Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune condition that affects multiple organs in the body. The exact cause is still unknown, but it is suspected there is a genetic component, along with environmental and other physiological factors contributing to the disease. UV light can cause the condition to flare up, just like Discoid Lupus. Certain drugs have also been implicated in SLE. Continue reading to learn more about SLE symptoms, testing, and treatment options!
Symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs
Clinical symptoms can come and go, and they can be very vague. SLE is a rare condition but tends to affect certain breeds more often. Breeds more commonly diagnosed with SLE include German Shepherds, Beagle, Collie, Poodle, Sheltie, Old English Sheepdog, Irish Setter, Afghan hound, and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
The most common symptoms include:
- Reduced appetite or not eating at all
- Ulcers, sores, hair loss, crusts, and loss of pigmentation (color) to the skin mainly on the ears, face, and limbs
- Oral ulcers
- Ulcers at mucocutaneous junctions such as the lip line, around the vulva or prepuce
- Swollen, painful joints often with shifting leg lameness
- Enlarged lymph nodes, liver, spleen
- Neurologic symptoms such as seizures, twitching, abnormal gait, behavioral changes (more common in cats than dogs)
What tests will my vet recommend to screen for SLE?
Since many organs can be affected and symptoms can vary greatly, there may be numerous tests recommended to try to determine the cause. There is no single perfect test for SLE, so your vet will make the diagnosis based on clinical symptoms and having at least 3 tests that support an SLE diagnosis.
Urinalysis: SLE often affects the kidneys and your vet may recommend a urine test to screen for protein loss.
- Blood work may show abnormal liver or kidney values or changes in
- protein levels. It all depends on what organs are involved. There are also often changes in the red and white blood cells and platelets.
- Fluid analysis from swollen joints can show abnormal white blood cells that are often found in dogs with SLE
- ANA Test is a blood test to look for specific antibodies. A positive test does not confirm SLE, but it makes it very likely.
- Biopsy and histopathology of skin lesions can also give additional supportive evidence of SLE
What treatments are available if my dog has SLE?
Immunosuppressive medications are the main form of treatment. Steroids, Azathioprine, Cyclosporine, Cyclophosphamide, and Mycophenolate are all common options. Your dog may need more than one of these medications to achieve remission. Treatment often is given for at least 6 months and the dose of medication is reduced to the lowest effective dose to control the lesions. Some dogs can stop medications eventually while others need treatment long-term.
If your dog has kidney involvement, specific treatment will be recommended to help support the kidneys.
Topical treatments can help with skin lesions, such as antibiotic therapy to resolve secondary infections and topical immunosuppressive medications.
Vitamin E and omega fatty acids can also help improve the skin.
Avoid sunlight if this worsens the condition - keep indoors mainly, deter sunbathing in windows, use doggy sunscreen and have them wear UV protective clothing when outside.
It can take weeks to months to see improvement, and treatment may be needed long-term as relapses are common. Be sure to follow your vet’s treatment plan and come in for all recommended recheck exams for the best chance of success.
Unfortunately, SLE can be fatal, even with aggressive treatment. Up to 40% of patients will pass away during the first year.
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