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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs: Cause, Risk Factor, and Complication

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in dogs is a rare autoimmune condition affecting multiple tissues and organs. 

SLE targets different organs, with the liver and kidneys most frequently attacked. Genetics, environmental factors, hormones, and stress are risk factors for SLE. 

Certain breeds, such as German Shepherds, Collies, Afghan Hounds, and Poodles, are prone to systemic lupus erythematosus.  

Shifting lameness, skin lesions, anemia, fever, vomiting, and changes in urination habits are commonly observed in a systemic lupus erythematosus dog. Kidney disease, neurological disorders, and polyarthritis are complications of dog SLE

SLE is an untreatable autoimmune systemic illness in dogs. Treatment aims to manage the symptoms and support life quality in the systemic lupus erythematosus canine.

What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in dogs is a chronic and potentially fatal multisystemic autoimmune disease in which the immune system targets its tissues and organs.

Systemic lupus erythematosus develops when the dog’s immune system mistakenly identifies certain substances in the body (called antigens) as a threat. The immune system produces antibodies (immune cells programmed to attack antigens) to fight the assumed threat. 

Dogs with SLE are affected by more than one tissue or organ. The most commonly targeted internal organs are the liver and kidneys. 

Lupus in dogs is not treatable, but it is manageable. The goal for dog lupus treatment is pain relief, symptom control, and good quality of life. 

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

The other terms for systemic lupus erythematosus are disseminated lupus erythematosus, LE syndrome, lupus, SLE, or Libman-Sacks disease. 

The terms are commonly applied in human medicine. Dog systemic lupus erythematosus is called lupus or SLE. 

The name of the disease is derived from the Latin lupus, meaning wolf. Early descriptions of the condition stated it caused skin lesions that resembled wolf bites.  

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

Systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs differs from other autoimmune diseases in that it targets multiple tissues and organs. Autoimmune conditions target a specific organ or tissue, while SLE attacks various body structures on a cellular level. 

SLE in dogs is difficult to diagnose because it causes variable clinical manifestations. The condition is potentially fatal if left unmanaged. 

Other autoimmune conditions, such as bullous pemphigoid, resolve independently without treatment in many cases. 

Discoid and systemic lupus erythematosus conditions differ from other autoimmune diseases in prognosis and treatment.  

Is SLE in dogs the same as lupus in humans?

Yes, SLE in dogs is the same as lupus in humans. Dogs and humans have two forms of lupus, discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). 

It is generally considered that the clinical manifestations of human and canine systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are similar in many respects,” according to a study on “Canine Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: New Insights and their Implications” published in the Journal of Comparative Pathology in 1993. 

Genetic factors are considered necessary in lupus in dogs and humans. A treatment for the condition is not available, but proper management ensures the quality of life. 

How does Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs develop?

Systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs develops acutely or chronically. The acute variant has a sudden onset, while the chronic form manifests slowly and subtly. 

The progression of the disease depends on the target tissue or organ. The clinical signs of SLE in dogs ebb and flow in irregular intervals. 

SLE symptoms in dogs evolve and multiply over time. A lupus German Shepherd with an initial polyarthritis sign develops kidney damage and skin lesions as the condition progresses. 

Who is at risk of developing Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs? 

Healthy, young-to-middle-aged female dogs among certain breeds are at risk of developing systemic lupus erythematosus. 

SLE occurs frequently in non-spayed females. The average age of onset is five years. The disease is prevalent in medium to large-sized breeds. 

Statistics show genetic predispositions to SLE, but there are exceptions. Systemic lupus erythematosus is able to develop in all dogs, regardless of breed, age, sex, and spay or neuter status.

What breeds are more prone to developing SLE?

The breeds that are more prone to developing SLE are listed below. 

  • German Shepherds: German Shepherds are at a significantly higher-than-average risk of developing lupus erythematosus. 
  • Afghan Hounds: Afghan Hounds are susceptible to systemic and discoid forms of lupus erythematosus. 
  • Beagles: Systemic lupus erythematosus of different types is prevalent among Beagle breed members of both genders. 
  • Collies: Collie-type dogs are genetically predisposed to developing various forms of systemic lupus erythematosus. 

How common are Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

Systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs is not very common. “Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), when defined by strict criteria, is in fact a relatively rare disorder, “ says Michael J. Day in the book “Systemic Lupus Erythematosus” published in 2011. 

Autoimmune conditions in dogs are not widespread. Most autoimmune diseases have various predispositions. SLE in dogs has an established breed and sex but no age predisposition. 

What does Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs look like?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in dogs looks like skin lesions in some cases and painful joints in others. Dog SLE mimics different conditions and triggers symptoms that overlap with various diseases. 

SLE symptoms are distinct in each dog. Polyarthritis, kidney problems, and skin lesions are common manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus, while anemia is a rarer manifestation. 

