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Dealing With Discoid Lupus in Dogs

Julia Szabo  |  Feb 2nd 2012


One of my favorite things about being part of the Dogster community is getting feedback from readers in the comments section – I especially love it when a comment on one column leads to a whole new column! My recent column about How A Raw Diet Cured What Ailed My German Shepherd Dog LINK prompted one reader, NAME TK, to write: QUOTE IT HERE In my many years of caring for rescued dogs, I’ve encountered some unusual K9 ailments, especially those related to a dog’s skin. Few diseases can cause more doggie discomfort than any type of skin irritation or infection. What I learned about treating various K9 skin conditions has helped me take better care of my own skin, and that of my dogs. But even I had never heard of Discoid lupus, an immune mediated disease that is often mistakenly confused with solar dermatitis or ringworm. This past summer, I rescued a lovely female German Shepherd dog. LINK She faced numerous health challenges. LINK Well, I’m bracing myself now, because the GSD is on a short list of purebred dogs that are predisposed to Discoid Lupus (the others are Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Huskies, Brittany Spaniels, and German Shorthaired Pointers). PROVIDE LINKS TO ALL THESE BREEDS So, if you fancy any of these breeds, or you’ve adopted a mixed-breed dog that has one or more of these breeds as a component, you’ll want to educate yourself about Discoid lupus, and how to cope with it – because, if not properly diagnosed and treated, it can cause serious quality-of-life-diminishing discomfort. For the first step toward a better understanding of Discoid Lupus, I consulted Dr. Heather Peikes, board-certified dermatologist at the prestigious 24-hour animal hospital New York City Veterinary Specialists. The full name of this disease is Discoid lupus erythematosus, Dr. Peikes explains, and it is not related to systemic lupus in any way. “The symptoms of Discoid lupus include loss of pigment, redness, scaling or crusting of the nose with loss of the nose’s normal ‘cobblestone’ appearance,” Dr. Peikes says. “Loss of pigment and cobblestone are earlier symptoms; later symptoms include ulceration and crusting, especially when a secondary bacterial infection is present. The most common area to be affected is the nose, but Discoid lupus can also affect the bridge of the nose. Less common areas to be affected include around the eyes, the ear flaps, lipfolds, genitals, or anus.” How does it feel to have this condition? “Early pigment changes do not lead to discomfort,” Dr. Peikes says, “but more chronic cases can be itchy or uncomfortable. If the nose is affected, ulceration close to the blood vessels can lead to bleeding; if the vulva is affected, it can lead to pain when urinating. The most common disease to cause similar symptoms is a bacterial infection that can be localized to mucocutaneous junctions (mucocutaneous pyoderma).” Treatment involves a course of oral antibiotics for six weeks based on a culture, to rule out skin infection alone. “If the condition is not improving, a skin biopsy is necessary to diagnose discoid lupus; the biopsy usually requires general anethesia,” Dr. Peikes says. “After treatment, the prognosis is usually good; in mild cases, topical treatment alone may be able to manage symptoms.” Initially, steroids would be used, then an attempt would be made to use less potent steroids. Topical tacrolimus has also been helpful to manage cases, Dr. Peikes allows, but it can take a few weeks to see improvement. The administration of oral Vitamin E, either alone or together with a combination Omega 3/ Omega 6 product (such as Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil for Pets) may be helpful as an adjunct treatment. The use of drugs that suppress the immune system, such as oral steroids, cyclosporine, azathioprine, or chlorambucil, are only necessary in severe cases that have not responded to prior treatment (or until topical treatments can start to work). “I remember a dog named Sam, an eight-year old female Lab who was experiencing nasal ulceration and crusting as well as ulceration of the vulva,” Dr. Peikes recalls. “We treated her with Vitamin E, Omega 3 and 6, and topical application of tacrolimus. Sam had been very painful when urinating, and was rubbing her nose until bleeding. After treatment, she was a much happier and more comfortable dog.” Now, here’s the most important caveat of caring for a Discoid lupus dog – especially since the breeds that are predisposed happen to be active, outdoorsy types: Sun exposure seriously aggravates symptoms, so sun avoidance and/or suncreen application is strongly recommended. When selecting UV protection for your pet, read the ingredients, and avoid all products that contain zinc oxide, which is toxic to animals if licked off. A safe bet for preventing and soothing K9 sunburn: The Natural Dog Snout Soother (SPF 10), a highly emollient blend of shea butter, kukui nut oil, and vitamin E. (Go here LINK for more information on safety for sun-worshiping K9s). In and out of the sun, supporting an afflicted dog’s skin with emollient balms that are safe and all-natural is a kind and smart thing to do. Elice Strickland, maker of the above-mentioned Snout Soother, has received numerous calls from satisfied customers who use her product to help their dogs cope with Discoid Lupus. Meanwhile, Neem oil, an extract of the Neem tree, has been used for centuries to heal a variety of skin irritations and burns on animal and human skin; an added benefit is that Neem is also a natural insect repellent – and keeping germ-carrying pests away from the vulnerable nose of a Discoid Lupus dog is critical, to avoid infection. Caring, compassionate support and prevention can make all the difference between a miserably unhappy K9 and one that copes bravely with this painful condition. Subtle dietary changes and thoughtful attention to detail are key. Times of stress – such as subjecting a dog to long-distance travel – might trigger a flare-up. For those instances, respected holistic veterinarian Dr. Michele Yasson of HolVet Holistic Veterinary Services in Kingston, New York, recommends adding a few drops of Rescue Remedy to your dog’s water. But perhaps most important for dogs with Discoid Lupus is implementing what Dr. Yasson calls “an anti-inflammatory lifestyle: Feeding an anti-inflammatory diet that contains no grains is imperative, and so is avoiding vaccinations,” she concludes. Locate a good homeopathic veterinarian for more advice on how to maintain a dog with Discoid Lupus, so that s/he will have the best possible chance of living a happy and healthy life.