Just like humans, autoimmune skin diseases in pets can display various symptoms. Pets can develop skin diseases like rashes, scabs, redness, and bumps. They can be accompanied by pain, fever, lethargy or even loss of appetite. The best way to combat autoimmune skin diseases in pets is to learn what they are and how to spot them so you can get the proper treatment.

What Are Autoimmune Diseases?

The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and proteins in the body. It protects the body from foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria. The immune system cannot always distinguish between these outside invaders and the pet’s own skin. It can mistakenly attack itself and cause damage or illness. Currently, scientists do not fully understand why autoimmune skin diseases in pets occur. Luckily, most autoimmune skin diseases are relatively rare.

Autoimmune Skin Diseases in Pets

So what happens when an autoimmune disease attacks a pet’s skin? A variety of different changes can result, depending on the precise target of the immune damage.

  • Pemphigus Diseases – Damage involves the bridges that hold cells together. The cells break apart from each other, and the result is a blister or a bump with a microscopic blister inside. The blister does not last long but breaks open, leaving a scab or sore. There are several different pemphigus diseases, and they affect different areas of the patient. They may alter the face and ears, the whole body, or the areas where haired skin meets hairless skin like mouth, eyelids, genitals, and anus.
  • Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus – Damage involves the zone where the outer skin (epidermis) meets the deeper skin (dermis). The affected skin loses pigment and develops shallow sores. There are several different types of lupus diseases, which can affect different parts of the body and even different breeds. Discoid Lupus Erythematosus often causes pigment loss, flattening of the skin, and eventual sores of the hairless skin of the nose. Sometimes hairless skin around the eyes or footpads can be affected.
  • Autoimmune Subepidermal Blistering Diseases – Damage affects the connections between the outer skin and deeper skin, causing blisters and ulcers. These conditions are rare. 

Autoimmune vs. Immune-Mediated Skin Diseases in Pets

In addition to the true “Autoimmune” Skin Diseases, there are other conditions where the skin damage is triggered by medications, bacterial or viral infections, or genetic differences. They are called “Immune Mediated” because they are not necessarily directed against normal self “auto” tissues.

Other “Look Alike” Skin Diseases

There are a number of skin diseases that can mimic autoimmune disorders. Genetic diseases,
infections, drug reactions, and other disorders can show the same skin changes as the
autoimmune diseases, yet the treatment may be very different. Therefore, confirmation of the specific skin disease is important.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When it comes to autoimmune skin diseases in pets, a skin biopsy is often needed to make a complete diagnosis. Other workup may include microscopic examination of skin samples, bacterial or fungal culture, elimination of skin infection, and more. 

Treatments vary, depending on the specific autoimmune condition, part of the body affected, age and breed of pet, etc. Treatments that calm the misdirected immune system may include steroids like prednisone, oclacitinib, cyclosporine modified, and others.

If your pet suffers from skin issues, the dedicated dermatology and allergy team at Oakland Veterinary Referral Services can help. Our doctors work closely with you, your pet, and your primary care veterinarian to find an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment plan. To learn more about our services or to schedule an appointment, please call (248) 334‑6877.