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Systemic Lupus Erythematous

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Because this disease can manifest itself in a variety of ways, the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus can be very difficult. Your veterinarian will probably recommend the following:

  • Blood tests to check for the presence of liver or kidney damage and to evaluate for anemia and low platelet count

  • Urinalysis to evaluate for kidney damage including excessive protein loss in the urine

  • Antinuclear (ANA) test. The ANA test identifies the presence of antibodies against self-components found in the nucleus of the cell. It is the best test currently available and is positive in 90 percent of dogs with systemic lupus erythematosus.

  • Specific tests like LE cell preparation and antinuclear antibody test. These tests are not 100 percent reliable and may be affected by drug treatment and concurrent illness. The LE cell preparation is positive in approximately half of dogs with systemic lupus and is not performed much any more.

  • Biopsy. If skin lesions are present, a small piece of skin is examined under the microscope to look for pathologic changes typical of this disease.


    Unfortunately, as many as 40 percent of dogs with systemic lupus erythematosus die within one year of diagnosis, due to either the disease itself or complications of therapy. However, your veterinarian may recommend the following treatment:

  • Immunosuppressive treatment is required. It includes a combination of high doses of glucocorticoids (prednisone) and other immunosuppressive drugs (cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, chlorambucil). Therapy is life-long.

  • Antibiotic treatment. Animals with systemic lupus erythematosus may develop bacterial infections that require antibiotic therapy.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Dogs receiving glucocorticoids should be monitored carefully for adverse effects. These may include gastrointestinal ulceration resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, dark tarry stools, loss of appetite, increased water consumption, increased urinations and increased appetite.

    Your dog will need frequent evaluation of his blood to insure that cell counts do not decrease too much, because these drugs have the potential to cause bone marrow suppression. Your dog also may need antibiotics to combat secondary bacterial infections.

    Therapy is life-long and has the potential over an extended period of time to result in potentially life-threatening adverse effects.

    There is no prevention for systemic lupus erythematosus.

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