Immune System FAQs

 

What are allergies?

Allergies are the physical expression of the immune system’s over-reaction to substances, called allergens, which are not actually threats.  These things can range from pollens and molds to common food items.  Flea bite dermatitis is the most common canine allergy; the dog reacts to the saliva of fleas.  An allergy does not develop unless there has been prior exposure which allowed the immune system to recognize the allergen and “decide” that it needed to be attacked if encountered again.  Exposure can occur through breathing or eating the allergen or getting it on the skin.

What things cause allergies?

Yes, dogs do get allergies.  Any individual can develop an allergy if it lives long enough and is exposed to enough stuff and most allergies are minor.  The allergies that are of concern from a health-care or breeding standpoint are chronic and moderate to severe in effect – allergies which start in youth or the prime of life, cause considerable discomfort, and keep coming back again and again.

 Are allergies autoimmune?

Allergies are immune mediated rather than autoimmune.  In an autoimmune disease the immune system is attacking its own body’s tissues.  With allergies the immune system is over-reacting to something that is actually benign.

 Can allergies go away?

If the allergen ceases to be present in the dog’s environment, the reactions will go away.  Most often this happens when the dog moves to a different home, particularly if it is in a different geographic region.  In this case, the symptoms stop because the allergen(s) the dog reacted two are absent from the new environment and the dog has not developed allergies to things in that new environment.  If the dog is prone to allergy and stays in the new place long enough it will develop allergies to something new.

 How do I know if my dog has allergies?

Allergies can start any time in life   Dogs can have respiratory or digestive problems caused by allergies, but most likely they will itch.  However, with proper diagnosis and treatment, most dogs can live in relative comfort.  If you believe your dog has an allergy, take it to the vet.   If the dog is scratching to the point of damaging his skin it may need to be seen by a veterinary dermatologist.  However the allergy manifests, sensitivity testing and/or elimination diets (for food allergy) could help you determine what the dog reacts to. 

What do allergies mean for my dog?

Dogs are more prone to food allergies than inhalant allergies but can get either.  Flea bite allergy is relatively common in dogs, though skin allergies in general are not since most of a dog’s skin is protected by its coat.  However, the primary reaction is often atopic dermatitis, a hypersensitivity reaction of the skin.  You can reduce the number and severity of reactions by taking steps to eliminate the allergens that cause those reactions from the dog’s diet and/or environment.  In rare instances an allergy can cause anaphylactic shock, a potentially life-threatening condition.

 How common are allergies in Aussies?

The ASHGI health survey indicated that moderate to severe allergies are the second most common health problem in the breed.  11% of the dogs in the survey were affected.

 Are allergies inherited?

Yes.  Specifics of inheritance are not yet known and may be complex.

 Is there a DNA test?

Not as of this writing (July 2013), however a gene mutation associated with atopic dermatitis was recently identified and it is possible that at some point a DNA test for that might become available.  Atopic dermatitis is a common allergic symptom in dogs.  It is not known at present if that mutation is simple in inheritance or represents a risk factor.

 What do allergies mean for my breeding program?

Severely allergic dogs should not be bred.  Moderate allergies should be considered a fault.  Mild allergies may or may not be a breeding factor.  Therefore, mildly or moderately affected dogs might be bred but only to mates from families where moderate to severe allergies are not an issue.  Parents, full or half siblings, and offspring of an affected dog should also be bred to mates from families free of moderate to severe allergies.

 What are autoimmune diseases?

There are many different autoimmune diseases but in all of them the affected individual’s immune system targets one or more of its own body’s tissues.

Why are autoimmune diseases becoming more frequent in purebred dogs?

In part, our mucking about with the environment is causing increases in immune-mediated diseases.  This isn’t just a matter of spreading pollution.  In developed countries fear of infectious disease has led to cultural expectations that good parents and good breeders will keep everything around the very young as clean and germ-free as possible.  The immune system is not fully operational at birth.  It has to learn how to react and the lack of exposure to minor pathogens and parasites as well as benign substances that may occur in “dirty” environments like the outdoors.

Vulnerable populations, like purebred dogs which are, on average, inbred to about 12.5% COI, the equivalent of a half-sib mating, will be impacted more heavily by human-caused environmental factors than outbred populations, but both will see more cases of immune mediated disease.  Aussies, for a point of reference, have an average COI of about 13.5%.

We should also keep in mind that part of the apparent increase we are seeing in immune mediated diseases is due to better diagnostic techniques, both for humans and dogs.

How common are autoimmune diseases in Aussies?

The ASHGI health survey found that autoimmune diseases as a whole were extremely common in Aussies, with autoimmune thyroiditis by far and away the most common type.

 Are autoimmune diseases hereditary?

In adult dogs, chronic autoimmune diseases – those which will be a constant and continuing health issue or which cause periodic disease episodes – are genetically predisposed and environmentally mediated.

Why just adult dogs?

Young immune systems must learn to function.  The learn when to react and when not to through encounters with novel substances, pathogens, and physical or emotional stress.  Like any young entity learning to operate in its environment, sometimes a puppy’s immune system will misinterpret something novel and react inappropriately.  This sort of temporary compromise of the immune system is short-term but may lead to generally mild diseases like localized demodicosis or juvenile cellulitus.