What are the Causes of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

The cause of systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs is a faulty immune system. SLE is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks its tissues. 

Systemic lupus erythematosus develops when the dog’s immune system targets the tissues and organs because it misidentifies them as external threats. 

The underlying culprit for autoimmune diseases is unknown. Pet owners asking, “What causes lupus in dogs?” must know that the cause is immune-mediated. 

What are the Symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

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

  • Shifting Lameness: Shifting lameness occurs when the dog limps with various legs, a common sign of polyarthritis. 
  • Skin Lesions: Common skin lesions in dogs with SLE include crusty patches, erosions, ulcers, scars, depigmentation, and hair loss. 
  • Anemia: Anemia is the medical term for low red blood cell counts and manifests with pale gums, lethargy, and exercise intolerance. 
  • Fever: Dogs with SLE develop sporadic fever. Fever is an increased body temperature of over 103° F. Sporadic fevers typically occur in short episodes. 
  • Vomiting: Throwing up is among the most common lupus in dogs symptoms, but it is not unique to autoimmune diseases. Prolonged vomiting leads to dehydration.   
  • Urination Changes: Increased thirst and urination are signs of lupus in dogs that affect kidney function. 

When does Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs Symptoms usually occur?

Systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs symptoms usually occur at five years old, which is the median age of onset for dog SLE. 

Age is not considered an important risk factor for SLE. Some puppies start exhibiting systemic lupus erythematosus symptoms at six months old. SLE occurs in seniors or middle-aged dogs in some cases. 

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

The risk factors of systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs are listed below. 

  • Genetics: SLE is prevalent in certain breeds, indicating genetics as a risk factor. Medium and large-sized dog breeds are predisposed to systemic lupus erythematosus. 
  • Environmental Factors: Viral infections, UV light exposure, and certain medications are able to trigger systemic lupus in sensitive dogs. 
  • Hormones: Intact females are more prone to SLE than intact males, inferring that hormones play an essential role in the condition’s development. 
  • Stress: Stress and anxiety are detrimental emotions believed to worsen systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs. 

Is SLE in dogs a genetic condition?

Yes, SLE in dogs is a genetic condition. Systemic lupus erythematosus is more common in certain breeds, and the breed predisposition indicates a genetic component. 

Afghan Hounds, Beagles, German Shepherds, Collies, Poodles, Old English Sheepdogs, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Irish Setters are frequently affected by SLE. 

A 2010 study published in Nature Genetics documented several genes leading to an increased risk of SLE. The study “Genome-Wide Association Mapping Identifies Multiple Loci for a Canine SLE-Related Disease Complex” documented the risk. 

What are the complications of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in dogs?

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

  • Kidney Disease: The disease is medically known as lupus nephritis and leads to potentially life-threatening kidney failure. 
  • Skin Lesions: Crusty patches, ulcers, scars, and hair loss are the most common skin lesions associated with SLE. 
  • Joint Pain and Arthritis: SLE causes polyarthritis affecting multiple joints and resulting in shifting lameness. 
  • Thrombocytopenia: Thrombocytopenia is an early sign of lupus that causes problems with the dog’s blood clotting ability.  
  • Neurological Disorders: Neuro SLE in dogs causes headaches, anxiety, mood swings, cognitive impairment, and seizures in severe cases. 
  • Heart and Lung Involvement: Pericarditis and pericardial effusion are heart issues in lupus, and pleuritis and pneumonia are lung issues. 
  • Immune-Mediated Haemolytic Anemia: IMHA is an immune-mediated destruction of red blood cells (erythrocytes), resulting in pale gums, lethargy, and low stamina.
  • Secondary Infections: Secondary bacterial and fungal skin infections develop when the skin sores are infected, complicating the clinical manifestation. 
  • Vasculitis: SLE causes inflammation and swelling of dogs' small and medium-sized blood vessels.  

1. Kidney Disease (Glomerulonephritis)

The kidney disease caused by lupus erythematosus is called lupus nephritis. The condition occurs when the immune system attacks the kidneys. Nephritis is inflammation of the kidneys. 

The inflammation impairs the normal kidney function. Filtration issues and increased urination are common. The culmination of lupus kidney disease is life-threatening organ failure. 

2. Skin Lesions

Skin lesions are changes on the skin’s surface. Common SLE-related lesions include hair loss, crusty patches, ulcers, and scars. The lesions change over time and cause hyperpigmentation. 

Systemic lupus erythematosus causes skin lesions when the immune system targets the superficial or profound skin tissue layers. Altered skin is susceptible to secondary infections. 

3. Joint Pain and Arthritis

Joint pain is a sign of arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. Dogs with SLE have multiple joints inflamed at the same time, which is known as polyarthritis. 

