What Is An Autoimmune Disease in Dogs & How to Treat It?

Like humans, a dog’s immune system functions as its body’s defense against foreign cells that may cause harm. These include a network of antibodies, white blood cells, and other reasons to protect them from harmful elements.

How to prevent IMHA in dogs?

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So if a dog is healthy, their immune system recognizes, destroys, and eliminates foreign cells from the body to protect it from diseases, viruses, and infections. But what happens when a dog has an autoimmune disease?

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

According to vet research, autoimmune disorders in dogs occur when a dog’s immune system doesn’t respond as it should. So instead of their immune system protecting their body, it attacks its cells and tissues. In short, autoimmune diseases in dogs involve several disorders affecting a dog’s immune system.

Depending on which tissue or organ the immune system isn’t able to address appropriately, an autoimmune disorder can pose a real risk to a dog’s life. There are several kinds of autoimmune diseases that dogs may be susceptible to, each with varying symptoms. Treatment options would depend on the specific autoimmune disease.

Types of Canine Autoimmune Diseases

The following are among the most common autoimmune disorders in dogs:

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AHA)

This occurs when the red blood cells of the dog’s body are attacked. This poses a problem because the red blood cells transport oxygen to the body’s tissues. When a dog has an Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia disease, the system attacks or damages the red blood cells quicker than they are replaced.

Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP)

Thrombocytes function by forming blood clots. However, the immune system attacks the thrombocytes when a dog has an Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP) disorder. While dogs with this condition might not suffer from severe symptoms compared to AIHA, there can also be serious complications when bleeding occurs.

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

This is a rare condition and can be hereditary. The breeds that are more prone to the disease are:

  • Collies;
  • Beagles;
  • German Shepherds;
  • Poodles;
  • Shetland Sheepdogs;
  • Afghan Hounds;
  • Old English Sheepdogs;
  • Irish Setters.

While signs of SLE may appear at any age, it usually shows up around six years of age. Flare-ups are common, and those with the condition may go into remission periodically. Because the antibodies in the blood attack the tissues and cells of the body, the lungs, heart, skin, joints, blood, kidney, and nervous systems may be affected. With the condition, it’s common for several organs to suffer.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

Dogs may sometimes get this disorder alone or get it alongside SLE. It covers several particular diseases, but the symptoms are usually the same.

Autoimmune Skin Diseases

While rare, there are different types of autoimmune skin diseases that dogs may be susceptible to.

The various types include:

Pemphigus – there are many forms of this disease, but all documents usually show signs such as scabs, sores filled with pus, and scales in the skin.

Discoid lupus erythematosus is probably due to SLE but is confined to the nose and face, with scabs, scaly skin, and pigment loss.

Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-like syndrome – A sporadic disease, it usually leads to pigmentation loss and eye disease. Early treatment can prevent eye complications such as blindness.

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs?

Causes of autoimmune diseases in dogs vary depending on the specific condition. Below are the common symptoms for each type of condition:

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

The cause is unknown for this type of disease, but middle-aged female dogs more commonly experience it. Also, dog breeds such as poodles and cocker spaniels may be more prone to the disease, but any dog may suffer.

Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP)

The cause of ITP is unknown, and it can either be a primary or secondary issue, which other health conditions may trigger.

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

While the cause of the condition is unknown, it may be hereditary. Also, the state may worsen when dogs are more exposed to ultraviolet rays.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

This disease may be caused by getting action of the body’s autoimmune response, attacking the body’s tissues (more common cause).

Autoimmune Skin Diseases

The causes of autoimmune skin diseases aren’t fully grasped yet, but genes and environmental factors may be contributing factors. Exposure to UV rays may also trigger a range of conditions.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Disorders in Dogs

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Depending on which part of the body is affected, below are some of the symptoms:

  • Face or feet ulcers;
  • Pigment loss on the nose;
  • Lameness;
  • Alopecia;
  • Drinking/urinating too often;
  • Scabs, scars, and lesions on the skin;
  • Thyroid issues;
  • Anemia;
  • Infections in the kidneys;
  • Enlarged liver, spleen, or kidney;
  • Swollen lymph nodes;
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia;
  • Loss of weight;
  • Lethargy or general weakness;
  • Rapid breathing;
  • Increase in heart rate;
  • Jaundice;
  • Fever;
  • Collapse (in more severe cases);
  • Discoloration in skin, eyes, or gums;
  • Paleness in mucous membranes of eyes and gums.
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Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP)

  • Too much bleeding after a surgical procedure or an injury;
  • Blood in stool or pee;
  • Bleeding more than usual when menstruating;
  • Bruising.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

  • Swelling;
  • Joint pain;
  • High fever;
  • Lameness from one leg to the other;
  • Swelling of lymph nodes.

