Canine Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an immune complex disease which affects the joints, muscles, skin, and kidneys. In SLE, the immune system produces antibodies against the DNA material inside the cells. Although there are many clinical similarities between human and canine SLE, there are several differences. Environmental, infectious, hormonal, and drug reactions had all been identified as possible causes. As in humans, canine SLE is a chronic disease with alternating acute periods and relapses, and remission can be achieved for only short periods of time. Recent studies show that pet dogs with human SLE contact are at a higher risk. There is an indication that a common environmental factor or zoonotic agent may be involved in the development of human and canine SLE.

Manifestations of this disease are dependent upon the location of the affected cells, and diagnosis is often difficult. Reported abnormalities in the dog include fever of unknown origin, polyarthritis, glomerulonephritis, anemia, and skin disorders. Skin signs associated with SLE include alopecia, redness, crusting, scaling, depigmentation, generalized exfoliative dermatitis, ulcers on the mucous membranes, ulcers of the paw pads, and seborrhea. Partial symmetry is usually an important diagnostic clue. A possible role of a genetic factor in the development of SLE has been suggested for the Spitz, Shetland Sheepdog, German Shepherd Dog, Beagle, Collie, and Poodle. Siamese, Persian and Himalayan cats are more often affected than other cat breeds.

ANA (anti-nuclear antibodies) test is used to detect the antibodies directed against the DNA, but it often produces false readings. Corticosteroid and cytotoxic drug therapy is the treatment of choice, which is often combined with treatments specific for other affected body systems. The prognosis is good from the standpoint of controlling the polyarthritis, but glomerulonephritis may progress despite therapy, occasionally resulting in death.5


  1. Chiou SH, Lan JL, Lin SL, Chen DY, Tsai NY, Kuan CY, Lin TY, Lin FJ, Lee WM, Chang TJ. Graduate Institute of Veterinary Microbiology, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan. Pet dogs owned by lupus patients are at a higher risk of developing lupus
  2. Robert L. Rooks, DVM and Connie Jankowski. Canine Orthopedics
  3. Paul-Pierre Pastoret, Philip Griebel, Hervé Bazin, André Govaerts. Handbook of Vertebrate Immunology
  4. Peter J. Ihrke, Emily J. Walder, Verena K. Affolter. Skin Diseases of the Dog and Cat
  5. Richard W. Nelson, C. Guillermo Couto. Small Animal Internal Medicine

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