How to Treat Pemphigus in Dogs
See files for Dogs
Skin diseases are one of the most frustrating pathologies for both dogs and their tutors. Apart from the obvious fact they jeopardize the health of the dog, they also reduce their quality of life. With sores, lesions, rashes and other symptoms of skin disease, the dog will often bite and scratch out of frustration. Unfortunately, management of skin disease is often complicated. Many issues have very similar symptoms, but their treatment is specific to the individual cause. Pemphigus in dogs is one such skin lesion-causing disease which differs to others as it is a type of autoimmune disease.
If you want to know how to treat pemphigus in dogs, AnimalWised is here to show you everything you need to know about causes, symptoms and treatment. We also show you pictures so you can recognize the first signs of this problem and begin management immediately.
What is pemphigus in dogs?
Pemphigus complex refers to group of skin-related autoimmune diseases. There are different types which affect the skin in similar ways, but have key charcteristics. As an autoimmune integumentary condition (type II hypersensitivity), the body's defenses are at a reduced capacity to fight pathogens. Pemphigus in dogs is characterized by skin lesions which vary in appearance and location.
Pemphigus lesions are often one of three main types:
- Vesicular bullous (blisters)
- Vesicular pustular (pustules)
- Erosive/ulcerative (ulcers)
However, it will also likely be accompanied by redness in the skin and hair loss in affected areas.
Although pemphigus in dogs is a relatively rare disease, it has been well-studied thanks to its pathogenisis. As an autoimmune disease, diagnosis involves testing affect tissue with a skin biopsy. This is to test for antibody activity as their functionality will be decreased and healthy cells and tissue will be more vulnerable. If the affected antibodies are found in deeper tissue, the disease symptoms will manifest more acutely. In some occasions, gum tissue may already be affected.
While diagnosis requires laboratory testing, below we share the symptoms which indicate pemphigus as a possibility. On a cellular level, pemphigus in dogs is assoicated with acantholysis, i.e. the breakdown of skin cells due to the deposits of malfunctioning antibodies.
Types of pemphigus in dogs
The type of pemphigus in dogs will be indicated by the location and description of its symptomatology. The main types of pemphigus are classified as follows:
- Pemphigus foliaceous: in this type of pemphigus, the antibodies are deposited in the outermost layers of the skin. In these cases, we mostly see superficial skin lesions. It is the most common type of pemphigus in canines.
- Pemphigus erythematosus: in this case, the lesions are usually combined. Superficial lesions akin to pemphigus foliaceus are noted, but ulcers are usually deeper in certain areas.
- Pemphigus vulgaris: this type of pemphigus in dogs presents with deeper and much more severe ulcers. It is usually more painful and can serious impair the dog's quality of life.
- Pemphigus vegetans: this is the rarest form of pemphigus and is considered a relatively benign version of pemphigus vulgaris. The lesions are less severe and most commonly affects the oral mucus membrane of dogs.
Signs and symptoms of pemphigus in dogs
The signs of canine pemphigus which we can observe on the dog's skin can also be differentiated by many factors. The immune system status of the individual dog will play a fundamental role in the extent of skin deterioration. The age, breed, diet and lifestyle of the dog are also very important factors in perceiving the development of the disease.
Signs and symptoms of pemphigus in dogs will depend on the type. We break them done in the following sections:
Pemphigus foliaceus symptoms in dogs
With this type of pemphigus in ears, paws and head area are normally most affected. Generalized skin issues and tissue damage can also be seen. Symptoms include:
- Scaly skin, superficial ulcers, pustules and skin redness
- Abnormal growths on the paw pads
- Fluid-filled sacs or cysts on the skin
- Pain, fever, malaise and claudication (leg cramps) due to feet problems
The image below shows a case of pemphigus foliaceous in a dog where it has mainly affected their head.
Symptoms of pemphigus erythematosus in dogs
In addition to similar lesions to pemphigus foliaceus, pemphigus erythematosus can be differentiated by loss of color in the lips. Generalized skin deterioration is also not common in this type of pemphigus as it mainly affects the head and face areas.
Symptoms of pemphigus vulgaris in dogs
As we mentioned earlier, this type of pemphigus is the most serious of all. Ulcers usually extend to all areas of the dog's skin and grow deeper into the skin. This is why symptoms also tend to affect the dog's psychological well-being as well as physical issues. Symptoms include:
- Weight loss/anorexia
- Lack of appetite (especially if mouth lesions are present)
- Secondary bacterial infections
- Excessive itching
Symptoms of pemphigus vegetans in dogs
This type of canine pemphigus has few or no symptoms of generalized disease. The lesions are usually suppurating and affect the mouth in most cases.
Is pemphigus in dogs contagious?
As an autoimmune disease, pemphigus in dogs is not contagious. At this point, it is important to remember that it is a skin pathology that occurs because certain antibodies stop performing their function to attack healthy cells and tissues. Therefore, there is no possibility of contagion.
While we know how pemphigus in dogs works, we do not well understand its cause. For this reason, it is very difficult to avoid. Monitoring for symptoms and carrying out a proper diagnosis are essential.
Diagnosis of pemphigus in dogs
The diagnosis of this skin disease is based on a correct anamnesis (looking at the dog's medical history and laboratory testing. Skin lesions have various causes other than autoimmune disease, so we need to ensure we find the correct cause. When a veterinarian suspects pemphigus, they will still need to consider other possibilities.
For appropriate pemphigus diagnosis, a biopsy will be taken and sent for analysis. The veterinarian will likely also carry out a scan with a Wood's lamp, a device used to look for fungal-associated conditions in the dog. Even if only affected skin can be observed, the veterinarian may carry out a blood test for a clearer picture.
There are two very important tests when diagnosing diseases of immunological origin. They are used when pemphigus enters the presumptive diagnosis. These tests (direct immunofluorescence and immunohistochemistry) make it possible to know for sure if there are immunoglobulin deposits affecting the tissue. Knowing is this is the case would greatly help the veterinarian to reach their final diagnosis.
Pemphigus in dogs treatment
To date, there is some controversy about the treatment of pemphigus in dogs. However, there is no doubt that immunosuppressive therapies are the safest and most widely used by veterinarians. There are several pharmacological strategies to combat immunomedical diseases. Glucocorticoids are seen to be one of the most successful treatment methods.
In addition to establishing immunosuppressive therapy, it must be taken into account whether lesions have secondary infections. In these cases, additional antibiotic treatment is appropriate. It has been reported that some patients with pemphigus may need lifelong supportive treatment. Likewise, it will be the specialist who will determine how to best heal the skin wounds and lesions produced by the disease.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to How to Treat Pemphigus in Dogs, we recommend you visit our Skin problems category.
1. Fukushima, K. (1982). Pathogenesis of Pemphigus Vulgaris in Dog and Man — A Review. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 23(4), 135-137.
2. Gonsalves-Hubers, T. (2005). Pemphigus erythematosus in a chow chow. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 46(10), 925-927.