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Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic Blog

Self Attack: Autoimmune Disease in Pets

A white cat laying on a couch

A sick pet is a sad thing, no doubt. Even more devastating when the reason for a pet’s illness is their own body! 

Sometimes the amazing and complicated inner workings of biological function can go awry. There are a large number of diseases in which the immune system begins to wage war on its own cells. Autoimmune disease in pets can manifest in several ways, each very different.

When Good Immune Systems Go Bad

Our immune system is essential, designed to protect the body from unwanted and foreign invaders. Autoimmune disease in pets can occur when the body targets a cell or group of cells that is supposed to be there and decides that it is a potential enemy.

It is not always clear what causes the immune system to decide to attack a certain cell population. Genetics may play a role, but sometimes another stimulus such as illness, infection, or even vaccination may get the immune system’s attention. In many situations autoimmune disease is idiopathic, or without a known cause. 

There are several common manifestations of autoimmune disease in pets:

HypothyroidismWhen the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, resulting in decreased production of thyroid hormone and a subsequent decrease in metabolism.

IMHA – When the body targets its own red blood cells, the result can be a dramatic and potentially life-threatening disease called immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). Red blood cells are needed to carry oxygen throughout the body and aggressive immune suppressive treatment is needed to stop their destruction.

IMTP – Similar to IMHA, IMTP (immune mediated thrombocytopenia) involves an attack on the platelet population of the blood. Platelets are needed for proper blood clotting and this disease must be treated promptly.

Dermatological conditions Immune mediated skin diseases are seen in pets and are something that Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic is more than equipped to help with. 

Dermatological Manifestations of Autoimmune Disease in Pets

When autoimmune disease in pets affects the skin, the results can be varied as well. Most often, immune-mediated skin conditions in pets manifest at the mucocutaneous junctions (around the eyes, lips, paw pads, nose, and nail beds). Lesions can also be seen over the bridge of the nose, the tips of the ears, or over the rest of the body.

Because the immune system is attacking skin cells in dermatologic manifestations, the result is typically crusty lesions as the surface cells die, or blister-like lesions as the cells anchoring the skin to the underlying tissues are affected.

Autoimmune skin conditions can look both similar to each other and to other diseases. It is important to rule out other potential causes of skin problems. Diagnosis is usually made by biopsy as the cells must be examined microscopically to differentiate many of these conditions.

Some examples of autoimmune skin conditions can include:

Many of these conditions respond well to treatment once their cause is identified. Immunosuppressive agents such as prednisone, cyclosporine, azathioprine, and mycophenolate are often needed. 

When it comes to autoimmune disease in pets, it is important to arrive at an accurate diagnosis to know how to best proceed. If you think that your pet might have a dermatological autoimmune condition, please call us today and schedule an appointment so that we can get started treating your pet.