Autoimmune disease in dogs, like in humans, occurs when the body's immune system incorrectly identifies itself as the enemy and attacks healthy tissues, cells, and organs. The immune system actively works to protect us from foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.
When your dog is exposed to an allergen, the immune system springs into action to protect him against it.
Allergies are much more prevalent in dogs that are genetically predisposed to develop them. Often, menopause can trigger autoimmune diseases in dogs.
Overactive immune systems cause inflammation that damages the body's tissues and organs. Some of these diseases are relatively simple to diagnose, while others may require extensive testing to rule out other possibilities.
How Your Dog’s Immune System Works
The dog immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, and proteins that work together to protect your dog from disease.
The immune system is made up of two main parts: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system.
The innate immune system is the first line of defense against pathogens like bacteria and viruses, while the adaptive immune system works alongside it to develop long-lasting immunity to specific invaders.
The innate immune system works fast when it needs to. For example, when your dog comes in contact with a virus or bacteria that he has never encountered before. It's able to do this because it doesn't require any special training for new threats; instead, it relies on a set of "memory" cells called antigen-presenting cells (APCs) that are programmed to recognize specific molecules found on the surfaces of pathogens.
These APCs send chemical messages throughout your dog's body so that other cells can respond quickly by producing antibodies or releasing chemical signals called cytokines that will attract more immune cells and activate them into action.
This helps keep harmful invaders from spreading throughout your dog's body before they have time to cause damage.
What Causes Autoimmune Disease In Dogs?
Autoimmune disease occurs when the body's immune system and its components incorrectly identifies itself as the enemy and attacks healthy tissues, cells, and organs.
For example, when the body's immune system attacks its own cells, it causes psoriasis. When the body's immune system attacks its own tissues, it causes insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
This may happen due to genetics or environmental factors, like viruses or bacteria. Autoimmune diseases can occur at any age but usually appear in dogs between the ages of 6 to 8 years old.
There are 2 Main Types of Autoimmune Disease
There are two main types of autoimmune diseases: systemic and organ-specific. Systemic autoimmune diseases affect more than one part of your dog's body. They include:
- Lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- Pemphigus foliaceus
- Arthritis and rheumatism
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Thyroiditis, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
- Myasthenia gravis
- Demodectic mange (demodicosis)
- Drug induced lupus erythematosus (DLE)
- Addison's disease
- Autoimmune hepatitis.
Organ-specific autoimmune diseases affect just one organ or part of your dog's body. The most common organ-specific autoimmune disease in dogs is pancreatitis. This disease can affect both the pancreas and the liver. It occurs when your dog’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own pancreas.
Pancreatitis can be caused by other conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. The condition can also be caused by eating too much fat or protein—or even getting too much exercise!
The symptoms of pancreatitis include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, lethargy, and fever. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, get him to the vet as soon as possible.
Other organ-specific autoimmune diseases in dogs include:
- Juvenile arthritis (JRA) is an autoinflammatory disease that occurs in young dogs between the ages of 8 to 16 weeks old. The disease causes inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues, which can lead to difficulty walking or standing up on the legs.
- Collie eye anomaly (CEA), also known as collie eye anomaly type 1 (CEA1), is an inherited ocular disease that affects collies and related breeds. This condition causes abnormal development of the eye's retina and sometimes blindness if not treated early on.
- Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) is an autoimmune disease where red blood cells are destroyed by antibodies inside the dog's own immune system. This causes severe anemia, which can be fatal if not treated quickly enough by your veterinarian or doctor.
The Immune System and Allergens
When your dog is exposed to an allergen, the immune system springs into action to protect him against it.
- The body produces antibodies that specifically recognize that particular allergen.
- These antibodies bind to receptors on cells in the skin and mucous membranes like those found in the nose or throat and cause them to release histamine.
- Histamine dilates blood vessels so that they can bring more white blood cells, which are full of anti-allergic substances, closer to the site of contact with an allergen.
- It also triggers inflammation, which makes it easier for white blood cells called lymphocytes to fight off foreign invaders like bacteria or viruses.
However, if your dog has an autoimmune disease such as arthritis or allergies that affect their joints or airways respectively then these white blood cells will attack healthy tissue instead of foreign invaders because their signals are mixed up by their faulty immune systems.
