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Common Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs

Common Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs

Autoimmune diseases can affect your dog's blood, skin, joints, their whole body. Today, the Mt. Yonah Animal Hospital vets will discuss some of the more common autoimmune diseases in dogs and how they can be treated.

What Is An Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune disease occurs when your dog's immune system attacks its cells. Normally, the immune system defends against germs, bacteria, and viruses. When your dog's body is unable to distinguish between good and bad cells, autoantibodies attack all cells.

What Are Some Symptoms Of An Autoimmune Disease?

You must be able to read a dog's body if you want to look for signs and symptoms of an autoimmune disease. Many symptoms are shared by various diseases, and autoimmunity is just one of them. Remember that each autoimmune disease has additional, more specific symptoms, which you can read about in the relevant disease section.

Having said that, some of the more common symptoms to look for include:

  • Lack of energy or weakness, and sometimes collapse
  • Weight loss
  • Heavy breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever
  • Pale or discolored gums/mucous membranes, eyes, or skin
  • Jaundice – which shows as the above symptoms plus yellow/orange stool, discolored urine, and/or yellowish eyes

If you notice any of these symptoms, it's usually a good idea to contact a veterinary clinic. Preferably, a veterinary clinic that offers internal medicine services.

What Are Some Common Autoimmune Diseases In Dogs?

Here is a list of some of the more common autoimmune diseases in dogs.


The majority of canine hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune process known as autoimmune thyroiditis. This is when your dog's immune system produces antibodies against thyroid gland cells in his own body. Your dog won't show symptoms until the gland is 75% destroyed and can't produce enough thyroid hormone.

These symptoms can include:

  • Thickening of the skin
  • Obesity and weight gain without increasing food or appetite
  • Cold and exercise intolerance
  • Mental dullness


There are two kinds of Lupus. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE).

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a rare and potentially fatal disease. The immune system of your dog attacks the skin, blood, nervous system, and major organs. SLE is fatal to dogs.

Symptoms vary and can be confused with those of other diseases. Here are some of the most common:

  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Lymph nodes swollen
  • Seizures
  • Fatigue, muscle pain, and stiffness
  • Mouth ulcerations
  • Skin lesions and hair loss
  • Lameness that alternates between legs
Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE)

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE) is more common and only affects the skin of your dog. Here are some indicators:

  • Scarring, sores, or ulcers
  • The nose has pale skin.
  • Infections caused by bacteria
  • Scratching and itching
  • Face, nose, and lip redness
  • Having flaky or scaly skin

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

An overreaction to bacteria in the intestines in dogs can result in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is most common in dogs after they reach middle age, which varies by breed. It can also be caused by obesity, poor diet, and stress.

Some symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in stool
  • Bloating and gas 
  • Gurgling in the abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Discomfort in the abdomen
  • Depression and solitude
  • Changes in coat texture

Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA)

When the immune system destroys its red blood cells, it causes immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. This can occur when there is an existing condition, such as cancer, an infection, or the use of drugs or toxins. Red blood cells are essential for oxygen transport in the body, and their destruction deprives all parts of the body of oxygen. It can be a primary or secondary disease, which means the cause is unknown.

The signs include:

  • Pale or white gums
  • Weakness, lethargy, fatigue
  • Depression and desire to sleep
  • Lack of energy or interest
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Extremities are cold
  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Jaundice

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases In Dogs?

Many chronic diseases, such as arthritis, allergies, digestive issues, thyroid, and other organ disorders, can be caused by a leaky gut, called, appropriately, Leaky Guy Syndrome. Poor diet, toxins, excessive pharmaceutical use, and stress can all contribute to inflammation and leaky gut in dogs. Environmental factors can enter the body through a leaky gut and cause autoimmune disease.

Heavy metals, PCBs, and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs or PFOA) can all affect antibody production and cause immunosuppression. Immune system dysregulation(s) can cause adverse changes in immune functions, increasing susceptibility to infections and cancer. To put it another way, environmental toxins can cause dysfunction, which can result in improper cell destruction and autoimmune diseases.

How Are Autoimmune Diseases Diagnosed?

Diagnostic testing is the only way your vet will be able to diagnose an autoimmune disease in your dog. Some of these tests your vet can perform, while others might need to be done at a specialized clinic. These tests can include bloodwork, an MRI, or a skin biopsy, to name a few.

How Are Autoimmune Diseases Treated?

Some dogs are given steroids as the first line of treatment. Others are given immunosuppressants such as cyclosporine or mycophenolate. Some autoimmune diseases can be put into remission and never recur, whereas others may be chronic. Therapeutic plasma exchange (TPE) can be used to filter antibodies from a dog's blood and can be a lifesaver for severe diseases.

TPE treatments are typically administered over two 48-hour sessions and work by removing destructive inflammatory proteins called immunoglobulins in plasma. The results are usually dramatic. For example, dogs who were previously unable to run should be able to do so an hour later.

Are you concerned about some symptoms your dog is showing? Contact our Cleveland vets today to book an appointment for your dog.

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Mt. Yonah Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Cleveland companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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