 What do you mean by “genetically predisposed?”

If a dog has a genetic predisposition toward a disease it has the gene(s) necessary to develop the disease but whether it will or not depends on other, generally environmental, factors.

Can you explain what is meant by “environmentally mediated?”

Autoimmune diseases require both the necessary genes and an environmental trigger.  The dog won’t get unless it experiences an environmental trigger.  Triggers can be obvious or so subtle you will never know what caused the disease to start.  They can be almost anything that stresses the immune system:  Infection, injury, poor nutrition, exhaustion, severe emotional upset, etc.

Does inbreeding have any relationship to autoimmune disease?

It might in some cases.  The more common ancestors appear on both sides of a dog’s pedigree, the more frequently they appear, and the closer they are to the dog ancestrally, the greater the chance that the dog will have inherited two like or very similar copies of the major histocompatibility complex, the genes that govern the immune system, which can have a negative impact on immune system function.

 Should autoimmune diseases be addressed individually by breeders?

No.  They should be considered as a class.  Frequently, multiple autoimmune diseases will occur in the same family.  The presence of any autoimmune disease in a dog or its relatives should be considered a sign that other autoimmune diseases might also occur in that same family or their offspring.

Given the complex inheritance and the many different autoimmune diseases isn’t the situation too complicated for breeders to do anything about?

Absolutely not.  With some homework, good record-keeping, and determination breeders can reduce the frequency of autoimmune diseases.  Whenever possible, a cooperative effort amongst concerned breeders will be most effective.

How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

Breeders should follow these steps:

  • Any dog that is sick with any kind of chronic autoimmune disease should not be bred. 
  • If the coefficient of inbreeding (COI) on the affected dog is very high (20% or greater,) inbreeding may have contributed.  Try to lower the COIs in future offspring of near relatives. 
  • If the parents are healthy, you can continue breeding them, but  
      • Do not breed them to each other again. 
      • Do not breed them to their close relatives.  Examples:  Don’t breed the sire to a sister of the dam or his own grandparent’s sister. 
      • Do not breed them to any dog with a family history of any kind of autoimmune disease. 
  • Healthy near relatives of affected dogs may be bred.  However, you should not do so until they are 3-4 years of age to be reasonably sure they will not develop autoimmune disease.  Most dogs that become affected will do so by that time.  Also:   Avoid making crosses similar to the one that produced the affected puppy.  Example:  Sire of the dam to a sister of the sire.Avoid making crosses similar to the one that produced the affected offspring.  Example:  Sire of dam to sister of sire.
      • Do not breed them to their own close relatives. 
      • Do not breed them to any dog with a family history of any kind of autoimmune disease. 
  • Avoid making crosses similar to the one that produced the affected offspring.  Example:  Sire odam to sister of sire. 
  • The degree of care you must take when breeding relatives of a dog affected with autoimmune disease should be proportionate to how closely the dog is related to the one that is affected—parents, siblings and offspring being of most concern, grandparents, aunts/uncles of somewhat less concern and so on.

Should breeders do screening tests for autoimmune diseases?

Where they are available, yes.  But for many autoimmune diseases there are no tests.  Two exceptions are the thyroid panel used to screen dogs for autoimmune thyroiditis and the DNA test that indicates risk for degenerative myelopathy.  Whether or not a particular test should be considered necessary for all breeding dogs depends on how common the particular disease is in the breed.  Autoimmune thyroiditis is very common in aussies, so every breeding Aussie should be screened.  However, degenerative myelopathy is rare so it is only necessary to test near relatives of an affected dog or one that is known to have at least one copy of the genetic mutation.  There are numerous diagnostic tests for autoimmune diseases but these are designed to aid vets in determining what disease an afflicted dog has rather than screen healthy breeding stock.

How serious are autoimmune diseases, health-wise?

Most require lifetime treatment.   The severity of the health and quality-of-of-life impact varies from one disease to another, and one case to another within a particular disease.  Some can be managed with relative ease in most cases and others can be debilitating, life-threatening, plus difficult and/or expensive to treat.

 Is fighting with other dogs caused by autoimmune problems?

In most cases fights between dogs have behavioral underpinnings.  However, autoimmune thyroiditis occasionally causes affected dogs to exhibit aggressive behavior.    But with thyroiditis or any other autoimmune disease, you should be seeing other signs that something is wrong with the dog’s health than just a tendency to aggression toward other dogs.

Isn’t cancer considered an autoimmune disease?

No.  The immune system is important in the body’s defense against cancer and failures of the immune system can contribute to cancer, but autoimmune diseases are those in which the immune system attacks its own body.

Cancer isn’t a single disease.  It is a whole complex of diseases typified by uncontrolled proliferation of abnormal cells.  All cancer is genetic in that it requires one or more genetic mutations to initiate the disease process, but it isn’t necessarily inherited.  Environmental factors that damage DNA can cause mutations that lead to cancer.  In older individuals copying errors that have accumulated over many years’ worth of cell divisions may give rise to cancer.  The mutations may be in genes governing some aspect of the immune system but they might also be in tumor suppressor genes whose job it is to seek out and destroy cancerous cells, genes that control cell division, genes that control normal cell death, and other types as well.

