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What is Systemic Autoimmune Disease?

Systemic autoimmune disease is rare and occurs at any age. It occurs when high levels of antigen-antibody complexes form and deposit throughout the body, attacking cells, organs and tissues as they would normally attack diseases.

Systemic autoimmune disease refers to a number of autoimmune diseases in which a dog’s immune system begins to fight itself and its own protective antibodies, attacking its cells, organs, and tissues.

Systemic Autoimmune Disease Average Cost

From 2 quotes ranging from $650 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,400

Symptoms of Systemic Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

Symptoms may vary widely, depending upon the location of the immune complexes. Common symptoms across all types include:

  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Fever

Additional symptoms are specific to certain types and are distinguished by the bodily system affected.

Hypoadrenocorticism (Addisons Disease)

Occurs when antibodies attack a dog’s adrenal gland. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Collapse and shock
  • Kidney failure
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Increased thirst and/or urine production

Hemolytic Anemia

Occurs when antibodies attack a dog’s red blood cells. Symptoms include:

  • Anemia
  • Free hemoglobin in blood and urine
  • Jaundice
  • Lethargy
  • Blue, reddened, swollen, ulcerated or crusted extremities
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen spleen

Systemic Lupus Erythematous (Lupus)

Is a multiple organ autoimmune disease that occurs when antibodies attack cells, organs and tissues throughout a dog’s body. Symptoms can vary according to the disease’s progression and the sites affected although they include:

  • Arthritis in multiple joints
  • Hair loss
  • Production of dandruff
  • Skin ulcerations and crusting of extremities
  • High body temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss

Thrombocytopenia

Occurs when antibodies attack a dog’s platelets, hindering the blood’s ability to clot properly. Can occur as a secondary condition to Systemic lupus erythematosus. Symptoms include:

  • Hemorrhages and/or internal bleeding
  • Nosebleeds

Myasthenia Gravis

Occurs when antibodies attack acetylcholine receptors in your dog’s muscles. Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter that controls muscle function. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Disinterest in exercise
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation of food

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Occurs when antibodies attack immunoglobulin G, which regulates your dog’s circulation. Symptoms include:

  • Lameness
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swollen joints
  • Restricted or nonexistent joint movement
  • Dislocated joints
  • A clicking, cracking or grating sound when joints are manipulated

Lymphocytic Thyroiditis

Occurs when antibodies attack your dog’s thyroid. Symptoms include:

  • Hair loss
  • Thinning skin
  • Muscle weakness
  • Slow heart rate
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry eye
  • Hyperpigmentation of skin
  • Dandruff
  • Lethargy
  • Obesity
  • Cold intolerance
  • Fat deposits in the corner of the eye

Bullous Autoimmune Skin Disease

Occurs when antibodies attack your dog’s skin. Subsets and their symptoms are as follows:

  • Pemphigus Vulgaris
    • Erosions/ulcers around orifices which secrete discharge and crust over
    • Depression
    • Lack of appetite
  • Pemphigus Foliaceus
    • Pustules under skin surface
    • Crusting
    • Dandruff
    • Loss of hair
    • Excessive itchiness/scratching
    • Hyperpigmentation, typically black in color
    • Peeling foot pads
    • Often found in the head and nose
  • Pemphigus Vegetans
    • Pustules
    • Crusting
    • Formation of papilloma, what looks like small warts
    • Often found in groin area
  • Pemphigus Erythematosus
    • Sores secreting discharge
    • Crusting
    • Excessive itchiness/scratching
    • Often found around the eyes, ears, and bridge of the nose
  • Bullous Pemphigoid
    • Erosions/ulcers around orifices which secrete discharge and crust over
    • Depression
    • Lack of appetite
    • High body temperature
Breeds Affected
  • Autoimmune Haemolytic Anemia
    • Breeds

      - most often found in Cocker Spaniel, Old English Sheepdog, and Poodle breeds

    • Gender

      - Is more often found in female than male dogs

  • Autoimmune Thrombocytopenia
    • Breeds

      - most often found in the Poodle breed

    • Gender

      - Is more often found in female than male dogs

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
    • Breeds

      - most often found in German Shepherd and Poodle breeds

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • Breeds

      - most often found in toy breeds

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Causes of Systemic Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

There is no identifiable cause of systemic autoimmune disease. While not a cause, ultraviolet light can exacerbate the disease.

