If Lucy is limping around and having difficulty getting up in the morning, you might suspect arthritis. But with your dog's lameness switching from one leg to another, and the presence of scaly, red sores, it's likely something else is wrong. These symptoms, along with testing, may lead your vet to diagnose canine systemic lupus. It's an autoimmune disease that's as serious as it sounds, and it could possibly shorten Lucy's life.
Lupus is a chronic disease meaning once Lucy has it, lifelong treatment will be necessary. She'll have her good days and bad days as the disease goes into and comes out of remission. Becky Lundgren, D.V.M. wrote in her article "Systemic Lupus Erythematosus" for VeterinaryPartner.com that the disease is potentially fatal. Canine lupus is capable of shortening a dog's life because it causes her immune system to attack her own tissues and cells. Occasionally the resulting cell damage can lead to death.
Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to keeping lupus from affecting Lucy's life span, but diagnosing it can be difficult. The symptoms are difficult to pin down because not all dogs show the same signs. Additionally, the ones you'll notice, such as fever, lameness and skin and mouth sores will come and go. This can keep you from recognizing the condition as serious. Blood tests have to be done to confirm other symptoms such as anaemia, thyroiditis and antinuclear antibodies.
The cause of canine lupus isn't known, although some factors have been suspected as having an effect on which dogs develop the disease. Lucy could be genetically predisposed to having canine lupus, or a viral infection or a drug reaction could bring it on. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the cause of lupus in dogs, there's no sure-fire way to prevent any dog from getting it, other than keeping a dog who has it from breeding to avoid perpetuating the disease.
Treating Lucy's lupus with immunosuppressive drugs and corticosteroids can reduce the chances of the disease damaging her tissues and cells. That can go a long way toward ensuring the illness won't cut her life short. At home, you can do your part by encouraging rest during her flare-ups, even crating her if necessary to keep her from overexerting. Bright sunlight can increase the frequency of those flare-ups, so helping her to avoid intense sunlight is beneficial. Pet MD notes that if Lucy's kidneys have been affected by the disease your vet likely will put her on a low protein diet, too.
- VeterinaryParntner.com: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
- Small Animal Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses; Edited by Linda Merrill
- Pet MD: Systemic Autoimmune Disease in Dogs
- Provet: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
- Longlife: Canine Lupus Treatment and Information About Lupus in Dogs
- Dana Neely/Photodisc/Getty Images