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Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE) in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) in dogs is a common depigmenting autoimmune skin disease that scars dogs. DLE is a benign variant of systemic lupus erythematosus. 

The discoid lupus erythematosus dog variant is the most common type of cutaneous lupus in canines. The condition causes lesions on the dog's nasal planum (nose). 

Discoid lupus in dog physiology is a disease that affects the skin on the nose and the surrounding structures, such as the lips, eyes, and face. 

Signs of lupus in dogs include changes in color, crusting, sloughing off, and erosion of the nose and surrounding skin. Discoid lupus canine is a non-contagious and manageable autoimmune disease in dogs. 

Diagnosing DLE occurs through laboratory tests, while treatment involves veterinary-prescribed medication to target the affected nasal planum. 

What is Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

Discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs is a common cutaneous autoimmune skin disease in canines. The skin condition falls under Lupus diseases, which are self-attacking autoimmune diseases. DLE targets the areas around the nasal planum, mouth, eyes, and distal extremities, unlike systemic lupus. 

The affected areas on the dog’s skin have a discolored appearance, with crusty, dry, and thickened skin. The nose is the most commonly affected region, with erosive lesions and a lack of the “cobblestone” appearance in a healthy nose. 

What are the other terms for Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs? 

The other terms for discoid lupus erythematosus are facial lupus erythematosus or cutaneous lupus erythematosus. Discoid lupus targets the nasal planum and around the mouth, eyes, and distal extremities. The different terms of DLE describe the lesion presentation of the disease. Discoid lupus is a benign and less invasive variant of lupus in dogs. The terms facial and cutaneous describe where the disease affects the skin. 

How does Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in dogs differ from other autoimmune diseases?

Discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs differs from other autoimmune diseases in severity and occurrence. DLE is common in certain breeds and presents mild to moderate lesions. Systemic lupus affects the entire body, whereas DLE affects mainly the nose, lips, mouth, eyes, face, and distal extremities. 

Other autoimmune diseases, such as pemphigus and bullous pemphigoid, cause more extensive skin lesions. Pemphigus vulgaris and bullous pemphigoid have a painful ulcerative nature that significantly affects dogs with the condition. DLE is a treatable dog autoimmune disease with a good to fair prognosis. 

How does Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs develop?

Discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs develops when the body’s immune system attacks the body’s cells. The condition's underlying cause is unknown, but it has been linked to photo-aggravating or photo-induced causes. Ultraviolet (UV) light is a suspected etiology for DLE in dogs. Dogs develop DLE at five to seven years of age. Research indicates that the disease intensifies with persistent exposure to sunlight, making UV exposure the primary suspected cause. 

What age do dogs typically develop DLE?

Dogs typically develop DLE at five to seven years of age. Age is yet to be an established factor in the occurrence of the disease in dogs. DLE is observable in middle-aged dogs. Breeds such as Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, and Siberian Huskies are predisposed to the condition for their breeding purposes. 

How common are Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

Discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs is fairly common. DLE is the most widespread cutaneous form of lupus in dogs. Discoid lupus is a benign variant of systemic lupus that is rarely diagnosed in cats. Locally manifested discoid lupus is more widespread than extensive systemic lupus. DLE is more common than other autoimmune diseases, such as bullous pemphigoid and pemphigus. 

What breeds are more prone to developing Discoid Lupus Erythematosus?

The breeds more prone to developing discoid lupus erythematosus are listed below.

  • Collies: Collies are large dogs bred for herding. The breed is famous for its natural skill in herding livestock. Collie breeds are high-energy dogs that thrive outdoors, making UV light a factor in their predisposition to DLE.
  • Shetland Sheepdogs: Shetland sheepdogs, or Shelties, are obedient and agile dogs that resemble Collies. Shelties are considered small herding dogs used to herd small livestock. The breed’s increased exposure to UV light is a risk factor in their predisposition to DLE.
  • German Shepherds: German Shepherds are widely used as working dogs in the military and police for patrolling, bomb sniffing, and search and rescue. The breed experiences increased exposure to UV light due to its working use, making it a factor in their predisposition to DLE.
  • Siberian Huskies: Siberian Huskies are a playful and intelligent large dog breed. Huskies originated from Alaska, where cold weather is typical most of the year. Siberian Huskies serve as sled dogs for work and racing. The breed’s increased exposure to UV light is a risk factor in their predisposition to DLE.

