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What is Systemic Lupus  Erythematosus in Dogs?
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What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs?

Dogs
Health & Safety

Luckily this autoimmune disease is relatively rare in dogs but when the condition does rear its ugly head, it can be a very worrying time for pet owners. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a nasty disease where a dog's immune system works overtime and becomes overly defensive. As such it begins attacking healthy cells, tissues and organs found in the dog's body as if they were diseased and which the immune system naturally believes need to be destroyed.

However, although the disease is thought to be rare in dogs, many people believe the condition may be under-diagnosed and therefore many dogs with the condition go unnoticed. With this said, there are certain breeds which appear to be predisposed to the condition and this includes the following:

  • Border Collies
  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • German Shepherds
  • Afghan Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Irish Setters
  • Poodles

Is the Condition Hereditary?

The condition has been reported as hereditary when researchers found that a stock from a bloodline of German Shepherds all inherited the disease. The first signs that a dog may be suffering from SLE typically start when they reach the age of six but the condition may, and often does, occur at any age during their lives and it can affect both sexes.

What Are the Symptoms & Types of SLE?

The symptoms of the condition do depend on certain factors, however, typically these include the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss or appetite leading to anorexia
  • Fever – more typically evident in the acute phase of SLE

The Different Types of LSE

Musculoskeletal symptoms that may be evident when a dog is suffering from the condition include the following:

  • Painful and swollen joints
  • Lameness – dogs appear to shift legs constantly
  • Muscle wastage and pain
  • Deposits of immune complexes in synovial membranes which are the soft tissues that line the surfaces of the dog's joints

However, a dog's skin too can be affected and the signs to watch out for which could be an indication the condition is manifesting itself include the following:

  • Immune complexes may be deposited in a dog's skin
  • Skin lesions
  • Hair loss and de-pigmentation due to lesions
  • Ulcers around a dog's mouth, nostrils and anus

A dog's kidneys and liver can also be affected by the condition which causes deposits of immune complexes in both. This then leads to both organs becoming enlarged which is known as hepatosplenomegaly. To exacerbate the condition further, a dog's blood is affected by the autoantiboides attacking both the red and white cells. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Swollen lymph nodes – lymphadenopathy
  • Other organs in the body may also be affected if any immune complexes are deposited in them

Why Do Dogs Develop LSE?

To date, nobody really knows what causes the condition in dogs although it is believed that exposure to ultraviolet light may make the condition worse.

What is the Diagnosis for LSE?

A vet would want to take a complete blood profile if they suspect a dog may be suffering from the condition. They would also need to take a urine sample and ask owners for a full history of their dog's health to establish when the onset of the symptoms first began. This is important because the vet would need to know whether the symptoms all happened at the same time or if they came on gradually over time. The vet would carry out a full examination of a dog to establish whether they are suffering from any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in their joints
  • Inflammation of the kidneys
  • Skin lesions
  • A breakdown in the red blood cells
  • Low platelet count
  • General weakness

What is the Treatment for LSE?

Depending on the symptoms, a dog may need to be hospitalised in order to bring their condition under control and this is especially true if their blood cells are in crisis. In some cases, a dog may be treated as an outpatient when suffering from SLE but this does depend on the severity of the disease and which of the dog's systems are being attacked by the condition.

If your dog has been diagnosed with the condition and the vet has recommended home treatment, it is crucial to enforce complete rest for your pet and this is especially important when they are suffering from severe pain in their joints. Very often, a vet will recommend that a dog be placed in a cage for a while to restrict their movements.

It is also very important for your pet to be kept out of direct sunlight which means they may need to be taken out in the evening and very early in the morning to do their business. If your pet's kidneys are affected by the condition, your vet will more than likely suggest a specific diet which would be protein restricted.

What Medication is Normally Given for LSE?

When it comes to medication, there are several which are typically given to dogs suffering from the condition which includes immunosuppressive drugs. These are administered to help slow down a dog's immune system response. Corticosteroids are also recommended as a way to reduce any inflammation that may be occurring in the lymph nodes.

Can LSE in Dogs be Prevented?

The only real way to prevent the condition from manifesting itself in dogs is to ensure no animal with the condition is ever used for breeding purposes due to the fact that in some dog breeds the condition is thought to be hereditary.

Can Dogs Cope with LSE?

LSE is a progressive disease which is considered to be unpredictable and where long-term treatment such as immunosuppressive therapy is typically required. With this in mind, there are several side effects to these treatments which would need to be dealt with routinely. A dog with the condition would have to make frequent visits to the vet in order for their condition to be monitored. This may involve weekly check-ups to begin with to make sure there are no nasty side-effects occurring but the weekly visits may have to continue anyway to keep on top of the condition.

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