Autoimmune skin diseases

Pemphigus – signs include scabs, sores filled with pus, and scales in the skin.

Discoid lupus erythematosus – scabs, scaly skin, and pigment loss.

Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-like syndrome – pigmentation loss as well as eye disease.

Because autoimmune diseases may affect a dog’s body in many ways, it would help to be able to detect the symptoms of the range of conditions as early as possible. An effective way to be able to monitor your dog at any time of the day is to use devices such as pet cameras.

One good example of this is the Petlifedays Cam, with its intelligent HD features at an affordable price. Also, purchasing gives you access to Petlifedays’s Online Vet service, where you can consult with licensed veterinarians 24/7/.

How Are Autoimmune Diseases Diagnosed and Treated?

Autoimmune Skin Diseases

The different kinds of autoimmune skin diseases may be hard to diagnose with their varied symptoms.

Treatment may include topical corticosteroids or prednisone (low to medium dose). When it comes to minor cases, they may only need minimal treatment. However, regular vet visits and strict medication adherence may be required in more severe cases.

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

To diagnose the disease, blood tests are needed. Usually, dogs that have SLE show a positive result in the anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA) blood test.

The dog may need to be hospitalized for severe cases of the condition. On the other hand, those treated at home are usually advised to rest and limit exposure to sunlight. Also, your dog’s diet may be changed to one that is friendly to the kidneys. Drugs to reduce swelling may also be prescribed.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Diagnosis often involves your vet doing a physical examination and will most likely recommend a blood test called Packed Cell Volume (PCV) to get a count of the red blood cells.

In most cases, immunosuppressive drugs and corticosteroids may be prescribed to manage the condition. If the medications aren’t effective, however, your vet may recommend the spleen be removed. In rare cases, a blood transfusion may be needed.

Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP)

The presence of thrombocytopenia likely indicates that a dog has ITP. Diagnostics that vets may recommend to determine the possible causes of the disease include tests to check if your dog has tick-borne conditions or abdominal ultrasound, as well as a chest x-ray to see if your dog is suffering from neoplasia.

Similar to AIHA, treating ITP usually involves immunosuppressives and corticosteroids. The spleen may also be removed in some cases. Blood or plasma transfusion may also help. For female dogs, an ovariohysterectomy may be done to lessen the risk of experiencing hemorrhage in the uterus.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

A joint fluid sample from several joints is gathered for lab examination to diagnose this disease.

Around 50% of cases may go into remission after taking corticosteroids. The other half may be treated with Cytoxan or Imuran, with steroids being given afterward. It’s essential, however, to consult with a vet before giving any medications.

How to Prevent Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

To help prevent your dog from getting an autoimmune disease, the sound approach is to keep your dog healthy in all aspects. Good nutrition, avoiding toxins in their environment, and keeping their immune system healthy may go a long way.

Pet Emergency Fund

Because many autoimmune diseases have causes unknown causes and, in some types, symptoms may suddenly need emergency care, having assurance when caring for our pets goes a long way.

A wise choice is investing in a service that not only takes care of our dog’s emergency vet bills if the need arises but Petlifedays’s Pet Emergency Fund, which also has friendly terms for both pets and pet owners. The service also gives access to Petlifedays’s Online Vet, where you can consult with certified vets 24/7.


What is autoimmune meningitis in dogs?

It’s a condition that can be described as the swelling of the nervous system lining. Typically, it affects dogs from 6-18 months and is usually acute.

Autoimmune disease in dogs’ life expectancy

The life expectancy of dogs who suffer from autoimmune diseases depends on various factors. But dogs can live long and happy life if treatment is given early on.

What is the best IMHA dog diet?

When your dog has IMHA, choosing hypoallergenic food is an excellent place to start. Why? Because while your dog may not have an allergy that IMHA brings about, it won’t cause additional stimulation to an immune system that is already overstimulated.

Choosing hypoallergenic food enables the body to absorb the food’s nutrition without adding up to the problem of an immune system that is inflamed.

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