What is Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs look like?

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in dogs looks like depigmentation on the nose. Most cases of lupus in dogs show the nasal planum with lesions. The lesions are crusty and dry with erosive scabs on the nose.

There is marked crusting, depigmentation, and loss of the cobblestone architecture of the nasal planum in pictures of lupus in dogs. The nose becomes thickened, with scabs spreading over the surface. The lesions occasionally extend to the mouth and face. Other hairless areas, such as the scrotum and eyelids, are occasionally affected with erosive dermatitis. 

What are the Causes of Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

The causes of discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs are listed below.

  • UV Radiation: Exposure to sunlight is known to exacerbate DLE. Ultraviolet light exposure is an environmental factor that leads to the disease progression of DLE in dogs. “UV exposure can trigger not only worsening of skin lupus and other types of photosensitivity, but also activation and worsening of systemic symptoms—including joint pain and kidney disease,” according to a human study on the condition by the Lupus Foundation of America. 
  • Genetics: DLE is an autoimmune disease that is noted to have a genetic component. The dog’s genetics strongly influences the conditions as they “tend to occur in the same family (the so-called “familial aggregation”),” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  • Environment: Dogs exposed to sunlight have a higher chance of developing DLE. Warmer climates feature significantly higher UV exposure, which influences the progression of DLE in dogs. Herding dogs that spend more time outdoors have a higher daily exposure to sunlight.
  • Breed: DLE occurs in any dog breed, but Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, and Siberian Huskies are predisposed to it. Herding breeds that experience more outdoor exposure are common victims of the condition.
  • Fur Pattern: Direct and persistent contact with the sun is a probable cause of DLE in dogs. Dogs with sparse fur have increased exposure to UV rays, which puts them at risk for DLE. Hairless dog breeds must be kept mainly indoors and adequately protected when venturing in the sun. 

What are the Symptoms of Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

The symptoms of discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs are listed below.

  • Depigmentation: DLE is a depigmenting autoimmune disease. The body attacking its skin cells causes changes to the basement membranes, leading to pigmentary changes. The usual black or brown coloration of the nasal planum becomes lighter. Color changes occasionally spread to the dog’s mouth and muzzle. 
  • Crusting: The affected areas become crusty, dry, flaky, and thickened. The cellular basement membranes thicken and cause hyperkeratosis of the lesions around the nose. Other hairless regions, such as the scrotum, lips, and eyelids, are sometimes affected. The dog’s nose becomes covered with extensive crusty growths.
  • Alopecia: The areas around the nasal planum, such as the muzzle and lips, become alopecic. The hair follicles are affected by the damage to the skin's cellular structures. Dogs with DLE have poor skin and coat health with patches of hair loss. The hair loss sometimes spreads to the eyelids, distal limbs, and scrotum. 
  • Erosive Dermatitis: Erosive dermatitis is one of the most common lupus in dogs symptoms. The basement membrane damage from cutaneous lupus causes erosive lesions on the affected skin. The skin looks crusty, dry, and bumpy with pigmentation loss. Erosive dermatitis is most evident on the surface of the nasal planum, causing a lack of cobblestone appearance. The nose exterior looks thickened, with a concentrated layer covering the surface.
  • Photosensitivity: Dogs with DLE show reluctance to be under the sun. Exposure to UV radiation significantly worsens the lesions associated with DLE. Pain and inflammation increase, making the dog less willing to go out. Dogs diagnosed with DLE must stay indoors when the sun is at its peak, with appropriate protection such as clothes and sunblock applied whenever they are outside. 

When does Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs Symptoms usually occur?

The symptoms of discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs usually occur midlife, between five and seven years. Middle-aged dogs are most prone to developing the disease. Siberian Huskies, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and German Shepherds are predisposed to DLE. Factors such as diet and gender do not directly link with the onset of discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs. 

