My dog has been having mysterious illnesses. She is a 1.5 yr. old Lab mix who is robust most of the time. Then, she will suddenly become ill, running a fever (104), moving stiffly, not wanting to bend down head to eat (I have to elevate her food bowls), very stiff back legs (walking like a very old dog), acting exhausted and fragile, whimpering in pain if anything even bumps into her.
This has happened 4-5 times since the first time (her 1 yr. immun. combo). Had a complete CBC and Lyme test. Nothing showed up. Vet thinks she has an autoimmune disease, but which one? Steroids suggested but should you give steroids when you aren’t sure what the problem is? Any suggestions? I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend but would like to get to the bottom of her mysterious repeating illness. Thanks for any advice you can give.
San Bernardino Cnty, CA
I agree that your dog most likely is suffering from autoimmune disease. I am most suspicious of immune-mediated polyarthritis (the immune system attacks joints in the body, leading to fever and stiffness) or of sterile meningitis (similar idea, but the spaces adjacent to the spinal cord or brain are attacked). The cyclical nature of the syndrome, along with the fever and the fact that the first episode occurred after vaccination all point toward an overactive immune system as the culprit.
I think your vet was right to run a complete blood count and Lyme disease test. Hopefully she also tested for other tick borne diseases such as Ehrlichia. To definitively diagnose the syndrome, more tests would be necessary. I would consider X-rays of the chest, spine and joints, abdominal ultrasound, joint taps, and possibly a spinal tap as the next diagnostic steps. The tests would best be run during an episode of illness. And, as you might imagine, they would be expensive. Here in California, they could well run into thousands of dollars–especially since specialists often are involved in ultrasounds and spinal taps.
Without more tests and specialist consultations, it probably won’t be possible to determine the exact cause of your dog’s problems. Therefore, you may still be forced to consider giving steroids to treat an undetermined condition. However, you should be aware that steroids are the mainstay of treatment for autoimmune disease, and your dog most likely does have autoimmune disease. I think steroids would be a reasonable choice during outbreaks, but I wouldn’t recommend using them habitually.
There is a chance that your dog will outgrow this problem. Unfortunately, there also is a risk that the problem could progress and lead to life threatening anemias, blood cell imbalances, or encephalitis.
Above all, you should work to avoid over-stimulating your dog’s immune system. She should have a minimalist vaccine schedule. Brush her teeth so that she doesn’t need to go under anesthesia for dental work, and so that bacteria in the mouth don’t stimulate the immune system. And don’t forget that fleas can be major immune system activators. Talk to your vet about a safe and effective flea preventative.