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Diagnosis of Systemic Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

Diagnosis of systemic autoimmune disease is difficult, as all dogs don’t exhibit the same symptoms, and many symptoms overlap with other diseases.

The veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive blood panel measuring complete blood count in order to measure red and white blood cells and determine if your dog has a low platelet count, low blood cortisol, and blood chemistries in order to determine if your dog tests positive for anti-nuclear antibodies, thyroid hormone levels, high plasma potassium concentrations, high calcium concentrations, high blood urea and creatinine. These blood metrics will determine if you dog has a systemic autoimmune disease, and if so, what type. For instance, a positive anti-nuclear antibodies test indicates lupus, a low platelet count indicates thrombocytopenia, low thyroid hormone level indicates lymphocytic thyroiditis.

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Treatment of Systemic Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

Your dog may or may not require hospitalization, depending on the severity of the symptoms. In cases of extreme red blood cell destruction, your dog will need to be hospitalized in order to manage red blood cell levels. However, in many situations, the disease can be treated on an outpatient basis. Corticosteroids like prednisone are prescribed to decrease inflammation and autoimmune activity. Often, this will be supplemented with a secondary immunosuppressant, such as azathioprine, cyclophosphamide or cyclosporine. Additional treatment will depend upon the type of autoimmune disease.

  • Hypoadrenocorticism

    - Requires long-term mineralcorticoid therapy, likely with fludrocortisone acetate, in order to restore salt and water balances.

  • Hemolytic Anemia and Thrombocytopenia

    - May or may not require a blood transfusion and surgical removal of your dog’s spleen.

  • Myasthenia Gravis

    - Requires cholinesterase inhibiters, such as pyridostigmine bromide, injected daily.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

    - Requires aspirin, only in the absence of lupus and thrombocytopenia. Additionally, your dog will be prescribed cytotoxic drugs (or antineoplastics), which target and attack the dangerous antibodies. Common cytotoxics include azathioprine and cyclophosphamide. An additional tactic may be gold salt therapy, which helps to reduce further inflammation and slow progression of the disease.

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematous (Lupus)

    - Requires cytotoxic drugs, such as azathioprine and cyclophosphamide.

  • Lymphocytic Thyroiditis

    - Requires synthetic thyroid hormone replacement therapy to return to normal thyroid functioning.

  • Bullous Autoimmune Skin Disease

    - Requires cytotoxic drugs azathioprine or cyclophosphamide, gold salt therapy, and limiting exposure to sunlight. Autoimmune skin diseases are exacerbated by ultraviolet light.

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Recovery of Systemic Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

Prognosis of dogs with systemic autoimmune disease varies widely, with some dogs dying of complications and others living a relatively healthy life with treatment. However, treatment will likely be necessary for your dog’s entire life. You must monitor you dog carefully for symptoms of side effects, and the veterinarian will likely require frequent checkups in order to make sure the treatment is appropriate. The frequency of checkups will likely decrease over time.

When you dog comes home, it is important to provide a comfortable, quiet space for recovery, possibly in a cage, until your dog is healthy enough to move around more. Continue to be aware of your dog’s exposure to sunlight, limiting outdoor exercise to dawn and twilight times. Other specific treatments will require additional precautions. For instance, in the case of kidney complications, the veterinarian will likely prescribe a specific diet.

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Systemic Autoimmune Disease Average Cost

From 2 quotes ranging from $650 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,400

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Systemic Autoimmune Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Bella

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Miniature Australian Shepherd

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4 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

See Above
Above

Our healthy, spunky, lively 10-11 lb 4 year old dog began having atypical seizures on May 13. She would seem to freeze and her let would involuntarily stick out and her neck would be frozen. The vet did an mri, spinal fluid test,infectious disease test as well as blood work and all came back negative. She was put on 250 mg Keppra, and seizures continued, the vet lowered Keppra to 125 mg and added 2.5 mg of prednisone and they stopped. She has had horrible side effects of one or the other but is now doing better. Sleepy a lot and not herself but no more head bobbing and drunk walking. The vet wants to up the prednisone to 5 by the infectious disease test was negative. Any advice? I want to drop Keppra to body weight dose. And use prednisone short term. What are your thoughts. Should we do auto immune disease testing? Are they accurate?