What are the Risk Factors of Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

The risk factors of Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in dogs are listed below. 

  • High UV Exposure: Prolonged exposure to UV light has been linked to the severe impact of DLE in dogs. Outdoor working dogs, such as herding breeds, endure higher exposure to the sun and are at higher risk. 
  • Breed predisposition: Middle-aged dogs in breeds such as Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, and Huskies are predisposed to DLE. Working breeds are at high risk because their breeding purposes are based on spending more time outdoors herding or guarding.
  • Genetics: Dogs with DLE have a strong chance of passing the disease to their progeny. A dog’s lineage strongly influences the conditions as they “tend to occur in the same family (the so-called “familial aggregation”),” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

What are the complications of Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in dogs?

The complications of discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs are listed below.

  • Permanent depigmentation: DLE is a depigmenting disease in dogs. Chronic damage to the cellular basement membrane permanently alters the normal anatomy of healthy skin. The lesions are unable to return to their previous color and remain white or pink even when the disease has been controlled with medication. 
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Some DLE-generated skin lesions in dogs progress into skin cancer. “UV exposure can trigger not only worsening of skin lupus and other types of photosensitivity, but also activation and worsening of systemic symptoms—including joint pain and kidney disease,” according to a human study by the Lupus Foundation of America. 

Is DLE in dogs contagious to other animals or humans?

No, DLE in dogs is not contagious to other animals or humans. DLE is an autoimmune disease that is not transmissible through any form of contact. The condition is not transmittable through physical contact. DLE explicitly targets the affected dog’s immune system. The erosive lesions are localized areas of depigmentation. 

How is Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs Diagnosed?

Discoid lupus erythematosus is diagnosed in dogs by ruling out differentials, dermatohistopathology, immunofluorescence or immunohistochemistry, and bacterial culture. 

The first step in diagnosing DLE is to eliminate other disease hypotheses. The top differentials for DLE vulgaris are nasal pyoderma, demodicosis, pemphigus erythematosus and foliaceous, dermatophytosis, and nasal solar dermatitis. Laboratory tests are performed once the differentials have been ruled out. 

Dermatohistopathology is conducted by taking a sample of the skin tissue, staining it, and examining it for hydropic or lichenoid interface dermatitis and focal thickening of the basement membrane. 

Immunofluorescence or immunochemistry of skin biopsy specimens detects patchy depositions of immunoglobulin or complements at the basement membrane. 

Where can you seek a diagnosis for Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in dogs?

You can seek a diagnosis for discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs from a veterinarian. The veterinarian diagnoses the dog and proposes a suitable treatment for the condition. Potent prescription medication is needed to control the disease. Immunosuppressants, steroids, and antibiotics are necessary to manage DLE. Changes in diet and lifestyle are advisable to manage the symptoms of the disease. Consult a veterinarian for the best course of action in treating dogs’ affected by the condition. 

How long can a dog survive with Lupus?

A dog can survive 10 to 15 years with lupus, depending on breed, lifestyle, and environment. The prognosis for DLE in dogs is generally favorable. Lifelong medication is necessary to manage the disease upon diagnosis. Complications of developing DLE include permanent depigmentation and squamous cell carcinoma. 

What are the treatments for Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in dogs?

The treatments for pemphigus vulgaris in dogs are listed below.