What is Addison’s disease?

Also called hyperadrenocorticism, Addison’s can be a primary autoimmune disease that attacks the adrenal glands or secondary to pituitary disease or steroid therapy.  Whatever the root cause it makes the adrenal gland to reduce production of cortisol, a natural steroid essential to life.

How do I know my dog has Addison’s disease?

Addison’s mostly affects young to middle-aged females but can occur in either gender or at any age.   Affected dogs may exhibit various types of gastrointestinal distress, lethargy, neuromuscular effects, low body temperature, low heart rate, or hindquarter pain.  The disease is easily mistaken for a variety of other conditions including infections, poisoning, seizure disorders and pancreatic tumors.  Addison’s tends to be underdiagnosed in dogs, so ruling-out other potential causes of its symptoms is important.  Positive diagnosis is made with an ACTH stimulation test.

What does it mean for my dog if it has Addison’s disease?

The disease can be treated with medication, but dogs affected with Addison’s require life-long treatment and a home wiling to deal with a potentially costly special needs dog.   Long term care requires limiting stress.

 How common is Addison’s disease in Aussies?

It is rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

Is Addison’s disease inherited? 

Breeders will also want to know if the disease is primary as it can also be caused by pituitary tumors, which probably are not, and by administration of steroid medications.  If the disease is primary, it is autoimmune and inherited.   All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test for Addison’s Disease?

Not at this time.

 What does Addison’s Disease mean for my breeding program.

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

Are Addison’s Disease and Cushing’s Disease the same thing?

No, they are two different diseases though they both impact the adrenal gland.  Addison’s Disease is also called hypoadrenocorticism; Cushing’s Disease, is also known as hyperadrenocorticism.  Hyper = too much; hypo = too little.

Addison’s causes the adrenal gland produces too little cortisol.  Cushing’s, which some think may also be immune-mediated, does the reverse, causing excessive cortisol production.  Most cases of Cushing’s are caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary; the balance stem from adrenal gland tumors.  About half of those tumors are malignant.

Both diseases can be inherited, though not in all cases.  However, it would be short-sighted to assume non-hereditary causes for either disease unless there is conclusive evidence after diagnostic testing.   Both diseases occur in Aussies at low frequency.

What is autoimmune testicular atrophy?

Autoimmune testicular atrophy is an autoimmune disease that attacks the testicles.  

 How do I know if my dog has autoimmune testicular atrophy?

Testicular atrophy leads to sterility so your first indication may be breeding failures.  Testicles will shrink and become soft.  Testicular atrophy can have a variety of causes and diagnosis of the autoimmune form requires ruling out those other causes.

 What does having autoimmune testicular atrophy mean for my dog?

It does not have significant health impact but does cause sterility.  Unfortunately, there is no treatment.

 How common is autoimmune testicular atrophy in Aussies?

It is rare. However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is autoimmune testicular atrophy inherited?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test for autoimmune testicular atrophy?

Not at this time.

 What does autoimmune testicular atrophy mean for my breeding program?

Since this disease renders the dog sterile, breeding ceases to be an option.  However, breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is autoimmune thyroiditis?

Autoimmune thyroiditis causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland.  This leads to reduced production of thyroid hormones and ultimately the elimination of the gland altogether.

 How do I know if my dog has autoimmune thyroiditis?

Weight gain, skin problems, and a tendency to seek heat are some of the more common signs of thyroiditis. Definitive diagnosis must be made with blood tests.  Tests specifically aimed at detecting thyroid hormone antibodies are required to definitively diagnose the autoimmune form of the disease.

 What does having autoimmune thyroiditis mean for my dog?

Once diagnosed, thyroiditis can be effectively treated with medication.  The medication must be given for life and may require periodic adjustment.  Thyroid medications are inexpensive and have minimal side effects.

 How common is autoimmune thyroiditis in Aussies?

It is by far the most common autoimmune disease in the breed and a very common disease overall.  It is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is autoimmune thyroiditis inherited?

Yes, though it is important to establish that the disease is autoimmune through proper testing.   All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test for autoimmune thyroiditis?

Yes.  Ask for the panel approved by OFA.  It contains T4, TGAA (the antibody test), TSH and maybe one or two others but these three are most important.  The T4 and TSH will give you current levels.  TGAA tells you if there is an active autoimmune action against the thyroid.  In late stage disease TGAA will be absent because the thyroid will have been destroyed, but dogs at this stage of disease should have clinical signs.  Test results can be swayed one way or the other by other illness, medication, or female hormone levels.  Thyroid screening should be done only when the dog is sound, healthy and has not received thyroid medication within the previous three months.  Female dogs should not be in or close to their heat cycles, pregnant, or lactating.

 What does autoimmune thyroiditis mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 Is it true that normal thyroid values for Aussie are different from average for other breeds because they are active working dogs?

It is true in some sighthounds but has not been demonstrated to be so in Aussies.  Thyroid values can fluctuate in response to a variety of things:  Disease, stress level, recent trauma, and – in females – hormone fluctuations.

 Does the use of flea and tick products cause thyroid disease?

