Gravis: An autoimmune disease affecting the neuromuscular junction, leading to muscle weakness and fatigue.
  • Bullous Pemphigoid: A skin disorder characterized by the formation of large blisters and ulcerations due to autoantibodies targeting the skin's basement membrane.
  • Glomerulonephritis: Glomerulonephritis is inflammation of the glomeruli in the kidneys, leading to proteinuria, hematuria, and renal dysfunction.
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): A systemic autoimmune disease affecting multiple organs and tissues, including the skin, joints, kidneys, and blood cells.
  • Pannus: Pannus is known as chronic superficial keratitis, an autoimmune disease of the cornea that leads to vision impairment if untreated.
  • Pemphigus Vulgaris: Pemphigus in dogs is a severe autoimmune skin disease characterized by the formation of blisters and erosions on the skin and mucous membranes.
  • Polyarthritis: Inflammation of multiple joints due to autoimmune mechanisms, leading to pain, swelling, and lameness.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye): An autoimmune condition affecting the tear glands, leading to decreased tear production and dryness of the eyes.
  • Pemphigus Foliaceus: A type of pemphigus foliaceus dog condition that affects the superficial layers of the skin, leading to crusting, scaling, and ulceration.
  • Discoid Lupus Erythematosus: An autoimmune disease primarily affecting the skin, particularly the face and ears, leading to ulceration and scarring.
  • Masticatory Myositis: An autoimmune disease affecting the muscles of mastication (chewing muscles), leading to pain, swelling, and difficulty opening the mouth.
  • Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP): A condition characterized by low platelet counts due to autoimmune destruction of platelets, leading to increased risk of bleeding.
  • Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA): An autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys red blood cells, leading to anemia.
  • Uveodermatologic Syndrome: An autoimmune disease affecting the eyes, skin, and sometimes other organs, characterized by uveitis (inflammation of the uvea) and skin depigmentation.
  • Pemphigus Erythematosus: A milder form of pemphigus affecting the face and ears, characterized by crusting and ulceration.
  • Granulomatous Meningoencephalitis (GME): An autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system, particularly the brain and spinal cord, leading to inflammation and neurological symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of a Dog's Autoimmune Disease?

The symptoms of a dog’s autoimmune disease are listed below.

  • Skin Issues: Autoimmune skin diseases cause various skin problems, including rashes, redness, itching, hair loss, crusts, ulcers, and blistering.
  • Lethargy: Signs of autoimmune diseases in dogs include lethargy, weakness, and decreased activity levels. Dogs seem less interested in exercise or play.
  • Weight Loss: Some autoimmune diseases lead to weight loss, often due to decreased appetite, malabsorption of nutrients, or metabolic changes associated with the disease process.
  • Joint Issues: Autoimmune diseases affecting the joints cause inflammation, swelling, stiffness, lameness, and pain. Dogs become reluctant to move or have difficulty rising or climbing stairs.
  • Recurring Infections: A compromised immune system due to autoimmune disease in dogs symptoms makes dogs more susceptible to recurrent infections, such as skin infections, urinary tract infections, or respiratory infections.
  • Digestive Problems: Autoimmune diseases affect the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and weight loss.
  • Changes in Behavior: Dogs with autoimmune diseases exhibit changes in behavior, such as increased irritability, restlessness, anxiety, or depression. They show changes in appetite or drinking behavior.

How are Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs diagnosed?

Autoimmune diseases in dogs are diagnosed by evaluating clinical symptoms, blood tests to assess inflammatory markers, and specific diagnostic procedures to identify the underlying immune system dysfunction. “Autoantibody biomarkers are valuable tools used to diagnose and manage autoimmune diseases in dogs,” according to the study by Treeful, A., Coffey, E., & Friedenberg, S. titled “A scoping review of autoantibodies as biomarkers for canine autoimmune disease,” 2022.

One key aspect in diagnosing autoimmune diseases in dogs is the detailed analysis of the blood cells. Veterinarians observe any irregularities in white blood cell counts through blood tests, which indicate an overactive immune response. 

Proper diagnosis is necessary when deciding how to treat a dog with autoimmune disease. Checking for specific inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP) or erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) provides valuable insights into the level of inflammation present in the body, helping to pinpoint the source of the immune system dysfunction.

Can Autoimmune Disease come on suddenly in Dogs?

Yes, autoimmune diseases come on suddenly in dogs, especially during what's referred to as an "acute phase." “An acute phase response (APR) occurs in canine autoimmune hemolytic anemia, characterized by increased C-reactive protein (CRP) and alpha1-acid glycoprotein (AAG) concentrations and decreased albumin concentrations,” according to the study by Mitchell, K., Kruth, S., Wood, R., & Jefferson, B. titled “Serum acute phase protein concentrations in dogs with autoimmune hemolytic anemia,” 2009.

Some autoimmune diseases exhibit symptoms emerging gradually, while others manifest suddenly and unexpectedly. The sudden appearance of autoimmune disease symptoms is alarming for pet owners. Conditions like Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP) or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) present rapid onset and severe clinical manifestations. 

Immune-mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP) leads to dangerously low platelet counts, causing issues with blood clotting and potentially life-threatening bleeding. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) affects various organs and systems in the body, leading to symptoms such as joint pain, fever, and skin lesions. The abrupt emergence of these conditions necessitates prompt veterinary intervention to initiate appropriate treatment and manage the potentially rapid progression of the disease.

How to Treat a Dog with Autoimmune Disease?

The ways to treat a dog with autoimmune disease are listed below.

