Canine SLE: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that occurs in humans but can be seen in dogs as well. System lupus is a rare disease and can affect any part of the body, causing inflammation of tissues and damage to them. The symptoms of SLE may often point to different diseases and it is difficult to diagnose. SLE is not a curable disease, but it can be managed through medication.

Causes of SLE

The exact causes of SLE are not known. The disease may be more common in certain canine breeds such as Collies, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies or Shetland Sheepdogs. Consequently, SLE is believed to be a genetic disease. However, exposure to sun and ultraviolet lights may trigger the occurrence of the disease. Intense hormonal activity may also trigger it.

Symptoms of SLE

The symptoms of SLE may be subtle and may often point to different diseases. A dog with SLE might have different symptoms depending on which areas of the body are affected. The dog may experience joint pain and may also present skin symptoms.  

Most commonly, dogs with SLE will lose pigmentation of the nose. The nose will become gray and ulcerated. In some dogs, the lips, ears, eye lids and genitals may also be affected. At first lesions occur and in time, these start to ulcerate. The dog will be lethargic and sleep more than usual. He may lack appetite and display a hiding behavior. The symptoms will be worse during summer or periods with more sun, as the sun is believed to be a trigger of the disease.

Diagnosing Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

The symptoms of SLE may not always be present and obvious, so the vet may often mistake it for solar dermatitis, ringworm or dermatitis, which present similar symptoms. A biopsy of the skin cells can give a clear diagnosis. An anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) test will be performed and this should be positive. If the dog only has discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) which is a milder form of SLE, the ANA test may be negative.

Treatment Options

The treatment for SLE may consist of medication and sunscreen.

The medication for SLE may include immunosupressants such as corticosteroids (Prednisone) or cyclophosphamides. Anti-malaria drugs can also be effective in managing the canine systemic lupus erythematosus. If internal organs are affected, the dog will receive medication.

If the dog receives immunosupressants, it may be exposed to different diseases and viruses, as the immune system is not able to respond to foreign bodies. If secondary diseases occur, these should be treated immediately. A dog with SLE must be monitored and periodic tests should be performed to see whether the disease affects the heart, lungs or the kidneys.

Preventing Activation of the Disease

While dogs with SLE should be kept under medication, it is important to avoid sun and ultraviolet lights to prevent the activation of the disease. While under medication, the disease may often be in remission.