No.

Could a dog fail thyroid screening because it has a thyroid tumor?

Any fluctuation from normal thyroid levels caused by a  tumor will not be the same as is seen in autoimmune thyroiditis, especially the signature sign of autoimmune disease – the autoantibodies.

What is degenerative myelopathy (DM)?

DM, sometimes called chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy, is an autoimmune neurodegenerative disease of older dogs.  It attacks the myelin, the “insulation” on the nerves.

 How do I know if my dog has DM? 

Dogs with DM may exhibit progressive weakness and lack of coordination in the hind limbs.  DM tends to be underdiagnosed in dogs, so ruling-out other potential causes of its symptoms is important.  Diagnosis can be confirmed with a DNA test.

 What does having DM mean for my dog?

Unfortunately, DM ultimately advances to paralysis.  Euthanasia is required once the disease begins to impact breathing.  However caring for a dog with DM, particularly a larger dog like an Aussie, can be physically demanding for those caring for it and many opt for euthanasia when the caretaking burden becomes difficult to manage physically and/or emotionally.

 How common is DM in Aussies?

It is very rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is DM inherited?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a DNA test?

Yes, It identifies a recessive risk-factor.  Dogs with one copy of this mutation will remain healthy but have the potential to produce affected offspring.  Those with two copies are at risk but may or may not develop disease.  Other factors, probably both environmental and genetic, determine whether a specific dog with two copies will become affected.  The test is offered by OFA.  Thus far (July 2013) only a very few Aussies have been tested so there is no way to know the frequency of this mutation in the breed.

Because this disease is so rare there is no point in testing every breeding dog.    Healthy relatives of a dog diagnosed with DM which are or will be used for breeding should be tested to determine their status.  Carriers and healthy “at risk” dogs should be bred to clear-tested mates.

What does DM mean for my breeding program.

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is demodectic mange?

Demodectic mange, also known as demodicosis or “demo,” is due to the proliferation of hair follicle (demodex) mites normally kept in check by the dog’s immune system.   The condition may be limited and temporary (localized) or extensive, chronic, and/or recurring (generalized).  Localized demodicosis almost always occurs in dogs under a year of age.  The more serious generalized demodicosis usually arises before two years of age but can also start later in life.

 Is demodectic mange autoimmune? 

No.  Autoimmune diseases are characterized by the immune system attacking its own body.  However, in demodicosis the immune system fails to control mites that are normal residents of the canine skin, allowing them to proliferate to the point they cause skin hair loss and, in the worst cases, skin irritation.  generalized demodicosis appears to occur more frequently in Aussies with a family history of autoimmune disease, so it is possible these diseases have some form of immune system dysfunction in common.

 How do I know if my dog has demodectic mange?

In puppies one year and under you may note one or a few areas of hair loss if the disease is localized.  Generalized demodicosis will involve larger portions of the body.  In addition to hair loss, the skin will appear irritated and rough.  In severe cases it can spread over most of the body.  Your veterinarian will confirm the diagnosis by microscopic examination of a skin scraping.

 What does it mean for my dog if it has demodectic mange?

Localized demo is brought on by a temporary compromise of the immune system, usually in a young dog like your puppy.  The reaction may be triggered by travel stress, other illness, fatigue, or malnutrition, any of which can impact immune function.   Localized demodicosis will go away on its own and does not require treatment

Generalized demodicosis is a serious disease.  It is not curable, but can be treated by controlling mite populations and medication to control secondary infections.   This is a life-long condition.  Affected dogs will have repeated outbreaks that will require treatment.  Generalized demodicosis can be life-threatening if not treated.

 How common is generalized demodectic mange in Aussies?

It is common.  3% of the dogs in the ASHGI health survey were reported to have demodicosis.

 Is demodectic mange inherited?

Localized demodicosis is not inherited.  Generalized demodicosis is genetically predisposed, meaning the dog must have the necessary genes but not every dog with the genes gets the disease.

 Is there a screening test for demodectic mange?

Not at this time.

 What does demodectic mange mean for my breeding program?

Localized demodicosis is not a breeding concern.  Because generalized demodicosis in Aussies is often found in families that also have autoimmune disease, breeders should consider it related to those diseases and part of a single health and breeding issue.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is dermatomyositis?

Dermatomyositis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the skin and muscular tissue which usually begins before six months of age but can occur during adulthood.

 How do I know if my dog has dermatomyositis?

Dermatomyositis causes skin lesions that progress to include generalized muscle atrophy.  Initial lesions are typically found on the face and may also appear on the feet, legs, and tail.   Diagnosis can be difficult and may require biopsy or electromyography, a test of muscle function. 

 What does having dermatomyositis mean for my dog?

Lesions come and go and vary in severity.  If muscle atrophy is severe it can interfere with eating and drinking, and may cause lameness, and infertility.  Dermatomyositis can cause secondary megaesophagus, a condition in which the esophagus balloons and interferes with swallowing and the passage of food to the stomach.  It is treated with drugs that improve circulation and reduce inflammation.  Antibiotics may be necessary for secondary infections of skin lesions.  There is no cure.

 How common is dermatomyositis in Aussies?

