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Vet Talk: Lupus in Dogs – Everything You Need To Know

Posted May 10, 2017


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a fairly rare and potentially fatal autoimmune disease that mostly affects dogs. Although rare, it is believed that many cases of SLE go undiagnosed. In today’s blog, I’ll touch on what to look for (signs and symptoms of SLE in pets) and how to best manage your pet with SLE.

There are 2 forms of the autoimmune disease. One is called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, which affects multiple systems within the body. The other form is called lupus erythematosus (DLE), which affects mostly the skin. SLE is the more serious form of the disease. In SLE, the dog’s immune system fights itself by forming antibodies that attack its own cells and tissues. SLE results in overall inflammation of the body and can lead to potential organ damage; it’s important to be aware of the disease so management can begin as soon as possible.

The most common signs of SLE are arthritis that effects several joints, painful muscles, shifting lameness, skin sores and blisters, protein in the urine, decreased platelet and white blood cell count, fluctuating fevers, and immune mediated hemolytic anemia.

Some breeds of dogs like Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, Afghan Hounds, Beagles, Poodles, and Irish Setters are more at risk of SLE.

One of the reasons for the disease going undiagnosed is that the signs and symptoms of the SLE are similar to other health issues pets may have, such as drug reactions and cancer.


How Your Vet Will Diagnose SLE in Pets

There is no one single test to diagnose SLE. Blood tests and urine analysis are required for diagnosis. Some dogs and cats test positive for ANA (anti-nuclear antibodies). Diagnosis is typically made using a combination of a positive ANA test with one significant sign plus two less significant signs of SLE. It can be difficult to make a positive diagnosis since other problems, such as drug reactions, cancer, kidney disease, muscular skeletal disorders can all have many of the same signs or symptoms.

What is the Treatment for SLE in Dogs?

SLE can be managed, not cured, while the disease itself is chronic (signs of SLE can be acute, chronic or both). Lifelong medical management is necessary at all stages.

Treatment is mainly aimed at decreasing the inflammation and autoimmune activity, which is why western treatment centers around ant-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications such as steroids, and sometimes includes additional immunosuppressants such as azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, or cyclosporine.

Prognosis depends entirely on how each dog (or cat) is affected, but owners can expect that their pets will require life long treatment.

In general, autoimmune diseases can be helped holistically by a restricted protein diet, probiotics, antioxidants, herbal supplementation, and fatty acid supplementation.

As SLE affects many systems in the dog’s body, NHV recommends using multiple supplements to help support the body. All supplements can be taken together and should be given at the therapeutic dosage or higher (please call a NHV Pet Expert if you have dosage questions).

Recommended NHV Supplements For SLE in Dogs

NHV ES Clear to help with overall immune function and support hemoglobin levels.

BK Detox, which is good for pets with compromised immune systems. It acts as a support for the blood and helps flush toxins and impurities. It is also high in antioxidants.

NHV Felimm, which will continue to help support the immune system, detoxify the blood and lymphatic system.

NHV Multi Essentials, a plant based nutritional support. Extra nutritional support is especially important since a low protein diet is recommended for pets with SLE.

NHV Turmeric, which is high in antioxidants, helps scavenge free radicals and is a good support for heart health and arthritis.

NHV PetOmega 3 to make sure your dog has those essential fatty acids and for it’s anti-inflammatory actions.

NHV Yucca to help with digestion and inflammation. With lupus the body is in an inflamed state and the Yucca will help.

I hope you do reach out if you have any questions with your dog or cat who may be suffering from lupus. I am available for a holistic vet consult, where you can send me blood work and test results and I can provide a more comprehensive plan for your pet. On-line vet consults can be booked through NHV here.

Dr. Hillary Cook is a graduate of Virginia Maryland Regional Veterinary Medical school. She has been practicing holistic and integrative veterinary medicine for fifteen years. She certified in Veterinary acupuncture and is fully qualified in Western and Chinese herbalism. She is the owner of Animal Wellness Center, an integrative veterinary clinic in Crozet, VA. She enjoys spending time with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets including dogs, cats and chickens. When time allows, you can find her in the garden or on the tennis court!

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