Like us humans, a dog’s immune system functions as their body’s defense against foreign cells that may cause them harm. These include a network of antibodies, white blood cells, and other defenses to keep them safe from harmful elements.

So if a dog is healthy, their immune system recognizes, destroys, and eliminates foreign cells from the body as a way to protect it from diseases, viruses, and infections. But what happens when a dog has an autoimmune disease?


  1. What is an Autoimmune Disease?
  2. Types of Canine Autoimmune Diseases
  3. What Causes Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs?
  4. Symptoms of Autoimmune Disorders in Dogs
  5. How Are Autoimmune Diseases Diagnosed and Treated?
  6. How to Prevent Autoimmune Disease in Dogs
  7. Emergency Fund
  8. FAQ

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

According to vet research, autoimmune disorders in dogs occur when a dog’s immune system doesn’t respond the way it’s supposed to. So instead of their immune system protecting their body, it attacks its cells and tissues. In short, autoimmune diseases in dogs involve several disorders affecting a dog’s immune system.

Depending on which tissue or organ the immune system isn’t able to address properly, an autoimmune disorder can pose a real risk to a dog’s life. There are several kinds of autoimmune diseases that dogs may be susceptible to, each with varying symptoms. Treatment options would depend on the specific autoimmune disease.

Types of Canine Autoimmune Diseases

The following are among the most common autoimmune disorders in dogs:

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AHA)

This occurs when the red blood cells of the dog’s body are attacked. This poses a problem because the red blood cells transport oxygen to the body’s tissues. When a dog has an Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia disease, the system attacks or damages the red blood cells quicker than they are replaced.

Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP)

Thrombocytes function by forming blood clots. However, when a dog has an Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP) disorder, the immune system starts to attack the thrombocytes. While dogs with this condition might not suffer from severe symptoms as compared to AIHA, there can also be serious complications when bleeding occurs.

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

This is a rare condition and can be hereditary. The breeds that are more prone to the disease are:

  • Collies;
  • Beagles;
  • German Shepherds;
  • Poodles;
  • Shetland Sheepdogs;
  • Afghan Hounds;
  • Old English Sheepdogs;
  • Irish Setters.

While signs of SLE may appear at any age, it usually shows up around 6 years of age. Flare-ups are common, and those with the condition may go into remission periodically. Because the antibodies in the blood attack the tissues and cells of the body, the lungs, heart, skin, joints, blood, kidney, as well as nervous systems may be affected. With the condition, it’s common for several organs to suffer.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

Dogs may get this disorder on their own, or they may also get it alongside SLE in some cases. It covers several particular diseases, but the symptoms are usually the same.

Autoimmune Skin Diseases

While rare, there are different types of autoimmune skin diseases that dogs may be susceptible to.

The various types include:

Pemphigus - there are many forms of this disease, but all forms usually show signs such as scabs, sores filled with pus, and scales in the skin.

Discoid lupus erythematosus - This condition is probably due to SLE, but is confined to the nose and face, with the appearance of scabs, scaly skin, and pigment loss.

Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-like syndrome - A very rare disease, it usually leads to pigmentation loss as well as eye disease. Early treatment can prevent eye complications such as blindness.

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs?

Causes of autoimmune diseases in dogs vary depending on the specific condition. Below are the common symptoms for each type of condition:

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

The cause is unknown for this type of disease, but it is more commonly experienced by middle-aged female dogs. Also, dog breeds such as poodles and cocker spaniels may be more prone to the disease, but any dog may suffer from the condition.

Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP)

The cause of ITP is unknown, and it can either be a primary or secondary issue, which may be triggered by other health conditions.

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

While the cause of the condition is unknown, it may be hereditary. Also, the condition may worsen when dogs are more exposed to ultraviolet rays.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

This disease may either be caused by getting an infection of the body’s auto-immune response, attacking the body’s tissues (more common cause).

Autoimmune Skin Diseases

The causes of autoimmune skin diseases aren’t fully grasped yet, but genes and/or environmental factors may be contributing factors. Exposure to UV rays may also trigger a range of diseases.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Disorders in Dogs

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Depending on which part of the body is affected, below are some of the symptoms:

  • Face or feet ulcers;
  • Pigment loss on the nose;
  • Lameness;
  • Alopecia;
  • Drinking/urinating too often;
  • Scabs, scars, and lesions on the skin;
  • Thyroid issues;
  • Anemia;
  • Infections in the kidneys;
  • Enlarged liver, spleen, or kidney;
  • Swollen lymph nodes;
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia;
  • Loss of weight;
  • Lethargy or general weakness;
  • Rapid breathing;
  • Increase in heart rate;
  • Jaundice;
  • Fever;
  • Collapse (in more serious cases);
  • Discoloration in skin, eyes, or gums;
  • Paleness in mucous membranes of eyes and gums.

Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP)

  • Too much bleeding after a surgical procedure or an injury;
  • Blood in stool or pee;
  • Bleeding more than normal when menstruating;
  • Bruising.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

  • Swelling;
  • Joint pain;
  • High fever;
  • Lameness from one leg to the other;
  • Swelling of lymph nodes.

Autoimmune skin diseases

Pemphigus - signs include scabs, sores filled with pus, and scales in the skin.

Discoid lupus erythematosus - scabs, scaly skin, and pigment loss.

Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-like syndrome - pigmentation loss as well as eye disease.

Because autoimmune diseases may affect a dog’s body in many ways, it would help to be able to detect the symptoms of the range of diseases as early as possible. An effective way to be able to monitor your dog at any time of the day is to use devices such as pet cameras.

One good example of this is the Petcube Cam, with its smart HD features at an affordable price. Apart from this, purchasing also gives you access to Petcube’s Online Vet service, where you can consult with licensed veterinarians 24/7/.

How Are Autoimmune Diseases Diagnosed and Treated?

Autoimmune Skin Diseases

The different kinds of autoimmune skin diseases may be hard to diagnose with their varied symptoms.

Treatment may include topical corticosteroids or prednisone (low to medium dose). When it comes to minor cases, they may only need minimal treatment. In more serious cases, however, regular vet visits and strict adherence to medications may be required.

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

To diagnose the disease, blood tests are needed. Usually, dogs that have SLE show a positive result in the anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA) blood test.

For severe cases of the condition, the dog may need to be hospitalized. On the other hand, those being treated at home are usually advised to rest and limit being exposed to sunlight. Also, your dog’s diet may be changed to one that is friendly to the kidneys. Drugs to reduce swelling may also be prescribed.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Diagnosis often involves your vet doing a physical examination and will most likely recommend a blood test called Packed Cell Volume (PCV) to get a count of the red blood cells.

In most cases, immunosuppressive drugs and corticosteroids may be prescribed to manage the condition. If the medications aren’t effective, however, your vet may recommend the spleen be removed. In rare cases, a blood transfusion may be needed.

Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP)

The presence of thrombocytopenia likely indicates that a dog has ITP. Diagnostics that vets may recommend to determine the possible causes of the disease include tests to check if your dog has tick-borne diseases or abdominal ultrasound as well as a chest x-ray to see if your dog is suffering from neoplasia.

Similar to AIHA, treating ITP usually involves immunosuppressives and corticosteroids. The spleen may also be removed in some cases. Blood or plasma transfusion may also help. For female dogs, an ovariohysterectomy may be done to lessen the risk of experiencing hemorrhage in the uterus.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

To diagnose this disease, a joint fluid sample from several joints is gathered for lab examination.

Around 50% of cases may go into remission after taking corticosteroids. For the other half, they may be treated with Cytoxan or Imuran, with steroids being given afterwards. It’s important, however, to consult with a vet before giving any medications.

How to Prevent Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

To help prevent your dog from getting an autoimmune disease, the sound approach is to keep your dog healthy in all aspects. Good nutrition, avoiding toxins in their environment, and keeping their immune system healthy may go a long way.

Pet Emergency Fund

Because many autoimmune diseases have causes that are unknown and, in some types, symptoms may suddenly need emergency care, having assurance when it comes to caring for our pets goes a long way.

A wise choice is investing in a service that not only takes care of our dog’s emergency vet bills if the need arises, but Petcube’s Pet Emergency Fund also has terms that are friendly to both pets and pet owners. Apart from this, the service also gives access to Petcube’s Online Vet, where you can consult with certified vets 24/7.


What is autoimmune meningitis in dogs?

It’s a condition that can be described as the swelling of the nervous system lining. Typically, it affects dogs from 6-18 months and is usually acute.

Autoimmune disease in dogs' life expectancy

The life expectancy of dogs who suffer from autoimmune diseases depends on a variety of factors. But if treatment is given early on, dogs can a live long and happy life.

What is the best IMHA dog diet?

When your dog has IMHA, a good place to start is to choose hypoallergenic food. Why? Because while your dog may not have an allergy that is brought about by IMHA, it won’t cause additional stimulation to an immune system that is already overstimulated.

Choosing hypoallergenic food enables the body to absorb the food’s nutrition without adding up to the problem of an immune system that is inflamed.

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