It is very rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is dermatomyositis inherited?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test dermatomyositis?

Not at this time.

 What does dermatomyositis mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)?

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency – sometimes called pancreatic acinar atrophy (PAA), pancreatic hypoplasia, malabsorbtion, or malassimilation – is an autoimmune disease which attacks the parts of the pancreas that produce digestive enzymes. 

 How do I know if my dog has EPI?

Dogs with the disease typically exhibit loose “cow pie” stools and may lose weight to the point of emaciation despite a voracious appetite.   EPI can be mistaken for a number of other gastrointestinal diseases, including cobalamin malabsorbtion which can be secondary to EPI.  The only positive way to diagnose it is a cTLA (canine Trypsin-like Immunoreactivity) test.

 What does having EPI mean for my dog?

This is an incurable disease that is potentially life-threatening if untreated.  It requires regular veterinary monitoring.  The disease can be managed with special diet and pancreatic enzyme supplement.

 How common is EPI in Aussies?

It is rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is EPI inherited?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test EPI?

Not at this time.

 What does EPI mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is glomerulonephritis?

Primary glomerulonephritis is an autoimmune disease targeting the filtering vessels of the kidneys (glomeruli).  It may also be secondary to toxic exposures or other diseases.

 How do I know if my dog has glomerulonephritis?

In early stages dogs may be asymptomatic.  Affected dogs may exhibit weight loss, weakness, or abdominal fluid retention.  Advanced cases will exhibit signs of kidney failure.  Your veterinarian will do blood or urine tests and may use imaging to determine the cause of the disease.  If no underlying cause is found – termed “idiopathic” – the disease should be assumed to be autoimmune.

 What does having glomerulonephritis mean for my dog?

If the disease is secondary, treating the underlying cause may help provided the kidneys were not significantly damaged.  If the disease is primary, therapies aimed at limiting immune response will be used along with treatment of symptoms with medication and special diet.   This disease requires regular veterinary monitoring. No changes in home-administered medications should be made without first consulting the treating veterinarian.

 How common is glomerulonephritis in Aussies?

Very rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is glomerulonephritis inherited?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test glomerulonephritis?

Not at this time.

 What does glomerulonephritis mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?

ITP is a disease that attacks the blood platelets.  It can be a primary autoimmune disease or secondary to lupus, various types of infections, or caused by certain drugs.  About a third of dogs with ITP also have immune mediated hemolytic anemia.

 How do I know if my dog has ITP?

Dogs with ITP can be lethargic, anorexic and show various signs of blood clotting deficit, including bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding from mucus membranes, and bloody stools.  Perhaps the most important diagnostic step is ruling-out other possible causes – warfarin (rat poison) toxicity, hemangiosarcoma, other blood-clotting disorders, effects of chemotherapy, etc. – to make sure the most effective treatment is given in a timely manner.  Specific diagnosis of ITP is made with blood tests, including a platelet count and a test designed to detect platelet autoantibodies. 

 What does having ITP mean for my dog?

Dogs with ITP are very ill and will probably require emergency care and hospitalization.  Affected dogs can suffer serious internal hemorrhage. Initial treatment is usually focused on controlling the bleeding and will be followed with drug therapy.  Splenectomy may result in cure.  Otherwise, long term care would require life-long medication.    

 How common is ITP in Aussies?

Extremely rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is ITP inherited?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test ITP?

Not at this time.

 What does ITP mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA)?

IMHA can be a primary autoimmune disease that attacks red blood cells or secondary to some tumors and infection with mycoplasma, a tick-borne parasite.

 How do I know if my dog has IMHA?

Dogs with IMHA may exhibit lethargy, anorexia, have dark orange or brown urine, pale or yellowish gums, fever or a yellowish tinge to the whites of the eyes.  IMHA can be diagnosed with blood tests, including a Coomb’s Test designed to detect antibodies on the surfaces of red blood cells.  Other diseases that may cause IMHA must be ruled out.

 What does it mean for my dog if it has IMHA?

Secondary disease can be treated by treating the disease that caused it.  In an IMHA crisis the dog will require emergency care and hospitalization. Often including blood transfusions and immunosuppressive medications.   Long term care  includes immunosuppressive therapy for several months post-crisis.

 How common is IMHA in Aussies?

Very rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is IMHA inherited in Aussies?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening test for IMHA?

Not at this time.

 What does IMHA mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 Is IMHA contagious?

No.  However, Mycoplasma haemocanis, the organism that can cause secondary immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, is transmitted by ticks.  Not every dog infected with Mycoplasma gets IMHA, nor is it the root cause of every case of IMHA. 

 What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

IBD may also be called colitis, regional enteritis, granulomatous enteritis, or spastic bowel syndrome. Inflammation in the bowel interferes with nutrient absorption and the organ’s ability to move contents through the system.   It may also be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a stress-induced gastroenteritis.  IBD is thought to be immune mediated and possibly autoimmune.  The disease usually is first noticed in middle aged dogs but may occur in younger ones.

 How do I know if my dog has IBD?

Dogs with inflammatory bowel disease have chronic gastric problems characterized by loose stools and vomiting.  Diagnosis is generally made by ruling out other possible causes of gastroenteritis through non-invasive testing and then confirmed with a biopsy.

