Autoimmune Skin Disorders in Dogs

Autoimmune skin disorders in dogs consist of the body’s immune system attacking self dermal tissue. It is common for dogs to develop skin conditions due to a series of factors such as bacterial, fungal, parasitical infections or autoimmune diseases. The skin conditions manifest through itches, irritated skin, red spots and continuous scratching. Since symptoms for skin diseases are rather similar, it might be difficult for you to make a correct diagnosis, so it is recommended to consult your veterinarian and decide together the proper course of treatment.

Autoimmune Skin Disorders in Dogs

The dog’s immune system is designed to recognize own cells and protect them against "attackers", such as viruses, bacteria, parasites or fungi.

If the immune system fails to recognize its own tissues, the antibodies will start attacking the dog’s own cells. If this occurs at the level of the skin cells, it will result in an autoimmune skin disorder.

Autoimmune diseases are multisystem disorders and this means that they affect more than one system. Even if the disease manifests at the level of the skin, this does not mean that other organs in the body are not affected.

Most common autoimmune skin disorders in dogs are:

  • Pemphigus Vulgaris or Foliaceus
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
  • Discoid Lupus Erythematosus

These disorders consist of the antibodies attacking the line between the superficial layer of the skin and the layer beneath it, or only cells in the same skin layer.

Although all breeds can be affected, autoimmune skin disorders occur most frequently in Dobermans, Newfoundlands, Chow-Chows, dachshunds and schipperkes. Lupus affects mainly female dogs.

Autoimmune skin diseases progress rapidly, so it is recommended to consult your veterinarian as soon as you notice any type of abnormalities in your dog’s skin.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Skin Disorders in Dogs

Clinical signs are similar to all autoimmune skin disorders and consist of:

  • Rashes
  • Itchiness
  • Red spots
  • Hair loss

If the dog is affected by lupus, he may also manifest loss of pigmentation in the area of the mouth, face and genitals.

Diagnosis of Autoimmune Skin Disorders in Dogs

Given the similarities between the symptoms of skin diseases in dogs, a correct diagnosis is necessary. In order to diagnose an autoimmune skin disease, your veterinarian will proceed with the followings:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests
  • Histopathology (skin biopsy)
  • Direct and indirect immunofluorescence
  • Lupus erythematosus cell preparations
  • Antinuclear antibody tests (ANA)

These tests are meant to identify the erratic behavior of the immune system cells and the inflammation they cause at the level of the skin.

Treatment of Autoimmune Skin Disorders in Dogs

The treatment plan for autoimmune skin diseases addresses both the symptoms and the disease.

Corticosteroids are usually prescribed to control the disease because they act as immunosuppressors.

The administration of corticosteroids can cause side-effects.

Your veterinarian could also recommend changes in diet and Epson salt baths and other topical remedies to relieve the symptoms.

Sun exposure should be avoided if your pet has an autoimmune skin disease as it can only worsen the condition.