May 24, 2018

Bella's Owner

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You should follow the instructions from your Veterinarian, generally when it comes to autoimmune diseases a presumptive diagnosis may be made by response to steroid therapy. If you’re having concerns, you should consider consulting with a Neurologist to help specifically narrow in on a possible diagnosis; without examining Bella myself I cannot second guess a diagnosis or treatment offered by your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 25, 2018

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Mia

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Bully Dog

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6 Years

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Critical severity

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1 found helpful

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Thirst
Blistering And Scabs On Edge Of Ear
Same On Bridge Of Nose
Same On Her Back
Blistering On Foot Pads
Large White Leisons On Tongue

Mia has been diagnosed with erythema multiforme. She had blisters that scabbed along her back, edge of ears (that had been cropped) bridge of her nose and the pads of her feet (the pads eventually sluffed off). She has been on 30 mg prednisone 2 x daily with good success after several months. The effects of prednisone are wasting of muscle, "huge" liver causing belly to hang and sway in her back, she is tied and depressed. the day she was cleared to begin lowering the dose of prednisone we found large white lesions on the edge and underside of her tongue. At this point our vet has done research and consultations but this is so rare that they have done all they able to, her prognosis is grim. Do you have any information or experience with erythema multiforme?

March 14, 2018

Mia's Owner

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1 Recommendations

Erythema multiforme is not a well understood condition, it is a autoimmune disease which may be triggered by infections, parasites, allergies among other factors; treatment is usually centered around removing the triggers and immunosuppression with prednisolone, azathioprine, pentoxifylline or cyclosporine along with dietary management. I cannot really find any information from a reputable source apart from the link below to share with you. I would recommend that you consult with a Veterinary Dermatologist about this condition, the second link is to a directory of board certified Veterinary Dermatologists. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/erythema-multiforme-dogs-and-cats-proceedings www.acvd.org/tools/locator/locator.asp?ids=16_Find_Dermatologist

March 14, 2018

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Zoe

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Chinese Crested/chihuahua

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8 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Collapse
Wobbly Rear Gait
Dry Eyes
Yellow Crusty Eyes
Unbalanced Gait

Adopted a puppy from a NJ humane society. She was a transfer from a Georgia shelter. She was spayed in NJ and also had a stomach hernia surgery the week prior to our adoption. Took her home. Very mellow. Figured it was the cone making her “chill”. Few days later, took the cone off. She got around fine, acted fine, would jump off our bed but never onto it. She had a cough. Took her to vet. Diagnosed as kennel cough. Got treatment. Had blood work done, came back 17.5 RBC. Two days later we had a recheck, 17. Began prednisone. Yesterday marked a week of prednisone, had a recheck - 17.9. Her balance was TERRIBLE and very concerning. Took her to emergency vet last night. They checked her RBC this morning - 23. Her gait is still horrible. We went up to visit her this evening... dry crusty eyes, dried boogers inside her nose, wobbly legs, appeared very thirsty,... that vet is saying without MRI, ct scan and spinal tap there’s not much else... so we are trying antibiotics tonight and they are going to watch her overnight. They are focused on the apparent neurological issues but what about the anemia??? Please help. Read more at: https://wagwalking.com/condition/systemic-autoimmune-disease

Feb. 28, 2018

Zoe's Owner


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Since I haven’t examined Zoe myself, it is difficult to determine the rationale for an MRI or CT scan but I think that the Veterinarians there are wanting to rule out some congenital disorders which may cause the neurological symptoms as it isn’t uncommon in small breed dogs. However, the anaemia is being treated it seems and if it is responding to prednisone then it may be immune mediated haemolytic anaemia, but I cannot say with any certainty; but if the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood gets too low it may cause neurological symptoms but again I cannot say if that is the case here. I would look for another Veterinarian to check Zoe over to see if they come to a different course of action. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Feb. 28, 2018

Thank you. Additional blood test results came back on Thursday showing “micoplasma”, which the ER vet said could be the cause behind the anemia and neurological symptoms. She is now home, on 3 antibiotics. Crusty eyes are better but now she’s very squinty, and refuses to drink. She is still unsteady and flips around like a fish out of water.

