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Discoid Lupus Eythematosus in Dogs

Discoid lupus erythematosus most often affects the skin surrounding a dog's nose, causing crusts, scaps, erosions, or ulcers. Our Orange Park veterinary dermatologist explains the other symptoms and causes of this disease, and discusses diagnosis and treatment.

Lupus in Dogs

Dogs can develop two main types of lupus: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which affects a dog's entire body, and discoid (cutaneous) lupus erythematosus (DLE), which affects the skin. This post will focus on DLE. 

Also known as cutaneous lupus erythematosus, this autoimmune disease affects the skin. Two other types of lupus affect the skin: vesicular cutaneous lupus erythematosus and exfoliative cutaneous lupus, both of which are relatively uncommon. 

Discoid lupus erythematosus is the most common type of cutaneous (skin) lupus in dogs. 

Certain breeds of dogs have been identified as having a higher possible risk of developing discoid lupus erythematosus, including:

  • Brittany spaniels
  • Collies
  • Shelties
  • German shepherds
  • Siberian huskies

Signs & Symptoms of Lupus in Dogs

If your dog has discoid lupus erythematosus, you may notice symptoms such as crusts, scabs, erosions or ulcers on the skin, mostly originating around the nose, as well as a loss of skin pigmentation in the affected area. The hairless area surrounding the nostrils (the nasal planum) will also become smooth and lose its cobblestone-like texture. 

Because the skin surrounding the nose has a well-developed blood supply, heavy bleeding can result if skin lesions are located near a major blood vessel. In some dogs, the skin lesions spread to other areas of the body. Most often, skin lesions appear on the skin around the eyes, on the ear flaps (pinnae), and around the genitals. Skin lesions can also become generalized, spreading across the entire body. However, this is uncommon. 

Causes of Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs

Discoid lupus erythematosus is an auto-immune disease, in which the body's own immune system attacks the body. This results in a layer of cells within the skin dying, causing the surface of the skin to slough. 

While the underlying cause of this disease is unknown, it's been noted that ultraviolet (UV) light may cause allergic reactions, or appear to worsen discoid lupus erythematosus, which is more common in sunny climates. It's thought that UV radiation sets off inflammation and contributes to the condition. Middle-aged dogs may be at higher risk of developing discoid lupus erythematosus.

How Lupus in Dogs is Diagnosed

It can sometimes be difficult to diagnose discoid lupus erythematosus in dogs due to how many other disorders have similar symptoms. Be prepared to tell your veterinary dermatologist about any changes to your dog's eating habits or environment. This will help your vet determine whether your pup may be having an allergic reaction.

The vet will also ask about any concerns you've noticed, such as ulcers or a change in the color of your dog's nose. 

Your veterinarian will want to take a biopsy sample of your pet's skin to assist in their diagnosis, along with blood work to eliminate other potential causes of symptoms. Discoid lupus erythematosus can be formally diagnosed via a physical exam, a detailed history of your dog's medical care, biopsy results, and how your canine companion responds to trial treatments. 

Treatment Options for Disicoid Lupus Erythematosus Lupus in Dogs

Discoid lupus erythematosus cannot be cured. However, your veterinary dermatologist can prescribe treatment to help your dog's symptoms. It's important to know that this is considered a cosmetic condition and is not likely to be causing your dog any pain or discomfort.

Your vet may prescribe 10-15 milligrams of Cephalexin daily for 30 days (this is also used to treat mucocutanerous pyoderma). 

If your dog does have discoid lupus erythematosus, it will be important to avoid excessive sun exposure, start using sunscreen, and feeding them vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids. 

Finally, tetracycline and niacinamide are two medications that can be used together to help manage symptoms of the disease. This medication combination does have potential side effects, including anorexia, vomiting, and diarrhea. Both medications can be used for up to 60 days and discontinued if there is no change in symptoms. An anti-inflammatory can be prescribed to replace them. 

If the area of your dog's body that's impacted by the symptoms is small enough, your veterinary dermatologist may prescribe topical steroids. However, keep in mind that too strong of a steroid can cause scarring. Tacrolimus topical .1% is the steroid cream most often prescribed. Your dog will need to be gradually weaned off of these steroid medications. 

Recovery of Discoid Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs 

Your dog will require lifelong treatment and management since there is no known cause for this disease. Sun protection should also remain a high priority. Your veterinary dermatologist will tell you when to bring your dog back in and how to administer any prescribed medications. 

With treatment prescribed by your veterinary dermatologist, your dog's symptoms may disappear within a few days to months. Recovery will depend on your dog's quality of life and symptoms subsiding. 

In Conclusion 

While discoid lupus erythematosus does not have a defined cause, it's thought that the sun's ultraviolet light may cause allergic reactions in some dogs, or worsen symptoms, which may include various lesions appearing on the skin. These may also spread to other areas of the body. 

Given that this disease is more common in sunny climates, ensuring your dog's skin is protected from the sun in warm weather months is crucial. 

Though this is considered a cosmetic condition, it's also important to watch for any lesions that appear on the skin surrounding the nose, as this has a well-developed blood supply. 

If you notice symptoms of discoid lupus erythematosus, it's important to see professional care from your primary veterinarian and perhaps a veterinary dermatologist, who can prescribe medications to help manage the disease. By managing or treating any kind of skin disease, you are prioritizing your pet's well-being. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your dog may have discoid lupus erythematosus or another skin condition? Contact us. We can perform an exam, identify potential causes and provide treatment. 

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