  • Steroid Therapy: Topical immunosuppressant medicine like Tacrolimus cream is an effective dog lupus nose treatment. The medicine helps to reduce the focal inflammation of the lesions. Glucocorticoids such as prednisone and prednisolone are choices for systemic therapy. Non-steroidal immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine, azathioprine, and chlorambucil are used for systemic immunosuppression. 
  • Avoiding Sunlight: The dog’s exposure to the sun must be limited, and topical sunscreens must be applied to prevent UV penetration in the dog’s skin. Sunblocks containing titanium dioxide are best for managing skin lesions. Dogs with DLE must be indoors during daylight and have proper outdoor coverage. 
  • Medicated Baths: Secondary infections are common in pemphigus vulgaris. Medicated baths containing antibacterial and antifungal medications are used to treat skin infections topically. The dog is soaked for a few minutes in the bath regularly to aid skin healing. Medicated baths help to soothe and reduce the deep pyoderma. 
  • Antibiotics: Pyoderma is a complication of DLE in dogs. Bacterial infections are able to penetrate the skin layers and require antibiotic treatments. Medications such as cephalexin, co-amoxiclav, and clindamycin are commonly used for treating pyoderma. Non-healing pyoderma needs a bacterial culture to identify the best antibiotic for the dog. 
  • Prescription Diets and Supplements: Veterinary prescription diets are formulated to aid in returning skin to normal. Supplements contain EPAs and DHAs (omega fatty acids) that help boost skin and coat health. Skincare diets are prescribed as long-term, maintenance diets to hasten skin healing. 

Is CBD oil a viable treatment option for dogs with Discoid Lupus Erythematosus?

Yes, CBD oil is a viable treatment option for dogs with discoid lupus erythematosus. A team of veterinary students and scientists at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, working with the Cannabis Development and Innovation Center, published a case report on treating DLE in a dog using CBD-rich oil. The results showed that “the dog showed significant improvement in skin lesions and in liver enzyme levels. After 1 year, the dog remains clinically stable on a low dose of full-spectrum CBD-rich oil”, according to Silas et al., in a study titled “Cannabinoid therapy for discoid lupus erythematosus in a dog,” 2024. 

The case study shows promising evidence of how CBD oil is a potential treatment for DLE. Extensive clinical evidence is required to demonstrate CBD’s safety and effectiveness for all stages and breeds of dogs with DLE. 

What is the typical cost range for diagnosing Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in dogs?

The typical cost range for diagnosing discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs is around $1000-$5000. Several tests are needed to diagnose DLE in dogs, and the price increases depending on the unique nature of individual cases. Mild cases of DLE result in lower diagnosis costs. The tests must confirm the diagnosis by ruling out other suspected diseases. Hematology exams, immunohistochemistry, and skin cultures are used for clinical evaluation.

Can DLE in dogs be cured?

No, DLE in dogs cannot be cured. DLE has no known cause, meaning an exact cure is impossible. Discoid lupus erythematosus is manageable with lifelong immunosuppressive medication. Dogs with DLE are to avoid sunlight exposure and wear protective clothing and sunblock. Properly cared for dogs with the condition are able to live whole lives. Regular check-ups with the veterinarian help to reduce the complications associated with DLE. 

How to naturally boost my dog's immune system?

To naturally boost your dog’s immune system, follow the steps listed below.

    1. Provide a balanced diet. The dog must be fed a balanced diet containing the necessary proteins, calories, fats, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates at its given life stage. Dog food must be screened by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Approval from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an additional assurance that the food has been well-regulated. A balanced diet gives the dog the necessary building blocks of a healthy body and immune system. 
    2. Purchase high-quality food. Only choose well-regulated, high-quality food. Ensure that the dog's food is screened well and meets the proper nutritional standards. Select products with little to no preservatives and clean ingredients. Do meticulous research when making homemade meals and include high-quality ingredients in the recipe. 
    3. Use immune-boosting supplements. There are immune-boosting supplements available for use in dogs. Products such as yeast beta glucans, probiotics, and inositol are used for boosting immunity. Products with the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal indicate that the product matches the contents described in the packaging. 
    4. Give the dog multivitamins. A daily dosage of multivitamins is excellent for the dog’s immunity. Multivitamins supply a good mix of vitamins and minerals that serve as building blocks to boost dog immune system. Dogs with weakened immune systems are more sickly than other dogs. Additional multivitamin supplementation helps to replenish deficits whenever the dog is undergoing and healing from disease. 
    5. Let the dog have regular exercise. Make use of the dog’s innate desire for physical activity. Overweight and obese dogs are more likely to develop diseases at a younger age. The lifespan of overweight dogs is up to “2 1/2 years shorter, on average, than the lifespan of dogs with a healthy body weight”, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Daily physical activity allows for better mood and mentation.