March 3, 2018

Zoe's Owner

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Misty

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Rottweiler

dog-age-icon

4 Years

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Mild severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Loss Of Appetite
Swollen Joints

Initial symptom was only lameness of her left hind leg, but soon turned into the remaining symptoms. All symptoms diminished to unnoticeable levels soon after beginning the regimen. It has now been 3 months off of all but the Prednisone, and that has been weaned from 2 10mg tablets per day to 1 2.5mg every 3 days.Internist still has not given a pinpoint diagnosis.

Feb. 20, 2018

Misty's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to pin down and their presentation can look like many other conditions which is why initial treatment in some cases is ineffective. With autoimmune conditions like polyarthritis, myositis among others; treatment is based on immunosuppression and looking for an improvement in the symptoms (pain management may also be required). I cannot give you any diagnosis over the internet for a condition like this but it does seem to be autoimmune related. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Feb. 20, 2018

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Duncan

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yellow labrador retriever

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11 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

I am going to take a dog (Yellow Lab) into my home for a week who has auto immune disease of the spine. She is 11+ years old. she is being treated with Gabapentin 2x day to manage pain and a very small dose of prednisone. Apparently, because of these medications she is susceptible to infections. She was told not to go to dog parks and socialize with others. I have a friend who would like me to watch her healthy 6 year lab for a couple of days overlapping. Do you think that it would be safe to have the two dogs in the same house? I could keep them in separate rooms if necessary, especially I would at night, and not leave them unsupervised when together? What are your thoughts?

Feb. 5, 2018

Duncan's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Both gabapentin and prednisone have immunosuppressive qualities; however the extent of the immunosuppression cannot be determined, unless there is a history of contracting infections. If the owner has voiced concerns about socialising with other dogs I would follow their concerns; whilst small doses of prednisone have minimal immunosuppressive effects, it is best to keep the dog separated from a legal perspective just in case. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Feb. 6, 2018

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Molly

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Pekingese x poodle

dog-age-icon

6 Years

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Anemia
Fever
Limping
Lump
Swollen Joints
Swollen Lymph Glands
Pyometra
Mouth Ulcers
Shedding?

My always healthy Molly started limping lightly on her left front leg. We checked her paw, found nothing. A few days passed and it didn't get better, on the contrary. So we took her to the vet. He diagnosed it as a hematoma and gave her Loxicom. Next day she were much better, almost no limping at all. Again a few days passed and suddenly she refused to walk, now her right elbow were swollen. The vet said it were an infection, as she had a slight fever, and gave antibiotics. Again a few days passed, no improvment, so on to another vet for a second opinion. Here they found a fever of 44ºC and an extremely infected and pus filled uterus. They recommended surgery, but were not sure they could save her as it could rupture under the procedure. Lukely it did not, and for about a week she seemed better, but still not walking. The vet now suspected tick born diseases, but suggested a second oppion(vet clinic specializing in diagnosis), as Molly now were so thin she could not withstand too much experimentation. The third vet found pain i her elbows, shoulders and neck. They said tick diseases were highly unlikely and suggested a biopsy. They sent the sample to a laboratory for testing, but said it were polyarthritis and gave us Prednisolone, doxycycline and omeprazole, to keep the symptoms at bay until we got the answers. In the week that followed we were at det vet every second day, her fever had returned and medication could only just get it down to 39. She developed hives, Mouth Ulcers and red marks on her skin. She had an allergic reaction to the medication. The results of the biopsy came back, ..nothing. She was admitted for a week. Her red blood levels kept falling, down to 17%, just as we where about to give up, and let her have peace, her blood level started to increase, as they tried different medication. A few days later we got her home. She is now on Omeprazole, Prednisolone, Marbocyl and Atopica, and is very slowly getting better, but she has had to go on and off the Marbocyl because of infections in her bladder. Her blod level is almost normal, but her infection numbers are still very high and almost not decreasing. She now has a soft lump on her right side of the abdomen. She has alway been a very energetic dog, and enjoyed 2-3 hour daily walks, now she is very thin, has almost no muscles and can barely handle 5 minutes. All tests have come back negative, What could this be? And what is this lump?

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Luna

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Italian Greyhound

dog-age-icon

4 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Eyelids, Cysts, Lumps

Our Iggy (4yo) had several biopsies on a cyst and lump on her back and a skin biopsy on her eyelid Friday 12.21.19, hoping for results 12.23.19/12.24.19 Monday/Tuesday. Started out with what we thought was an eye allergy as both her eyelids were so swollen, then after a week our vet thought it turned into an eye infection as her lids were bleeding a bit due to some crusting. Anitiobiotic and antihistamines drops perscribed to no improvement after almost 2 weeks. She does not have demodex. Any direction would be so helpful.

