Many pet parents haven’t heard of pemphigus, but this autoimmune skin condition is more common than you may know -- it’s actually the most common autoimmune skin condition in dogs and cats.
Pemphigus in dogs and cats can affect pets of any age. The condition occurs when the immune system begins attacking the animal’s skin. Autoantibodies deposit themselves in the spaces between skin cells, causing the cells to pull away from one another. This, in turn, results in the breakdown of skin tissue.
Cases of pemphigus can range from minor to severe; it all depends on how deep the autoantibody is within the skin layers.
There are four types of pemphigus that affect dogs, three of which also affect cats:
- Pemphigus erythematosus: Autoantibodies are found in the surface level layers of skin and cause little to no incidence.
- Pemphigus foliaceus: Autoantibodies are found in the surface level layers of skin and cause blisters.
- Pemphigus vulgaris: Autoantibodies are found in the deeper layers of skin and cause ulcers.
- Pemphigus vegetans: This type affects dogs only, not cats. It is similar to vulgaris, but with less severe ulcers.
Why is my pet experiencing pemphigus?
The cause of pemphigus is unknown; however, veterinarians have pinpointed a few factors that may lead to flare-ups. Possible causes include:
- Heredity: This condition is seen in Akitas and Chow Chows more than any other dog breeds. Pemphigus is also seen among littermates. However, it is not commonly seen in specific cat breeds.
- Ultraviolet Light: Vets have seen cases in which the condition improves in the winter when pets are more likely to be indoors and flare up in the summer when they are more likely to be outdoors under the sun’s rays. They’ve also seen a similar correlation between colder and warmer regions.
- Medications: Certain medications may cause a flare-up, which will typically appear about seven days after the first dose. But if the medication has caused a flare-up in the past, the reaction can occur in as little as 24 hours. Be sure to inform your vet if a new medication seems to be having side effects.
- History of chronic conditions: These includes allergies, hypothyroidism, and systemic lupus, among others.
What are the most common symptoms of pemphigus?
Symptoms will vary depending on the type of pemphigus your pet is experiencing. Possible symptoms include:
- Excessive itching
- Hair loss
- Red, scaly, crusty skin commonly along the head, ears, nose, and foot pads
- Pustules, cysts, and ulcers along mentioned areas; in more severe cases
- Lack of appetite, lethargy, and moodiness
- Loss of color in the gums and lips
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever in more severe cases
How do I treat pemphigus?
After a complete physical examination and a variety of other tests to diagnosis pemphigus, your vet will recommend a treatment that best addresses your pet’s needs. Possible treatments include:
- Steroid therapy. Typically corticosteroid and azathioprine.
- Change in diet. You pet will need to follow a low-fat diet if steroid therapy is prescribed to protect the pancreas.
- Reduce exposure to ultraviolet light and triggering medications.
- Management of other chronic conditions.
Keep in mind, pemphigus will likely come and go over time. So in other words, pemphigus is best treated with proactive management of the condition. And don’t worry, it is not a contagious condition.
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