Common Questions About Lupus in Dogs

Owners who have just received this troubling diagnosis often have many questions about lupus. Because it isn't very common, many owners haven't even heard of it until their dog is diagnosed.

About Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body attacks its own tissues. Lupus can occur in many different types of tissues and may not occur in all tissues. Common areas include the kidneys and red blood cells.

Symptoms of Lupus

Symptoms can vary, depending on where the lupus has developed in the body. Kidneys are frequently affected, which can result in kidney failure, as are red blood cells, which can result in anemia. Other symptoms include:

  • fever
  • lameness
  • easy bruising
  • skin lesions
  • hair loss
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy 
  • enlargement of the spleen, lymph nodes or liver.

Causes of Lupus

No one knows why autoimmune diseases develop, but there may be a genetic component. Some breeds, such as collies, German shepherds and shelties, are more susceptible to lupus. There is no way to prevent it.

Lupus Diagnosis

Diagnosis of lupus is difficult because it can affect many different areas and cause many different symptoms. First, your veterinarian will probably recommend a blood test and urinalysis to look for kidney or liver damage. If skin lesions are present, these can be biopsied.

The antinuclear (ANA) test is currently available if lupus is suspected. It identifies antibodies in the body by comparing against components found in your dog's cell nucleus. However, these tests are not 100 percent reliable, and results may be skewed by additional illnesses or medication.

Lupus Treatment Options

Veterinarians may recommend different types of treatments, depending on the symptoms of your dog. Secondary bacterial infections or skin lesions may be treated with antibiotics.

The most common treatment is immunosuppressive therapy, which includes a combination of glucocorticoids and other immunosuppressive drugs. This treatment is life-long and can have very serious side effects, such as ulcers, liver disease and pancreatitis, so dogs on this type of treatment must be monitored frequently.

If your dog vomits, loses his appetite or has diarrhea, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Available Lupus Medication

The most common glucocorticoid is Prednisone, which is usually given at 1 mg per body weight twice daily for a couple of weeks and then gradually tapered. Prednisone is used in conjunction with a combination of additional immunosuppressing drugs, such as cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, chlorambucil.

For the first few months of treatment, your dog will need a blood test every couple weeks to monitor white blood cell count and other enzymes to ensure he is responding properly to the treatment.


About 40 percent of dogs with lupus die within a year of their diagnosis, and prognosis is guarded at best for those who survive the first year. Treatment can prolong your dog's lifespan but can also cause serious complications as well. Prognosis usually depends on how much kidney damage has been done and how severe the anemia is.

Lupus is a serious disease that can't be easily treated. However, the sooner it can be caught, the better success of treatment. Consult your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the above symptoms.