Some Dogs Are Genetically Prone to Allergies
Allergies are much more prevalent in dogs that are genetically predisposed to develop them. There is no way to know if your dog will develop an allergy until he has been exposed to an allergen, but there are some breeds that have a higher risk of developing allergies than others.
Some of the most common dog breeds prone to allergies include:
- English Bulldogs
- Scottish Terriers
- Shih Tzus
Dogs who have allergies tend to get skin infections and overgrow their nails. If your dog has allergies, they can be treated with antihistamines, steroids or other medications from your vet's office.
However, sometimes allergies cannot be completely alleviated by medication alone. This is when it may be necessary for you to take additional steps such as avoiding pollen season or keeping your pet away from dust mites by washing bedding regularly.
Menopause Can Trigger Autoimmune Conditions
Menopause is a natural process that occurs when a female dog reaches the age of 6 or 7 years. When her reproductive organs stop working due to hormonal changes, it can cause an imbalance in her immune system and lead to autoimmune disorders.
One of the most common causes of menopause in dogs is spaying; also known as ovariohysterectomy. Ovariohysterectomies are performed on females when they have been determined not to be suitable for breeding programs. This includes dogs that are too small or young, those with behavior issues like aggression or fearfulness toward people or other animals, and those who have developed medical conditions such as uterine cancer or pyometra (an infection of the uterus).
Spaying before puberty helps prevent mammary cancer later in life because there's no longer any estrogen present in the body after this procedure has been performed; however, if your dog goes through menopause before she has been spayed then there's also an increased risk for other types of cancer including osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and lymphoma.
On the other hand, spaying or menopause can make them more susceptible to certain autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. The hormones involved with their reproductive systems are also linked to these autoimmune conditions so when they stop being produced during menopause, it could make them more likely for your dog to have an issue with these diseases.
Seeing Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease in Dogs is the Path to Diagnosis
The diagnosis of autoimmune disease in dogs is based on symptoms, a physical exam and blood tests. Your veterinarian may also order x-rays or other imaging studies to look for abnormalities like bone spurs or fluid buildup. In some cases, biopsies may be needed to assess the severity of damage in the affected area.
Invasive procedures such as these often require general anesthesia so that your dog does not feel pain or discomfort during the procedure. If surgery is needed it will also require general anesthesia unless sedation medication can be used first to relax your pet and make him comfortable enough for treatment without needing to put him under full anesthesia.
The diagnosis of autoimmune disease can be tricky to identify, but with a thorough diagnosis process it can be done. It's important to consider the possibility that your dog has an autoimmune disease if they have symptoms such as:
- Persistent itching or scratching
- Chronic skin infections
- Persistent gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea (or no appetite) or weight loss/weight gain
- Hair loss around the face, feet, or tail base (alopecia)
Boosting Your Dog’s Immune System with Probiotics
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your dog's digestive system. The health of your dog's digestive tract is crucial to his overall health, and probiotics are a key component of that.
The microbiome is the complex ecosystem of microorganisms (good and bad) that live in your dog's gut. The microbiome helps with digestion, nutrient absorption, immunity, and even psychological well-being.
When the microbiome is out of balance, (i.e. too many bad bacteria or not enough good ones), it can lead to problems ranging from skin conditions to obesity to chronic diseases like arthritis and diabetes.
But what does all this have to do with probiotics?
Well, probiotics are essentially good bacteria that you can give your dog in supplement form, like Daily Dog, or sometimes as an actual treat. They help restore balance to your dog's gut microbiome by increasing levels of beneficial microbes while reducing harmful ones.
This helps keep your dog healthy and feeling great while reducing the risk of autoimmune disease, obesity, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth, among other conditions.
Consult Your Veterinarian
The first step you need to take if your dog has an autoimmune disease is to ask the vet about it. You can ask them if they have any suggestions for what you can do at home, or if they think it would be a good idea for you to take your dog in for treatment.
You should also ask them what exactly the symptoms are, so you know how to tell if your dog is having trouble managing their body.
Some other natural treatments for autoimmune disease in dogs include making sure that you give your dog plenty of exercise, especially if they are overweight or obese, and adding in a daily probiotic. This will help them stay active and healthy while also making sure their immune system is functioning properly.
Bring your dog to the vet as soon as you discover any signs of an autoimmune disease so they can start the required testing and get them back on a more or less regular course of life.