By Dr. Laura Noaker
Every veterinarian has heard the phrase of “ADR” which means “ain’t doing right”. While obviously not a true diagnosis, it’s what a lot of us hear from owners who say their pet just “ain’t doing right”.
In this case, the owner may report many signs such as lethargy, anorexia, fever, weakness, muscle pain, arthritis, increased thirst and urination, swollen lymph nodes, tremors and even seizures. These myriad signs can describe many diseases.
One disease that fits all of these could be systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) better known as just lupus, even though there is also a skin variation called Discoid lupus.
While thankfully rare in dogs and cats, it must be considered when more common diagnoses have been ruled out.
Your vet will run blood work and urinalysis since SLE can affect blood cells and organs, like the liver and kidneys. Your vet will also likely order imaging studies and needle aspirates of affected organs and perhaps even biopsies.
But what is SLE? It is an autoimmune disease where the body’s own cells, specifically antibodies, begin attacking itself instead of true invaders like bacteria or viruses. No one knows what causes this immune system dysregulation but genetics is thought to be involved since breeds like German Shepherds, Collies, Beagles, Poodles, Irish Setters and Afghan Hounds are more commonly affected. Most of these dogs will be young to middle aged so aging is not considered a risk factor.
Since we do not know what causes it, there is no way to prevent it and sadly, there is no cure. Treatment consists of symptomatic and supportive care aimed at suppressing the immune system, limiting inflammation and prescribing pain medications. Blood transfusions may be required and if the kidneys are affected, hospitalization and intravenous fluids are indicated.
Lupus is very rare in cats and dogs but the astute owner and veterinarian must remain aware of this disease in those hard to diagnose illnesses. The best outcomes are made with early recognition and treatment.