 What does having IBD mean for my dog?

Severity of IBD varies considerably.  The worst cases can be debilitating and have serious quality-of-life impacts; these will require life-long veterinary monitoring.  Treatments include limiting diet ingredients that have proved irritating, antibiotics, immune-suppressive drugs, and medications that sooth the intestine.

 How common is IBD in Aussies?

 

It is rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that this disease may be autoimmune and for breeding purposes should be considered as such.  Breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is IBD inherited?

It can be and given the serious quality of life impact it can have, inheritance should be assumed until and unless there is compelling evidence otherwise.   IBD may be autoimmune and all autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening test for IBD?

Not at this time.

 What does IBD mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach IBD and all known or likely autoimmune diseases as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease (LCP)?

LCP is an inflammatory disease causing the degeneration of the head of the femur (thigh bone).  The femoral head fits into the hip socket so the disease leads to the disintegration of the hip joint.  LCP may be autoimmune in origin.  LCP usually arises between 5 and 8 months of age and is typically seen in toy and small dogs.  It can affect either or both hips.

 How do I know if my dog has LCP?

Dogs with LCP will limp, may carry an affected leg, and will exhibit hip pain.  You may see wasting of the thigh muscles in the affected leg(s).  LCP is diagnosed with x-rays.

 What does having LCP mean for my dog?

Restriction of activity, pain relief and cold packing affected joints may help but in many cases surgery, followed by physical therapy, is necessary.  Post-surgical adherence to PT regimens and regular veterinary follow-up are necessary to ensure recovery.

 How common is LCP in Aussies?

Extremely rare.  However, because LCP may be autoimmune it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is LCP inherited in Aussies?

Unknown, but due to its quality-of-life impact and the need for major surgery in most cases, it should be assumed to be so.  It may be autoimmune and all autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening test for LCP?

No.

 What does LCP mean for my breeding program?

LCP may be autoimmune and breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is lupus?

Lupus in an autoimmune disease that comes in several forms.  Discoid and erythematosus are the types most common in dogs.  The less serious is discoid lupus which affects the skin.  Systemic erythematosus can attack the blood, heart, lungs, kidneys, nerves or joints.  Other autoimmune diseases, including hemolytic anemia and thrombocytopenia can be secondary to systemic lupus.  Discoid lupus may advance to the more serious systemic form, lupus erythematosus

 How do I know if my dog has lupus?

Dogs with discoid lupus will have bald, crusty, irritated areas of skin, usually on the face and head.  Systemic lupus can cause a wide variety of symptoms because of the many different organ systems it can affect.  Joint pain and fevers are common, but symptoms are not specific to lupus and may be attributed to other more common diseases before proper diagnosis is made.  Lupus can be diagnosed with a biopsy.

 What does having lupus mean for my dog?

Skin lesions can be painful and unsightly.  Systemic effects can vary widely but in the most serious cases the disease can prove fatal.   Lupus can be both chronic and recurring.   The disease cannot be cured and requires life-long treatment and veterinary monitoring to ensure the best possible quality of life for the dog.  Treatment centers on anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medication.  Should serious organ damage occur treatment specific to the organ(s) affected will also be required.

 How common is lupus in Aussies?

It is rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is lupus inherited in Aussies?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening test for lupus?

Not at this time.

 What does lupus mean for my breeding program.

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 Is discoid lupus better than other kinds?

Discoid lupus, which affects the skin, really isn’t “better.”  It’s a milder expression of the disease and, for breeding purposes, should not be distinguished from any other form.  Some discoid cases advance into systemic lupus erythematosus which can be fatal.

What is myasthenia gravis (MG)?

Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease that targets the motor end plates, the connection between the nerves and the voluntary muscles.   Affected dogs often also have megaesophagus.  The disease can arise at any time after a year of age, with most being diagnosed between 2 and 4 or from 9 to 13 years.  In the older dogs the disease may be acquired, but is more likely to be inherited.  

 How do I know if my dog has MG?

Dogs with MG tire easily and may stumble for no apparent reason; vigorous exercise may bring on collapse.  Severe attacks can mimic toxic exposure. The disease can be diagnosed with a blood test though other tests may be run first to rule out other possible causes of symptoms.

 What does having MG mean for my dog?

MG cannot be cured and requires treatment.  Dogs receive drugs that improve motor nerve cell communication.  Prognosis in treated dogs is good though it is necessary to guard against aspiration pneumonia in dogs which have secondary megaesophagus.

 How common is MG in Aussies?

It is very rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is MG inherited?

Yes, with the possible exception of some late-onset (9+ years) cases.  Autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test MG?

Not at this time.

 What does MG mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

What is pemphigus?

Pemphigus, sometimes called “Collie nose,”  is a group of autoimmune skin diseases featuring ulcers and crusting of the skin.  Some forms may also affect the gums.  Pemphigus can be secondary to other autoimmune diseases.  The disease causes skin cells to separate and break down.  It has four forms:

  • Foliaceus, in the outermost layer of the skin
  • Erythematosus, the most common form, is similar to folliculitis but less severe
  • Vulgaris, the most severe form, affects deep skin tissue
  • Vegetans, the most rare and found only in dogs, also affects deep skin tissue but is not as virulent as vulgaris.