Polyarthritis is the result of the immune system targeting the joint cartilage. The telltale sign of SLE-related polyarthritis is shifting lameness. 

4. Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)

Thrombocytopenia is a low platelet count. Platelets, or thrombocytes, are smaller blood cells responsible for blood clotting. 

The immune system of SLE dogs attacks healthy platelets. Thrombocytopenia in some dogs is present long before other symptoms manifest. Dogs with a low platelet count are more prone to bleeding. 

5. Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders are disorders affecting the brain, nerves, or spinal cord. The extent of the disorders depends on the affected structure. 

The neurological effect of SLE is known as neuro lupus. The condition develops when immune cells attack neurons. Symptoms range from mood swings and brain fog to strokes and seizures. 

6. Heart and Lung Involvement

Heart and lung involvement is when the immune system causes heart or lung damage. Common heart lupus issues are pericarditis and pericardial effusion. 

Pericarditis is inflammation of the heart's sac, called the pericardium. Pericardial effusion is fluid accumulation in the sac. 

Lung issues manifest with pleuritis and pneumonia. Pleuritis is inflammation of the lung sac, and pneumonia is lung inflammation. 

7. Immune-mediated Hemolytic Anemia

Dogs with immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) experience decreased red blood cells, or erythrocytes, which carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. 

The condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly targets and destroys the body's red blood cells. Anemia is a widespread hematological issue in dogs with SLE. Common symptoms include pale gums and lethargy.

8. Secondary Infections

Secondary infections occur on the skin of dogs with SLE. Lupus causes skin lesions, which erupt or form open sores. 

The sores are prone to bacterial and fungal infections. The secondary infection complicates the skin condition. Itchiness, pain, and bad odor are common in dogs with skin infections. 

9. Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels)

Vasculitis is the medical term for inflammation of blood vessels. The immune system of dogs with SLE attacks blood vessels, causing lupus vasculitis (LV). 

LV is a common SLE complication. The inflammation causes swelling of the blood vessels. Small and medium-sized blood vessels are frequently targeted. Large blood vessel involvement is rare. 

How is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs diagnosed?

Systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs is diagnosed based on symptoms and test results. The veterinarian documents the dog’s medical history, conducts a physical exam, and performs diagnostic tests. 

A blood analysis checks for antibodies and measures markers specific to liver and kidney function. The liver and kidney are evaluated on an X-ray image, and an ultrasound provides insight into the other internal abdominal organs. Kidney function is tested with a urinalysis. 

Cytology is performed on fluid collected from swollen and painful joints and biopsy on skin lesions. A veterinary pathologist analyzes the collected samples under a microscope. 

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

You can seek a diagnosis for systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs at a veterinary clinic. SLE is challenging to diagnose as it mimics other conditions and causes diverse symptoms. 

The veterinarian refers the dog to a specialist in internal medicine in some instances. The specialist rules out other conditions to reach a diagnosis. The process is lengthy and requires close collaboration between the owner and the veterinarian. 

How long can a dog survive with Lupus?

A dog with lupus can survive for years, depending on the severity of the condition. Approximately 50% of dogs experience long-term remission. Dogs with organ failure, adverse drug reactions, or severe neurological deficits risk euthanization in the first year of diagnosis, accounting for roughly 40% of cases.

Properly managed and mild cases of lupus in dogs do not affect the dog’s quality of life and lifespan. The prognosis depends on the number of organs affected and the severity of the condition. The risk of lupus-related complications increases with age. 

Dogs with severe and advanced forms of lupus have a poor prognosis, especially if the condition is accompanied by organ failure. 

Are there treatments for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in dogs?

Yes, there are treatments for systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs. The treatment focuses on damage control, immune system suppression, and symptom management. 

The veterinarian starts by addressing the life-threatening symptoms. Kidney damage requires fluids and supportive care, and anemia needs blood transfusion. 

Immunosuppression is achieved with large doses of corticosteroids that are slowly tapered or with immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine, cyclophosphamide, and azathioprine. 

Symptom management is an important aspect of lupus in dogs treatment and includes various medications, from anti-inflammatories and diet changes to antibiotics and analgesics. 

Can CBD Oil Help Treat Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

Yes, CBD oil can help treat systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs. SLE is an incurable condition that CBD helps to alleviate. 

Responsible CBD use helps modify the immune system. CBD or cannabidiol has potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that benefit dogs with SLE. 

Cannabidiol is natural and works through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). CBD oil for dogs is safe to combine with other traditional treatments. 

What is the recovery time after treatment for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

The recovery time after treatment for systemic lupus erythematosus in dogs is several days to weeks. The recovery length depends on the extent of the damage. 

Dogs with minor symptoms heal quickly. Advanced and complicated forms of the disease take more time to normalize. 

Euthanasia must be considered in dogs that fail to respond to treatment and have a poor quality of life.