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Symptoms of Lupus in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Symptoms of Canine Lupus

Discoid (cutaneous) lupus erythematosus is a relatively benign variant of systemic lupus erythematosus that primarily affects facial skin. The most common site is the hairless surface of the bridge of the nose, called the nasal planum or planum nasale. Other sites are the lips, mouth, periocular area (around the eyes), pinnae (ear flaps) and, rarely, the genitalia or feet. Dogs with DLE usually are otherwise healthy. The symptoms of DLE can include one or more of the following:

  • Depigmentation (paleness) of the skin on the bridge of the nose
  • Skin redness (erythema), especially on the bridge of the nose, face and lips
  • Skin scaling and flaking, especially on the bridge of the nose, face and lips
  • Skin erosions (sores), especially on the bridge of the nose, face and lips
  • Skin ulcerations, especially on the bridge of the nose, face and lips
  • Skin crusting, especially on the bridge of the nose, face and lips
  • Scarring, especially on the bridge of the nose, face and lips
  • Pain at affected areas
  • Itchiness (pruritis), may or may not be present
  • Scratching at affected areas (variable)
  • Secondary bacterial infections (pyoderma)

In addition to losing its pigment, the hairless surface of the nasal planum in dogs with DLE typically transitions from its normal “pebbly” texture to a smoother, more shiny surface. Flaking and crusting at junctions between haired and hairless facial areas are also commonly seen. Many cases of DLE eventually go into remission.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a much more serious condition than its cutaneous counterpart. SLE is a multi-system, immune-mediated disease characterized by the formation of antibodies against normal body cells and tissues. Basically, the dog’s body attacks itself, from the inside out. While a large number of autoimmune symptoms can be caused by SLE, the most common include one or more of the following:

  • Shifting leg lameness (the most common sign of this disease)
  • Arthritis; polyarthritis (swollen, painful joints; non-septic; non-erosive; common)
  • Stiff, stilted gait
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite (inappetence; anorexia)
  • Anemia (hemolytic); other bleeding problems
  • Skin lesions (redness; depigmentation; sores; pustules; vesicles/blisters), especially on the muzzle and in other areas exposed to sunlight
  • Secondary bacterial infections (pyoderma; common contributor to death)
  • Pain
  • Muscle wasting (atrophy)
  • Fever of unknown origin (fluctuating)
  • Oral ulcerations
  • Pale gums and other mucous membranes
  • Hair loss (alopecia)
  • Thickened foot pads
  • Ulcerated foot pads
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)
  • Enlarged liver (hepatomegaly)
  • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly)
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased water intake (polydipsia)
  • Increased urination (polyuria)
  • Neurological abnormalities (highly variable)

Signs of SLE can occur anywhere, including within the musculoskeletal system, skin, kidneys, liver, heart, lungs or other organs or organ systems. The symptoms can occur suddenly or slowly and can wax and wane over time. Often, the signs of SLE follow a cyclic pattern. Owners may notice their dog limping on a front leg, then returning to normal. Weeks or even months later, the same dog might begin to limp on a back leg, or on the other front leg. This sporadic lameness is attributable to swollen, painful joints.

Dogs at Increased Risk

Some breeds are predisposed to developing discoid lupus erythematosus, including Collies, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Brittany Spaniels, German Shorthaired Pointers, Alaskan Malamutes, Chow Chows and crosses of these breeds. There is no age or sex predilection.

The mean age of dogs with systemic lupus erythematosus is 6 years, but it can occur in dogs of any age. German Shepherds are clearly overrepresented. Other breeds that are predisposed to developing SLE include Shetland Sheepdogs, Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Afghan Hounds, Beagles, Irish Setters and Poodles.

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