How do I know if my dog has pemphigus?

Pemphigus symptoms vary between types and are not necessarily specific to the disease.  Dogs may have localized areas of itchy or painful irritated skin, pustules, cysts, skin ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, fever, and/or loss of pigment around the lips.  Any area of the body, including the mouth, may be involved.  Symptoms are not specific, so testing may be done to rule-out other diseases.  Definitive diagnosis is made by microscopic exam of a tissue sample.

What does having pemphigus mean for my dog?

Lesions can become generalized, spreading across the body.  There may be secondary bacterial infection.  Pemphigus can’t be cured and will require ongoing treatment and regular veterinary check-ups.  Treatment is anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medication.

How common is pemphigus in Aussies?

It is rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

Is pemphigus inherited?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

Is there a screening test for pemphigus?

Not at this time.

What does pemphigus mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

What are puppy strangles?

Puppy strangles, more properly known as juvenile cellulitis, or sometimes juvenile pyoderma, results from a temporary compromise of the puppy’s immune system causing nodules or pustules on the skin.  It usually occurs between 3 weeks and 4 months of age. 

 How do I know if my puppy has juvenile cellulitus?

Puppies with juvenile cellulitus have skin nodules or pustules, usually on the face or ears.  Lymph nodes or skin around the face may be swollen.  The puppy may have tender skin or joint pain.  Diagnosis is made by a skin biopsy but other tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.

 What does having juvenile cellulitus mean for my puppy?

This disease is not life-threatening but can be painful.  Treatment is aimed at controlling pain and inflammation, preventing or treating secondary skin infections, and preventing scarring.

 Is juvenile cellulitus a breeding concern? 

No.  This is not a hereditary disease nor is it infectious.  Puppies which have juvenile cellulitus almost never have it a second time.

 What is sterile granuloma?

Sterile granuloma, sometimes called sterile pyogranuloma or either name preceded by “idiopathic”, is an immune mediated disease that cause masses or nodular skin lesions, usually on the face though they can occur anywhere.

 How do I know if my dog has sterile pyogranuloma?

Sterile granuloma is frequently mistaken for other skin conditions, including infections, foreign body reactions, and cancer.  Diagnosis requires biopsy, culture, and sometimes blood tests.  Tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.

 What does having sterile pyogranuloma mean for my dog?

These lesions do not itch or cause pain.  Prognosis is good but the disease requires life-long treatment with steroids or other drugs

 How common is sterile pyogranuloma in Aussies?

It is rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is sterile pyogranuloma inherited?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 Is there a screening or DNA test sterile pyogranuloma/granuloma syndrome?

Not at this time.

 What does sterile pyogranuloma/granuloma syndrome mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

 What is uveodermatologic syndrome?

Uveodermatologic syndrome is an autoimmune disease that attacks melanocytes (pigment cells) impacting heavily pigmented areas of the eyes, skin, and mucus membranes.  It usually begins when the dog is a young adult.  Vitiligo, loss of pigment in the skin and hair, can be secondary to this disease.

 How do I know if my dog has uveodermatologic syndrome?

The first thing typically noticed is vision loss or depigmentation of the nose, lips, eyelids, scrotum, and anus.  Uveodermatologic syndrome is diagnosed with a biopsy.

 What does having uveodermatologic syndrome mean for my dog?

The disease is not painful but the dog may become blind if not treated promptly.  Loss of pigment can, in rare cases, involve the whole body.  The disease tends to have periods of remission followed by flare-ups.  It is treated with anti-inflammatory drugs but steroids are contraindicated if the eyes are affected.  Skin and hair re-pigment with treatment.  Treatment will be required whenever the disease is active.

 How common is uveodermatologic syndrome in Aussies?

It is extremely rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is uveodermatologic syndrome inherited in Aussies?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 What does uveodermatologic syndrome mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

What is vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a loss of pigment in the skin and hair.  It can be autoimmune, secondary to uveodermatologic syndrome, or acquired.  The autoimmune form attacks and destroys melanocytes (pigment cells.)  Acquired vitiligo can be due to injury or other causes.

 How do I know if my dog has vitiligo?

Hair and skin turns white or gray, particularly on the face.  The disease is diagnosed by ruling out other possible causes and a biopsy. 

 What does having vitiligo mean for my dog?

There is no established treatment, but folic acid and injectable cobalamin (Vit B12) may help.  Vitiligo is not painful and does not affect the general health of the dog though sun protection may be necessary if the dog lives somewhere with intense sunlight..

 How common is vitiligo in Aussies?

It is rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

 Is vitiligo inherited in Aussies?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

 What does vitiligo mean for my breeding program? 

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  For detailed breeding suggestions see:  How should breeders handle autoimmune disease?

Why should we vaccinate our dogs against diseases?

