Autoimmune diseases can affect dogs, just like us humans. Even though we all know what the immune system is, it is common not to fully understand how it works. Most of us cannot describe where the immune system’s organs are located or visualize its function.
This is because the cells of the immune system are found in all lymph nodes throughout the body. They are also found in the spleen, breasts, lungs, intestines and all other organs of the body. These cells patrol the body by circulating through the bloodstream.
When the immune system fails
When an autoimmune disease affects an individual, the immune system accidentally begins to attack the body’s own tissues. The immune cells can no longer distinguish between normal healthy cells and foreign cells, and thus begin to destroy them.
The reason for this is still not completely known. The disease can affect only one system in the body or several, such as skin, connective tissue, nerves and muscles. It can also affect the endocrine system (which controls the body’s hormones), joints, red blood cells and the digestive system to an equal degree.
What factors are associated with autoimmune diseases in dogs?
At present, science can not fully explain what causes these diseases. But in many cases, it is a dog’s genes that appear to be the culprit. Therefore, some dog breeds are harder hit than others.
For example, cases of chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s disease, are more common among breeds such as grand danois, golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, old english sheepdogs and beagles . It is worth noting that some of these breeds are prone to get more than one autoimmune disease, such as old english sheepdogs, which also have a tendency to suffer from the autoimmune disease hemolytic anemia.
Reports also indicate that there are other triggers, e.g. exposure to certain drugs (antibiotics), chronic or tick-borne infections and cancer. Other chronic infections such as heart valve disease and spinal cord infections can also be triggers.
Due to the link between antibiotics and autoimmune diseases, many studies point to an imbalance in the intestinal bacterial flora as a probable cause. The diseases have also been linked to vaccines, although no clear link has been found.
Types of autoimmune diseases in dogs
There is currently a wide range of autoimmune diseases among dogs, but here are the most common:
- Arthritis : Affects the knee joints and often causes pain and reduced mobility.
- Immunological thrombocytope purpura (ITP): Caused by platelet degradation.
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca: Dry eyes.
- Meningitis : Affects mainly dwarf dogs.
- Pemphigus foliaceus (PF): The most common of several autoimmune skin diseases.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) : Causes chronic inflammation of the intestinal mucosa.
Whatever it is about, it is important to diagnose the disease early. If left untreated, the complications can become serious, and it is common for several body systems to be involved.
What symptoms can warn of an autoimmune disease?
It is important to examine your dog regularly. Look for small bleeds on the skin and gums, called petechiae. It is also important to detect wounds on the legs and skin as well as in the eyes and mouth at an early stage. You also need to keep track of if your dog develops areas of alopecia (scabies) or scabies anywhere on the body.
A good way to detect wounds on your dog early is through dog grooming. They can often see symptoms such as bruising, bleeding gums or bloody diarrhea during exercise.
It is important to check every day if there are traces of blood in your dog’s urine or feces, or if it has a bloody nose. Also pay attention to whether it has red eyes and thick, mucus-like discharge from the eyes.
Of course, changes such as loss of appetite, lethargy, fatigue and fever are also other important warning signs, as well as epileptic seizures, blindness, loss of balance or coordination and tremors.
How is autoimmune disease diagnosed and managed?
First and foremost, it is important to make a detailed clinical analysis of the patient’s medical history and that the veterinarian takes blood and urine samples, performs a tissue biopsy and then also X-ray, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging examinations. All this is to be able to make a diagnosis.
Your veterinarian will probably also prescribe medication to help your dog fight a possible infection, virus or allergy that may be causing the symptoms. Cortisone preparations such as prednisolone are usually used as the first step in treatment.
Vaccination of dogs with autoimmune disease
As we mentioned earlier, there is a controversy regarding the fact that annual vaccinations can increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases in dogs. But we must also not forget that vaccines, by stimulating the immune system, can also have a negative effect on dogs that already have an autoimmune disease.
In these cases , experts recommend that vaccination be kept to a minimum or avoided altogether. It is usual in such cases to implement a veterinarian titrerin G A V antibodies, a test that detects the amount of antibodies in the blood and if there is sufficient to protect the dog against disease without the need for booster vaccination.
Cases that show no improvement
There are autoimmune diseases that disappear after treatment without ever coming back, while others can last a lifetime. In cases where serious illnesses do not respond to treatment, one can turn to a method known as therapeutic plasma exchange (TPE). This treatment extracts the patient’s blood and filters it to remove the antibodies that cause damage.
In addition to this, given the role that the intestinal flora plays, there are dietary supplements for dogs that restore the intestines by adding good bacteria that are missing from the dog’s bacterial flora. These supplements contain feces – yes, feces – with healthy gut bacteria donated by healthy dogs. The procedure is called f EKAL transplantation (FMT) .
Once a dog has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, it is important to be aware of relapses. Go for regular and comprehensive health check-ups, and notify your veterinarian as soon as you notice any changes in your dog’s activity level or physical condition.
The most important recommendation we can give is to know what is normal for your particular dog. Set aside 10 minutes each day to examine your dog, including the gums. If you find something that feels wrong, act quickly.