On the first part of what happens when the immune system goes wrong, we looked at how the immune system can make a walk around the park a bane of summer.
While allergies generally can be managed and don’t cause long-term damage, autoimmune disorders tend to be more threatening to your dog’s health, and aren’t always as easy to treat.
The difference between allergies and autoimmune diseases is what your dog’s immune system perceives as ‘foreign’.
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system perceives the body itself as a ‘foreign body’ that needs to be destroyed. It loses the ability to correctly recognise a dog’s own ‘self’, so begins to reject and attack your dog’s own tissues.
This ‘self-attacking’ can be specifically targeted to one organ or tissue (e.g. the skin, bones) or it can be more generalised and attack the whole body (e.g. the whole endocrine system, the digestive system).
When it comes to autoimmune diseases, we don’t yet fully understand what causes them or how they come about. There are some theories out there as to what causes them – for example viral infections, stress, food preservatives, genetics – but we don’t know for sure.
However, what we do have a good idea of is how to treat them. Usually, the first port of call for treatment of autoimmune disorders are drugs that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants) which work by reducing the reaction of the immune system to the (incorrectly) perceived threat.
It’s important to note that while these medications can reduce the signs and symptoms of autoimmune disorders, they don’t always treat the problem at the root cause, and they can sometimes result in further damage.
This is because typically, treatment for autoimmune disorders goes on for a long time, which can result in the liver or kidneys becoming overwhelmed and damaged.
It’s best to speak to your vet about how you should treat your dog if they have an autoimmune disorder, especially as there are a variety of them (see below), each of which will require different treatment for different periods of time.
Examples of some of the types of autoimmune disorders that can affect dogs include:
Systemic lupus erythematosus(SLE), a rare autoimmune disease that can be hereditary. It can affect the skin, kidneys, joints, lungs among others and typically more than one organ will be affected.
Polyarthritis, is an inflammatory disease affecting your dog’s joints. It is similar to arthritis, but it affects more joints at the same time.
Immune-Medited Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), means your dogs immune system mistakenly produces antibodies that attack its own red blood cells.
If you notice anything unusual about your dog, it’s best to bring them to your vet who will be able to run tests and diagnose the problems. Autoimmune diseases in dogs are rare, but it’s best to get anything suspicious checked as soon as possible because the sooner treatment can start the better.
On the third and last part of what happens when the immune system goes wrong, we will look at how the immune system can be ‘hijacked’ in dogs who have cancer.
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