Vaccines help protect dogs against serious, often potentially fatal, contagious diseases.  In the case of rabies, that risk extends not just to dogs but to you and any other mammals that may come in contact with the virus.  Before vaccines it wasn’t uncommon for distemper to wipe out entire kennels, sometimes more than once.  When parvo first hit and there were no vaccines, people lost a lot of dogs and there was little they could do to prevent it.  While there can be risks associated with vaccine use, adverse consequences are very rare.  Abandoning vaccines because of this low risk is putting your dogs at the much greater risk for contracting one of the contagious diseases we vaccinate against.

I haven’t vaccinated a dog for over 10 years and they never get those diseases.  Are vaccines really necessary?

If your dogs are staying healthy it is probably as much because most the other dogs they come in contact with are vaccinated as anything else.   If your dog is never exposed to the disease organisms through contact with an infected dog or its excretions you can’t really know if it has high natural immunity or not.  Given the dire nature of the diseases for which we vaccinate, not doing so isn’t worth the risk.  The important thing with vaccines is to avoid over-use.  Over-vaccinating can interfere with proper immune function.

 How often should dogs be vaccinated?

Rabies vaccination of dogs is generally governed by law because of the risk the disease poses to humans.  Modern vaccines will be effective if administered on a three year cycle after the dog has had a shot as a puppy and at a year.  However, local law may dictate more frequent administration.

For other vaccines, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends that most commonly administered canine vaccines have a three-shot puppy series, an adult vaccine at one year and every three years thereafter.  If the dog has not been vaccinated prior to 16 weeks, it should have two doses with a 3-4 week interval, and every three years thereafter, with the exception of parainfluenza for which one initial dose is adequate.  Exceptions to these general rules are bordatella, leptospira. and Lyme, for which a two-dose puppy series is recommended with annual adult boosters.  (Bordatella may be given every 6 months in high-risk areas.)     Vaccines for rattlesnake bites and periodontal disease should be administered per the manufacturers’ labels.  Not recommended for use are:  killed canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus-1, killed canine adenovirus-2, giardia, and coronavirus.

AAHA considers parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus-2 (modified live), and rabies to be “core” vaccines, necessary for all dogs.

 Why do vaccines sometimes fail to protect a vaccinated dog?

If a dog has a compromised immune system, due to illness, parasite load, malnutrition, immune-suppressive medications, or stress its immune system may not be able to respond to a vaccine.  In puppies the immune system must learn how to function and vaccine failure in a young puppy may occur simply because the puppy’s immune system didn’t  know how to react properly (the reason multiple doses of some vaccines are given.)

 Why do vaccine reactions happen?

The same puppy immune system “learning curve” that may occasionally prevent a proper immune response to the vaccine may also lead to an overreaction.  These reactions, whether in puppies or adults, are rarely to the vaccine itself, but to other substances intended to maintain viability of the vaccine or extend the product for ease of administration. 

 Do vaccine reactions mean the dog has a genetically faulty immune system?

No.  Vaccine reactions can occur for a wide variety of reasons and not all of them indicate a genetically faulty immune system.  The reaction may have occurred because the dog was ill, medicated, or under stress.   If the dog previously had similar reactions to other things this might indicate some sort of immune system dysfunction, but in that case the vaccine may have been coincidental to the reaction if a prior trigger occurred at about the same time.

 How common are vaccine reactions in Aussies?

5% of the dogs in the ASHGI health survey were reported to have had veterinarian-diagnosed vaccine reactions.

 What vaccines cause reactions in Aussies?

Rabies was the only vaccine for which a significant number of responses were submitted.

 If a dog has a vaccine reaction will it have more later?

Probably, if the substance that triggered the reaction is in subsequent vaccine doses.  If the vaccine is not a “core” vaccine (parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus-2 (modified live), and rabies), discuss with your veterinarian whether the risks of the disease in your locality outweigh the risks posed by the dog’s reaction.  When a reaction has occurred, note the manufacturer and, if possible, use a different manufacturer’s product.

 Are vaccine reactions a breeding concern?

In general, no.  However, if the reactions are occurring because the dog is highly allergic and reacts to multiple triggers the dog is a poor breeding prospect.

Are vaccines responsible for increases of cancer and autoimmune disease in Aussies? a

Vaccines are being implicated in changes in the RNA and DNA of humans resulting in chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, other auto-immune problems, leukemias and cancers.  The vaccines may in some instances cause disease if they induce mutations in certain genes.  However, those genes are in somatic cells, not germ cells.  Germ cells are what become sperm and eggs.  If vaccines can have the same effect in dogs and a dog gets sick because of vaccine-induced mutations in cells in its bone marrow, liver or lungs it will not pass those mutations on to its offspring.

Autoimmune diseases are environmentally influenced but gene based.  Cancers can be initiated by a variety of environmental factors or even heredity (hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma are genetically predisposed in Aussies.)  While it is possible that some disease might be precipitated by vaccines, it would be a rare situation.  The diseases that might sicken or even kill an unvaccinated dog are a much greater risk than the small possibility of vaccine-induced disease.

I got my dog’s rabies shot and in two months he had autoimmune disease.  Did the vaccine cause it?

The vaccine you gave your dog may or may not have provided the disease trigger, though I rather doubt it with a two month interval between the shot and the onset of disease.  Autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed.  Since the underlying cause of his disease was a genetically faulty immune system, then any number of things might have triggered the disease.