Pet parents will do everything in their power to keep their pups safe and healthy. Unfortunately, despite the annual checkups, vaccines, balanced diet and regular exercise, some dogs inevitably fall ill with an autoimmune disease. These diseases lead your pup’s body to damage itself, and they can have devastating consequences if they aren’t treated.
What is an autoimmune disease?
The immune system is connected to every part of the body. It releases white blood cells, antibodies, T cells and histamines that fight off foreign substances like viruses and bacteria. Your dog’s immune system is the first line of defense against pathogens that cause illness and infection. A healthy immune system means a healthy pup!
Unfortunately, not all dogs have it so easy. Some pups are born with weakened immune systems that can’t fight infections, while others live with the opposite problem. An autoimmune disease is one that creates an overactive immune system, leading immune cells to attack healthy cells in the body. The immune cells get “confused” and target a specific system, thinking it’s an external threat.
“Autoimmune disease” is an umbrella term that encompasses many different disorders. There are autoimmune diseases that are local to certain parts of the body such as the skin, eyes, mouth, kidney, blood, lungs and nervous system. In rare cases, dogs might be born with a systemic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks any type of organ, cell or tissue at random.
Here are three of the most common autoimmune diseases in dogs and the symptoms you need to watch out for.
Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP)
Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP) attacks a type of cell called thrombocytes. Thrombocytes are platelets found in the bloodstream that help create blood clots. When a dog is wounded, these disc-shaped cells come together like a shield to prevent foreign substances from infecting the skin’s broken surface. In other words, thrombocytes are what create scabs. A dog with ITP can’t properly heal from injuries because their body doesn’t have enough thrombocytes.
A few telltale signs will betray the presence of ITP in dogs. A dog with this condition will bruise easily, even from light contact during play time. ITP also causes excessive bleeding, whether it’s a couple scratches from a dog fight or microscopic breaks in the skin. For this reason, dogs with ITP often have a bloody nose or gums. Owners might also observe dark or bloody waste every time the dog relieves themselves.
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA)
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) also affects the bloodstream. In a healthy dog, bone marrow produces red blood cells and sends them throughout the body to deliver oxygen. Dogs with AIHA have an abnormally low red blood cell count because their immune system believes red blood cells are pathogenic. As a result, their body and brain don’t receiving enough nutrients or oxygen.
Since AIHA decreases the brain’s oxygen supply, dogs with the disease usually appear weak and resist the owner’s attempts to initiate play time. Additionally, the dog will develop jaundice in the eyes, gums and skin. Jaundice is a pale yellowish pigmentation that shows up when there’s excessive red blood cell waste in the body. Dogs with AIHA become jaundiced because their immune systems are breaking down red blood cells faster than the body can replace them.
Pemphigus foliaceus (PF)
Dogs rarely develop autoimmune diseases affecting the skin. However, pemphigus foliaceus (PF) is the most common skin-affecting autoimmune disease.
PF breaks down mucous membranes on the epidermis, also known as the top layer of the skin. Much like other types of autoimmune diseases, PF usually arises in middle-aged dogs and has no known cause. However, PF is unique from other autoimmune diseases because it’s relatively benign and easy to treat.
The symptoms of PF are very noticeable. Dogs with PF develop scabs and ulcers on the head, specifically around the eyes, ears and nose. Symptoms first begin to show on the head but can spread to other parts of the body after years of living with the disease. Other affected areas may include the groin and foot pads. The scabs and ulcers are usually accompanied by fur loss.
Take action against canine autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases can crop up unexpectedly, but some dog breeds are predisposed for certain types and can inherit the disease from their family line. Speak with a vet to learn if your furry companion is at risk for developing an autoimmune disease later in life. If you notice any of the symptoms of these diseases, schedule an appointment right away so your pup can receive the appropriate treatment.