  • Medication: Veterinarians prescribe medications to modulate the immune system and reduce inflammation depending on the specific autoimmune disease and its severity.  These medications include corticosteroids (prednisone), immunosuppressive drugs (such as azathioprine or cyclosporine), or other immunomodulatory medications.
  • Anti-inflammatory Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) alleviate pain and reduce inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases affecting the joints, skin, or other tissues. NSAIDs must be used cautiously and under veterinary supervision, as they have side effects, especially when used long-term.
  • Pain Management: Dogs with autoimmune diseases experience pain due to inflammation, joint involvement, or other complications. Pain management strategies include medications such as opioids, non-NSAID analgesics, or adjunctive therapies like physical therapy, acupuncture, or laser therapy.
  • Supportive Care: Supportive care measures as a treatment for autoimmune disease in dogs include nutritional support, wound care for skin lesions, management of secondary infections, and addressing any other concurrent medical issues.
  • Monitoring: Regular monitoring of the dog's condition is essential to assess treatment effectiveness, detect any complications or side effects of medications, and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. Monitoring involves periodic physical examinations, blood tests, urinalysis, imaging studies, or other diagnostic tests as needed.
  • Specialized Diets: Specialized diets are recommended to support the overall health and well-being of dogs with autoimmune diseases. The diets are formulated to address specific nutritional needs, minimize inflammation, or support immune function.
  • Environmental Management: Environmental factors such as stress, infections, and exposure to allergens or toxins exacerbate autoimmune diseases in dogs. Managing a dog's environment by minimizing stress, providing a clean and safe living environment, and avoiding potential triggers helps reduce disease flare-ups.

Can CBD Oil Help Treat Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs?

Yes, CBD Oil can help treat autoimmune diseases in dogs. CBD oil has some anti-inflammatory effects, but its specific role in modulating the immune system in autoimmune diseases is still being researched. “CBD has anti-inflammatory and immuno-modulating properties in dogs' immune cells, encouraging further studies to better understand its potential therapeutic role in veterinary medicine,” according to the study by Gugliandolo, E., Licata, P., Peritore, A., Siracusa, R., D’amico, R., Cordaro, M., Fusco, R., Impellizzeri, D., Paola, R., Cuzzocrea, S., Crupi, R., & Interlandi, C. titled “Effect of Cannabidiol (CBD) on Canine Inflammatory Response: An Ex Vivo Study on LPS Stimulated Whole Blood,” 2021.

CBD Supplements for dogs regulate the immune system's overactive response that leads to tissue damage, help manage autoimmune diseases in dogs, reduce inflammation, and alleviate symptoms. The natural compound derived from the cannabis plant helps improve overall well-being and quality of life for dogs suffering from chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.

How to Boost the Immunity of Dogs?

To boost the immunity of dogs, follow the steps below. 

  1. Prioritize Nutrition. Choose high-quality dog food that meets their nutritional needs, including essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Consider feeding fresh, whole foods and avoiding excessive treats or table scraps.
  2. Give the Dog Regular Exercise. Regular exercise helps keep dogs physically fit and mentally stimulated, contributing to overall health and well-being. Aim for daily exercise tailored to a dog's age, breed, and activity level, whether walking, running, playing fetch, or participating in canine sports.
  3. Minimize the Dog’s Stress Levels. Minimizing stress and providing a supportive environment helps keep a dog's immune system functioning optimally. Provide plenty of opportunities for mental stimulation, socialization, and relaxation. Keep routines consistent and provide a comfortable and safe living environment.
  4. Allow for Adequate Rest and Sleep. Ensuring dogs get enough rest and sleep is essential for immune function and overall health. Provide a comfortable and quiet sleeping area where dogs rest without interruption.
  5. Provide Routine Veterinary Care. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for monitoring dog's health, detecting underlying issues early, and ensuring they receive necessary vaccinations and preventive care. Follow the veterinarian's vaccinations, parasite control, and dental care recommendations.
  6. Maintain the Dog at a Healthy Weight. Obesity negatively impacts the immune system and predisposes dogs to various health problems. Keep dogs at a healthy weight through portion control, regular exercise, and avoiding excessive treats or calorie-dense foods.
  7. Administer Supplements. Certain supplements help support the immunity of dogs, so consult a veterinarian to add the correct supplements to a dog's diet. Joint supplements that support immune health include omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and specific vitamins and minerals.
  8. Practice Hygiene and Preventive Care. Practice good hygiene by regularly grooming dogs, keeping their living environment clean, and providing fresh water and a balanced diet. Clean the dog's bedding, toys, food, and water bowls to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. Cases of pemphigus foliaceus dogs with certain infections act as triggers or exacerbating factors. 
  9. Avoid Exposure to Toxins: Minimize the dog's exposure to environmental toxins, including pesticides, household chemicals, and toxic plants. Keep potential hazards out of reach, and be cautious when using lawn or garden products around pets.

Can Probiotics for Dogs Help Boost Dog Immunity?

Yes, probiotics for dogs can help boost dog immunity. Incorporating immune-enhancing supplements like probiotics supports the canine immune system's vitality and resilience. Probiotics are recognized for their potential to enhance the immune system by promoting gut health, balancing intestinal flora, and modulating immune responses, contributing to overall immunity and well-being in canine companions.

Probiotics help prevent gastrointestinal issues in dogs, such as diarrhea and constipation. Probiotics improve nutrient absorption and reduce inflammation, leading to better digestive health, by maintaining a healthy microflora balance in the digestive tract.

The immune-modulating properties of probiotics for dogs play a crucial role in managing allergies and skin conditions in dogs. Probiotics help regulate the inflammatory response, alleviate symptoms, enhance skin barrier function, and promote a healthier coat and skin.