Ask A Vet: Help! My Dog Has Auto-Immune Disease. What is it?

If your vet tells you that your dog has an auto-immune disease, don’t panic. You need information to help you know what is coming and it might help you to have some background. Here is the scoop on Immune Mediated Disorders.

It is the job of a body’s immune system to protect it from disease. Part of the job of this miraculous system is to mobilize killer cells and direct them to targets so they can eliminate them from the body. The immune system uses specific markers to guide the cells’ attack. These immune complexes can mark the surface of an infected or cancerous cell to draw the immune response for the continued well-being of the whole body.

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Occasionally, the immune complexes can be erroneously deposited on the surface of normal organs. These normal organs will then be besieged instead and this misguided attack is what we called Immune Mediated Disorder.

This class of disorders was formerly referred to as “Auto-immune Disease” and they are still widely recognized by this name, but because the immune cells themselves are merely performing what they are told and the real trouble lies in the marking of target cells, it is more accurate to term them Immune Mediated Disorders.

Most cases of immune-mediated disorder are idiopathic, meaning no underlying cause can be defined. Some cases have been linked to medications or other triggers, but often the trigger is never identified.

Some examples of immunity mediated disorders include: immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, and other issues associated with the cells of the blood and disorders of many other body systems, including joints, kidneys, skin and muscle. You might recognize some of the more common ones:

  • Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia affects the red blood cells.
  • Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia decreases the number of blood platelets, responsible for blot clotting.
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a multi-system disorder that can affect blood, joints, skin and nervous system.
  • Pemphigus Foliaceus is an immune mediated disorder of the skin characterized by blisters or skin lesions.

If your dog is thought to be suffering from an immune-mediated disorder, your veterinarian will order a series of tests specific to the type of disorder suspected. Once the exact characteristics of the individual disease or identify, therapy can be instituted.

Several immune suppressant medications are available and your veterinarian will advise you which is appropriate for your specific dog and disease. Remember, your dog’s immune system is a honed killer that has always defended him/her, but now things have gone awry. There are medications to dampen the immune response and alleviate symptoms. Even though there is often not a complete cure, remission and return to good quality of life can be achieved. If you do not understand your dog’s diagnosis or feel unsure about your instructions, never hesitate to ask your veterinary team for help. Your dog’s life may depend on your partnership with them and communication is critical to a positive outcome.

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