Pemphigus or DLE (discoid lupus erythematosus) is an autoimmune skin disorder in which a dog’s skin acts as an intruder (antigen) causing the immune system to attack healthy tissue.
The result leads to painful blisters, ulcerated skin, erosions, crusting and more.
Thankfully, this condition is relatively uncommon. However, certain breeds (listed below) may be more susceptible than others.
Dogs can develop this condition through internal, external, or idiopathic means and there are various types of pemphigus, each one affecting the dog in a slightly different way.
To complicate matters more, your dog’s prognosis will depend on the type of pemphigus present at the time of diagnosis.
This guide is designed to help you better understand the different forms of pemphigus in dogs, how it can be treated, and what you can do to keep your dog healthy and happy for a long time to come.
4 Forms of Pemphigus in Dogs
Of the 4 types of pemphigus in dogs, only 2 types (p.foliaceus and p.erythematosus) are associated with dog breeds.
This type of the condition is considered the most common autoimmune disease in dogs and is characterized by the following clinical signs:
- Fur loss
- Skin lesions
- Itchy face and head
- Itchy ears
- Footpad overgrowth
- Ulceration in the footpads
- Swollen lymph nodes
Clinical signs of pemphigus erythematosus in dogs include:
- Butterfly lesions across the bridge of the nose
- Extreme itch
- Oozing lesions
- Droopy eyes
Although the legion may first appear on the nose, it can spread up under the eye and around to the tops of the ears in some cases.
Although this type is considered the most severe, it is considered rare in dogs. Pemphigus vulgaris is mostly seen in people (middle-aged to senior) and involves painful blistering and erosion of the skin and mucous membranes.
Again, dogs are unlikely to develop this form of pemphigus.
This condition is considered rare in humans and is not considered a risk factor for dogs.
Breeds Affected by Pemphigus
Keep in mind that as serious as these conditions sound, it is relatively rare in most breeds. Dogs can develop a number of skin conditions related to allergies or parasites, but pemphigus is generally considered rare.
Some breeds, however, are more at risk due to genetic factors. Cases are often considered “idiopathic” where the cause is unknown.
The breeds most commonly identified as “at risk” include:
- Bearded Collie
- Doberman Pinscher
With pemphigus erythematosus, German Shepherds are considered to be at risk.
Why Do Dogs Develop Pemphigus?
Researchers suggest there are 3 main causes of pemphigus in dogs including:
Genetic predispositions or dog breeds have significant concerns here. It can also be triggered by some medical problems such as cancer and chronic skin allergies.
This means external factors including medications, viral infections, or even inflammation in the body may trigger the condition.
UV Rays (natural and artificial light) and allergies can lead to hypersensitivity which then can lead to pemphigus.
Sometimes there simply isn’t a known cause for the condition and, when that happens, it falls under the category of “idiopathic”.
How Long Does Pemphigus Last in Dogs?
Once treated by a licensed veterinarian, dogs tend to show fast improvement within 8 to 12 weeks. Sometimes it can be a bit of trial and error requiring repeat visits to the veterinarian. However, with a little tweaking of medication, your dog will eventually come around.
The goal is to get the worst of the symptoms under control and then to manage the condition for life.
Medical Treatment of Pemphigus in Dogs
The right course of action is to suppress the immune system with corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs along with pain killers.
Because of the severe itch and pain the condition causes, dogs tend to dig and bite at those areas. When that happens, it leaves the skin vulnerable to bacterial infections. As a result, the dog may require antibiotic therapy.
Unfortunately, skin conditions like pemphigus can take a very long time to treat. Long-term (or even life-long) treatments are not unusual.
The types of medications often used to treat pemphigus in dogs might include:
- Immunosuppresive drugs
- Antibiotics for bacterial or secondary infections of the skin
- Topically applied corticosteroids
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At the end of the day
The prognosis for pemphigus foliaceus and pemphigus erythematosus are very good although responses can vary. The best scenario is when a dog responds quickly and, over time, is able to withdraw from the medication.
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