Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

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What is lupus?

Lupus in an autoimmune disease with 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 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 and 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.  See Autoimmune Disease & Breeding.

 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.