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Reagan

dog-breed-icon

German Shepard lab mix

dog-age-icon

1 Year

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling
Pain
Fever
Lethargy
Loss Of Appetite
Swollen Joints

So my puppy just turned 1 years old. She was perfectly fine... so we thought. However about three weeks ago she just suddenly became I'll. I took her to the vet and they said it was growing pains. After three days I got a second opinion. It most certainly was not growing pains. She is on prednisone, stomach coasters, antibiotics and something else that's supposed to stop the immune system from attacking itself. She keeps spiking fevers if we try to wean her off the prednisone, stops eating and drinking and has an extreme amount of pain. The new vet thinks its autoimmune but doesnt know what started it or how it stop it we are trying everything. She does well if we keep her on the prednisone but she cant stay on for life. Her WBC keeps going up too. She has dandruff also that's new. Can anyone help?!

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Bella

dog-breed-icon

Fox Terrier

dog-age-icon

7 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lump

My daughter's 7 year old fox terrier, Bella, had been vaccinated within the last couple of weeks. About a week or so later, she started acting lethargic. She was like that for about 2 days, then was back to normal. The next day, my daughter noticed a lump on Bella's back, right leg. It was a little firm, approximately 1.5" to 2" in diameter. About 2 nights later, Bella yelped and my daughter noticed that the lump was gone but the skin was discolored... a very dark redish brown color. It appeared whatever the lump was, it was filled with blood, had burst, and was now spreading in her system because the discoloration spread over maybe 4" of her hind end by her leg. By the next morning, Bella's right leg was swollen and the discoloration was covering the back of her thigh (the lump was originally in the front of her leg) and was very dark. Bella couldn't put weight on it and she was clearly uncomfortable. My daughter took Bella to the vet that morning and he took xrays (which showed everything was normal) and did some blood work, which showed her platelets were low, although I don't know the number. He suspected autoimmune disease so he put Bella on Prednisone. I don't know what the dosage is though. He told her the next 36 hours will be crucial and to watch her closely. That night, the dark discoloration looked like it was easing up. By the next morning, Bella was able to go up and down the stairs, she was eating and drinking (drinking more than usual because of the meds, we're told), and was appearing to be feeling quite a bit better. The discoloration had spread more but it was more of a fading, not nearly as dark as it was. The vet wants to see Bella again tomorrow (which would be two days after the initial visit) to take another blood test to see how her platelets are doing. Her temperature was normal at the vet's office, she's not had any issue with eating or drinking, she's urinating fine, her bowel movements slowed down in the 24 hour period from when the lump burst till the next night, but she did have one the day after it burst. She hasn't vomited or anything like that. The only symptom my daughter noticed was the lump which ended up bursting, and a few days before when Bella was lethargic for about 2 days. Other than that, she's been normal. My question is (after reading some of the other answers here), is there any chance that it's not an autoimmune issue but some kind of weird reaction to the vaccination? What else could cause a lump filled with blood to suddenly appear? The vet did say Bella is still bleeding internally, but it appears to us that it's clearing up since she started the Prednisone the day before. One more thing, my daughter told me this evening (which is two days after the lump burst, one day after the vet saw her) she found a lump again in the same spot as before so we don't know if it's a new one or the same one that was there all along.

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vegas

dog-breed-icon

Cane Corso

dog-age-icon

6 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pustules
Low Energy
Holes
Leaking
Been Sick For 3 Months

After getting a puppy from a friend, puppy was fine for 4months, right after second round of vaccinations puppy started to retain water and become lethargic, first round of vet visits, no diagnosis, was prescribed antibiotics, nothing changed, second round of pet visits, more antibiotics and anti parasite and worm drugs, still no diagnosis and no change, third vet visit, another round of tests no diagnosis, start steroids, seems to be getting better, swelling going down, then skin ruptures and extreme leaking of puss and liquid. Puppy still low weight and uncomfortable, I dont get it? X-rays, blood tests, ultra sounds and biopsys and still nothing, Help!

Systemic Autoimmune Disease Average Cost

From 2 quotes ranging from $650 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,400

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