AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES IN DOGS and a natural approach

The immune system is a complex defence network of white blood cells, antibodies, and other substances that fight off infections and reject foreign proteins. In dogs with auto-immune disease, the immune system fails to recognize itself and begins to attack and reject the body's own tissue as foreign. Common symptoms can include intense soreness in certain parts of the body, itchy, flaky skin, inflamed ears, excessive licking of the front paws, and swelling of the toes.  While actual causes are not truly known, it is believed that the following may all give rise to an autoimmune disease: viral challenge and other microbial infections, environmental toxins, vaccination, overuse of antibiotics and steroids as well as chemical parasite products, trauma and deep chronic stress and nutritional deficiency/inappropriate diet.  In particular, there is a very strong link between vaccination and autoimmune conditions and genetics may also play a role. Any process that damages the immune system can be a causative factor and as you can see, this can be a complex condition to treat.

An auto-immune disease can be signalled by a range of symptoms, any of which might signal an onset. Commonly, there may be an intense soreness in certain parts of the body, often demonstrated by a "protecting," during which the dog behaves as if keeping a certain body part untouched is a matter of life and death!! For instance, a soreness of the thyroid (a butterfly-shaped gland in the throat) might be cause for concern, as might an irritated or swollen rear quarter, illustrated by a licking or dragging of the hind paw. Itchy, flaky skin, inflamed ears, excessive licking of the front paws, and swelling of the toes may also present as can:

  • Lethargy
  • General      state of weakness
  • Anaemia
  • Seizures
  • Foul      body odour
  • Diarrhoea
  • Lack of      appetite

Any dog that is suffering from an autoimmune disease is also at risk of developing hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). Thyroid hormones affect almost every organ in the body and therefore, many signs of this disease can be common. These include lethargy, depression, obesity (despite normal feeding amounts), hair loss, skin and ear infections, and weak or torn knee ligaments. Should this disease be suspected, initial screening blood work by your vet should be performed.

Common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA). In      this disorder, the pet forms antibodies against its own red blood cells,      causing anaemia.
  • Hypothyroidism. The      pet forms antibodies against its thyroid gland.
  • Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP). In      this disorder, the pet forms antibodies against its own platelets, causing      reduced blood-clotting ability.
  • Inflammatory      bowel disease (IBD)- the immune system invades and attacks      the digestive tissues
  • Pemphigus. A      number of disorders make up the pemphigus complex of diseases. In these      disorders, the pet forms antibodies against its skin.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). In      this disorder, the pet forms antibodies against its own joint tissues,      causing lameness and arthritis.
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). Also      called lupus, in this disorder, the pet forms antibodies against a number      of its tissues, including blood cells, skin, and the kidneys.
  •  Diabetes      mellitus. Also      believed to have a link to autoimmune cause

A generalised auto-immune disorder will often show as inflammation of the body orifices and of the toe-nail beds, since these tissues are rapidly multiplying and are therefore the most vulnerable. This is called ‘pemphigus’. Some types can ‘target’ specific organs or tissues and are characterised by the breakdown in the involved tissues, leading to serious malfunction. Obviously, more vital an organ or tissue involved, the more serious the disease.


Natural approach to treatment:

The conventional treatment for autoimmune disease in dogs focuses on the inhibition of the hyper(over)active immune system. A vet will usually recommend corticosteroids, such as prednisone or prednisolone which of course are not without their side effects. Using a natural approach can be beneficial to help support the body especially if conventional medications are being used as well as helping to address underlying causes.

It is of course important to get an accurate diagnosis of the condition to be fully aware of how to approach treatment and always remember to work in with your vet with any natural regime, where possible. This is especially important with autoimmune conditions as they are multifaceted and regular monitoring of blood levels etc is necessary.


*Transition to clean raw diet – for most dogs with an autoimmune condition, this will be suitable. However, some dogs, especially those with inflammatory bowel disease, may benefit from lightly cooked foods. This must be decided on a case by case basis. Regardless of whether raw or cooked, foods must be as free as possible of all preservatives and chemicals

*Liver/Bowel cleansing using herbs, chlorophyll (helpful to remove many toxins including heavy metals ).

*General detoxification of other major elimination channels including kidneys and lymphatics. A vaccine ‘detox’ (I like to use a homoeopathic one) is also highly recommended if conventional vaccines have been administered at ANY time.

*Herbal microbial control for underlying viral/bacterial load if this is an issue

* Heal and rebalance gut immunity (gut healing powders, probiotics, enzymes) – around 80% of the immune system resides in the gut tissues!

*Immune support – Medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi,  Zinc, Vitamin C, herbs. These work to balance out the immune system

*Control and regulate the inflammatory processes as this is a key factor in treatment (Quercetin, herbs such as Turmeric, Phellodendron)

* Control stress response via nervous and endocrine systems with herbs and nutritionals including B complex vitamins and magnesium.


*Feeding a natural diet and eliminating as many toxins and chemicals and medications from your dog’s body and environment is one of the best ways to help keep the immune system healthy and prevent or treat autoimmune disease



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