Discoid lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disorder that causes a dog’s immune system to attack its own skin and tissue around the nose, eyes and ears, as well as other areas of the body. This causes loss of pigmentation, crusting and, in more severe cases, ulcerated sores concentrated primarily around the nose. Breeds that are predisposed to this condition include German shepherds, shelties, collies and Siberian huskies. Dogs with this disorder are usually otherwise healthy and can lead long, satisfying lives with proper treatment.
Not only does discoid lupus erythematosus place affected dogs at higher risk of sunburn and skin cancer, but ultraviolet light also makes this condition worse. Affected dogs should have limited exposure to sunlight. When they must go outside, you can apply a high SPF sunscreen to the ears and nose -- but don’t use sunscreen made for humans, which contains ingredients that might be toxic if your dog licks it off. Look for sunscreen specially formulated for pets that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
While not recommended as a sole course of treatment, oral supplementation with vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to benefit dogs suffering from discoid lupus erythematosus. When used in conjunction with other treatments, these supplements might be able to reduce the need for other types of medication over time, according to VeterinaryPartner.com, although it typically takes up to two months for the effect to become apparent.
The antibiotic tetracycline has immunomodulating properties that, when used in combination with B vitamin niacinamide, has been effective in helping 70 percent of dogs with discoid lupus erythematosus, according to VetPartner.com. As with vitamin E and omega-3 supplementation, it can take up to two months of treatment to see any effect. Tetracycline needs to be given three times a day, and is sometimes substituted with doxycycline, an oral antibiotic which only needs to be given twice a day.
Steroids help to suppress the immune system and are sometimes used for more severe cases of discoid lupus erythematosus. Oral steroids such as prednisone are sometimes used to bring about quick results to control the condition. They also might be used as a long-term treatment at a reduced dosage. However, oral steroids carry a risk of systemic side effects that include panting, increased appetite and thirst, and an increased need for urination. Side effects can be reduced by instead applying topical steroids directly to the affected area to reduce inflammation and aid in healing sores. Dogs undergoing steroid treatment will need to be monitored for side effects and have blood work done frequently to ensure that the cell counts don’t drop too low.
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