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Diagnosing and Treating Dog Lupus

The Different Kinds of Lupus

By Meredith Alling. March 10, 2014 | See Comments

A Sad Looking Dog Laying On The Floor

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can attack your dog's nervous system and vital organs. Treatment options will depend on which form of lupus your dog has. Find important information here about this potentially fatal disease.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system produces antibodies to attack cells, organs, and tissues that it mistakenly sees as dangerous. There are two forms of lupus that can be found in dogs -- discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). DLE is a more common form of the disease and it affects only the skin, most often a dog’s nose. SLE is a more rare form of the disease in which the blood, skin, nervous systems, and major organs are attacked. This can obviously cause a lot of problems for a dog, and if left untreated, can be fatal.

Here we discuss the diagnosis, treatment, and management of dog lupus.

Diagnosing Dog Lupus

Visit your veterinarian if your dog is showing symptoms of either form of the disease.

SLE can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can mimic those of so many other problems, including cancer, kidney disease, or an adverse reaction to medication. A review of symptoms and blood testing will allow your veterinarian to get close to -- if not confirm -- a diagnosis. Dogs with SLE test positive for antinuclear antibodies (ANA), and this is one way of distinguishing the disease from some other medical problems.


DLE is usually easier to diagnose, but it too can mimic symptoms of other conditions including ringworm of the nose and nasal lymphoma, so your veterinarian will need to rule those out. DLE is typically diagnosed through an examination of symptoms and a skin biopsy (usually taken from the nose). A dog will usually require stitches following the biopsy.

Treatment for Dog Lupus

Dogs with SLE usually require lifelong treatment, and sometimes the damage caused by the disease may be irreversible and result in death. Treatment is aimed at making the dog more comfortable by reducing inflammation and suppressing the inappropriate immune response. Treatment can vary depending on what organs have been affected.

Common treatment options for SLE include:

  • Anti-inflammatory/immunosuppressive drugs such as NSAIDs or corticosteroids such as Prednisone.
  • Additional immunosuppressive drugs such as Azathioprine.
  • Antibiotics to treat any secondary infections.
  • Chemotherapeutic treatments to suppress abnormal immune responses and treat pain.
  • Limiting exposure to sunlight.

DLE is a much easier form of the disease to treat, but it is still not curable. The goal of treatment is to heal and control the skin lesions caused by the disease. Treatment will ultimately depend on the severity of the condition, but common treatment options include:

  • Topical corticosteroids to suppress the abnormal immune response and reduce inflammation.
  • Oral steroids such as Prednisone are sometimes used to get the condition under control quickly. Following stabilization, they can sometimes work as the sole therapy for the condition, though there may be undesirable side effects.
  • Combination of Tetracycline and Niacinamide. Tetracycline is an antibiotic and Niacinamide is a B vitamin supplement. Used together, these medications have been found to be 70% effective in treating dogs with DLE. Doxycycline is often substituted for Tetracycline because it can be administered twice a day instead of three times.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids and vitamin E can help to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Dogs should avoid extended exposure to sunlight as it can exasperate the condition.

Management for Dog Lupus

SLE will need to be managed long-term with immunosuppressive therapy. Unfortunately, there can be adverse side effects with this type of therapy, including increased risk of infection, bone marrow suppression, and weight gain. Your veterinarian will want to monitor your dog with regular check-ups, blood tests, and urinalysis.

Dogs with DLE may also require long-term treatment, though the required dosing or application of medications may decrease once the skin lesions are healed. Your veterinarian will monitor your dog’s progress with regular check-ups.

Dogs with either form of the disease should not be bred as it may have a genetic component.

More on Autoimmune Diseases

What Causes High White Blood Cell Count in Dogs?
Thyroid Problems in Dogs: A Guide to Hypothyroidism
White Dog Shaker Syndrome

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Dog Lupus at a glance

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  • 1There are two forms of lupus: discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • 2DLE is diagnosed through a physical examination and skin biopsy
  • 3SLE is diagnosed through a physical examination and blood testing
  • 4Neither form of the disease is curable and treatment is purely supportive