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Systemic Lupus Erythematous

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease, which is one characterized by a specific antibody or cell-mediated immune response against the body's own tissues. The reason why autoimmune diseases develop is unknown. Individual genetic make-up may play an important role in their development.

Systemic lupus affects many organs and is a life-threatening disease. Because antibodies are produced against a variety of organs, clinical signs vary depending on the organs that are affected. Often, severe damage in the kidneys and blood vessels occurs. In other cases, the red blood cells are attacked and destroyed by the immune system, which causes anemia.

Both people and dogs can develop systemic lupus erythematosus. Some breeds of dogs are at increased risk, such as collies, German shepherds and Shelties.

What to Watch For

Affected dogs may be presented with a variety of clinical signs. These may include:

  • Fever
  • Lameness
  • Easy bruising
  • Skin lesions, such as scabs, sores on the paws and inside the mouth, crusted feet, excessive dandruff and hair loss
  • Scabs on the tips of the ears and on the tip of tail
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and reluctance to walk due to joint pain
  • Enlarged liver (hepatomegaly)
  • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)

    Kidneys frequently are affected. The microscopic filters of the kidney (called glomeruli) are affected resulting in loss of large amounts of protein in the urine. Kidney failure also may contribute to the anemia observed in animals with systemic lupus erythematosus.

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