What is Lupus in Dogs?
Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease that affects dogs, humans, and other animals.
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues.
Lupus in dogs manifests in two primary forms: discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Below is a brief explanation of each.
Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE)
Discoid Lupus Erythematosus primarily affects a dog’s skin and is more common than systemic lupus.
It typically presents as a chronic, inflammatory condition that primarily affects the face, especially the nose and the surrounding areas.
DLE usually does not affect internal organs.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a more severe form of lupus that can affect multiple organs and systems in the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, blood cells, and nervous system.
It is a complex and potentially life-threatening condition.
Symptoms can vary widely but may include:
- skin rashes
- joint pain
- muscle pain
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- kidney problems
We still don’t understand the exact cause of lupus in dogs. However, researchers believe it involves a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors.
Veterinarians diagnose lupus in dogs using a combination of clinical signs, blood tests, and sometimes skin biopsies.
Standard Western veterinary treatment for lupus in dogs usually involves a combination of medications to manage symptoms and suppress the immune system’s abnormal response.
Treatment usually includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, immunosuppressive drugs, and sometimes additional supportive therapies.
If you suspect your dog may have lupus, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian who can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment plan.
How TCVM Helps Lupus in Dogs
Eastern medicine, or TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine), is a holistic approach to veterinary care that includes various modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, food therapy, and Tui-na (a form of therapeutic massage).
TCVM is sometimes used as a sole treatment and other times as a complementary therapy alongside conventional treatments to help support the dog’s overall well-being.
Below are examples of how TCVM modalities help lupus in dogs.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate and balance the flow of energy (Qi).
It can help with pain management, immune system regulation, and overall wellness.
Acupuncture sessions may be tailored to address specific symptoms or underlying imbalances associated with lupus, such as joint pain, inflammation, and immune dysfunction.
Most dogs find acupuncture very relaxing, and some even fall asleep during a session.
A qualified TCVM practitioner may prescribe Traditional Chinese herbs to help modulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, and support organ function.
Herbal formulations are often customized for the individual patient based on their specific symptoms and constitution.
However, consulting a veterinarian experienced in TCVM is crucial to ensure your pet takes the proper herbal formula for their Eastern diagnosis.
It emphasizes food as a source of nutrition and medicine to promote wellness and address specific animal health conditions.
In TCVM food therapy, various factors include the individual animal’s constitution, energy imbalances, specific health conditions, and different food ingredients’ thermal nature and energetic properties.
The goal is to select and prepare foods to restore balance, support the body’s organ systems, and address specific imbalances or disharmonies.
A TCVM-trained veterinarian will recommend specific foods or dietary modifications to address underlying imbalances associated with lupus and support the dog’s immune system.
Tui-na is an Eastern therapeutic massage that stimulates acupuncture points, promotes circulation, and relaxes the muscles.
It is beneficial for managing pain, improving mobility, and reducing stress in dogs with lupus.
TCVM-trained veterinarians often teach pet parents Tui-na techniques to use at home on their pets.
Once you learn how to do it, you can make it a part of your dog’s daily regimen for continual benefits.
Stress and Lupus in Dogs
TCVM views stress as a factor contributing to developing or exacerbating various health conditions, including those related to the immune system, digestive system, and emotional well-being.
Stress can disrupt the harmonious balance of Yin and Yang energies in your dog’s body, leading to disharmony and subsequent health problems.
Stress affects dogs with lupus in several ways.
While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, stress is known to have a significant impact on the immune system and can exacerbate autoimmune conditions like lupus.
Below are examples of how stress affects lupus in dogs:
- Immune System Dysregulation: Stress triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can affect the immune system. In dogs with lupus, an already dysregulated immune system can be further disrupted by stress, potentially leading to increased inflammation and immune-mediated damage to tissues and organs.
- Increased Inflammation: Stress activates the body’s inflammatory response, leading to the release of pro-inflammatory substances. Inflammation is a significant component of lupus, and heightened stress levels can worsen existing inflammation and contribute to symptom flare-ups.
- Symptom Flare-ups: Stress can trigger or worsen symptoms associated with lupus. Dogs with lupus may experience skin lesions, joint pain, fatigue, and other symptoms during times of increased stress. Stress can also impact overall well-being, making dogs more susceptible to infections and other health issues.
- Behavioral Changes: Dogs experiencing stress may exhibit changes in behavior, such as increased restlessness, aggression, decreased appetite, or withdrawal. These behavioral changes can further impact the dog’s overall health and quality of life.
Managing stress is essential for dogs with lupus to help reduce the risk of symptom flare-ups and improve their well-being.
Below are some strategies to help you minimize your dog’s stress.
- Routine and Stability: Establishing a consistent daily routine and providing a stable environment can help reduce stress and create a sense of security for dogs with lupus.
- Physical and Mental Enrichment: Regular exercise, playtime, and mental stimulation can help dogs expend energy, relieve stress, and promote a positive mental state.
- Comfort and Relaxation: Provide your dog with a comfortable and safe environment with a cozy bed, quiet spaces, and soothing music. Consider using calming pheromone diffusers or anxiety wraps if necessary.
- Bonding and Positive Reinforcement: Strengthen the bond with your dog through positive reinforcement training, gentle handling, and spending quality time together. This can help reduce anxiety and stress.
- Environmental Enrichment: Provide stimulating toys, puzzle feeders, and other forms of environmental enrichment to keep your dog mentally engaged and alleviate boredom.
Working closely with a veterinarian is crucial to effectively manage your dog’s lupus.
If you can’t find a holistic vet near you, your next best option is a telemedicine consultation.
If you get a TCVM telemedicine consultation with one of our veterinarians ($125), you’ll get personalized recommendations specific to your pet, including:
- Food Therapy Recommendations
- TCVM Herb Recommendations & Veterinary Authorization
- Supplement Recommendations
- Alternative Medicine Recommendations
- Answers to Your Questions
You can learn more about our founding veterinarians and their expertise and/or schedule by visiting their websites:
- Marc Smith, DVM, MS – Natchez Trace Veterinary Services
- Casey Damron, DVM, CVA – White Oak Animal Hospital
- Olivry, T., Linder, K. E., & Banovic, F. (2018). Cutaneous lupus erythematosus in dogs: a comprehensive review. BMC Veterinary Research, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12917-018-1446-8
- Dogs / Lupus — Lupus Trust – A Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity (UK). (n.d.). Lupus Trust UK. https://www.lupus.org.uk/dogs-with-lupus-uk
- Canine skin autoimmune diseases. (2023, May 5). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/riney-canine-health-center/health-info/canine-skin-autoimmune-diseases