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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Condition Overview

Lupus erythematosus complex is an immune-mediated disease in which the antigen-antibody complex lodges in the small vessels of many organs, including the skin. Two types of lupus occur in dogs: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Discoid Lupus Erythematosus.


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a complex disease affecting several body parts including the skin, kidneys, heart, and joints. The first indication may be a stilted gait or lameness that wanders from joint to joint. Eventually, the lungs, nervous system, lymph nodes, and spleen may be involved.

Skin involvement is especially evident around the face and over the nose and muzzle, but may be found elsewhere. An erosive dermatitis, characterized by vesicles (a bubble of liquid within a cell) and pustules (a puss filled pimple), develops in these areas, and is followed by crusting, oozing, and hair loss. The mucus membranes of the mouth are often involved. The foot pads can become thickened and ulcerated and may eventually shed. Anemia and bleeding problems may develop. Secondary pyoderma is a major cause of death.

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus is the second most common autoimmune skin disease, after pemphigus foliaceus. It is considered to be a milder form of systemic lupus and is limited to the face. Depigmentation of the nose is usually followed by the appearance of open sores and crusts. Collies, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Brittanys and German Shorthaired Pointers are most often affected. The typical appearance and location of discoid lupus, and the absence of other sites of skin involvement, make the diagnosis almost certain.


The exact stimulus for the antigen-antibody reaction is unknown.


The diagnosis is difficult, but is aided by a skin biopsy and an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. This test is positive in 90% of cases.


Systemic Lupus treatment depends on what organs are involved. Most cases require chemotherapy. Secondary pyoderma must be treated aggressively. The outlook for long term control is guarded.

Discoid Lupus can be successfully managed with oral and/or topical corticosteroids. Oral vitamin E in a dose of 400 IU given every 12 hours, 2 hours before or after meals, is reported to be beneficial. Apply topical sunscreen during periods of exposure to sunlight. Sunblock may help as a preventative measure, ultraviolet injury severely aggravates this problem.


There is currently no known prevention for this condition.


Please contact your veterinarian with questions regarding this condition.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

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