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The Causes and Symptoms of Lupus in Dogs

The Signs That Point to Lupus

By Meredith Alling. March 07, 2014 | See Comments

A Dog Laying Down Not Looking Very Well

Lupus can affect your dog's daily life and make it difficult to do the simplest of activities. This disease comes in two forms, and one is much more serious than the other. Learn here what the causes and symptoms are.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s immune system sees its own cells, tissues, and organs as dangerous and attacks them with antibodies. There are two forms of lupus that can affect dogs -- systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). While SLE is a much more serious form of the disease, it is important to be aware of both and what to look out for as far as symptoms. Read on to learn about the causes and symptoms of lupus in dogs.

Causes of Lupus in Dogs

The word “lupus” is Latin for wolf, and the disease was given the name in the 19th century when it was thought to be caused by a wolf’s bite due to the wolf-like facial rash that appeared on humans with the disease. We know today that this is not the case, but beyond that understanding the definitive causes of the disease still remain unknown.

Some experts believe that there is a genetic component and the condition may be inherited. Others suggest that certain factors can contribute to the disease, including exposure to ultraviolet light (sunlight), stress, reaction to medication, and viral infections.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a relatively rare and potentially fatal form of the disease in which the immune system produces antibodies to attack cells, tissues, and organs that it sees as dangerous. This causes inflammation and damage to skin, blood, nervous system, joints, and major organs, including the heart, lungs, and kidneys. This form of the disease is most common in middle-aged female dogs, and commonly affected breeds include the Beagle, German Shepherd, Old English Sheepdog, Shetland Sheepdog, Poodle, Rough Collie, Irish Setter, and Afghan Hound.

Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is a more common form of the disease and is confined to the skin. It is often referred to as “collie nose” or “nasal solar dermatitis” because it usually affects the skin of the nose. However, in some cases it can also travel up the bridge of the nose or show up in the ears and mouth. Like SLE, DLE is an autoimmune disease. The difference is that with DLE, the immune system is only attacking and damaging skin cells and tissues.

Symptoms of Lupus in Dogs

The symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) include:

  • Arthritis in several joints
  • Muscle pain
  • Stiffness
  • Shifting lameness in the legs
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin sores
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Enlarged liver and kidney
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Seizures
  • Dementia
  • Proteinuria (protein in the urine)
  • Reduced platelet and white blood cell count

Most dogs with SLE are first taken to the veterinarian because they are exhibiting lameness or skin problems.

The symptoms of discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) include:

  • Loss of nose pigment
  • Scaling and cracking nose skin
  • Redness
  • Sores or ulceration

The symptoms of DLE can be symptoms of other conditions as well, including ringworm of the nose, nasal lymphoma, and staph infection. Your veterinarian will accurately diagnose the condition through a biopsy of the nose tissue.

More on Autoimmune Diseases

The Dog Symptom Checker
Feline Anemia Causes
What Causes High White Blood Cell Count in Dogs

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Lupus at a glance

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  • 1There are two forms of lupus: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE)
  • 2SLE is a more dangerous and more rare form of the disease
  • 3Common symptoms of SLE include lameness, arthritis, and muscle pain
  • 4Common symptoms of DLE include loss of nose pigment, scaling nose skin, and sores on the nose