Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

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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 or 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.  The disease 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.  See Autoimmune Disease & Breeding.