How to Diagnose Autoimmune Disorders in Siberian Huskies
Some dog breeds are more likely to get specific genetic diseases. Dogs that have ideal traits for a breed may also carry the genes for a specific disease. These dogs are then bred with other dogs who also carry the genes for the same disease, thus raising the risk their offspring will also have it. An example of this is the Husky, which is a breed predisposed to an autoimmune disease that affects the skin and eyes. This condition is called uveodermatologic syndrome and it can lead to blindness and premature whitening of the coat.
Identifying Autoimmune Disease in Huskies
1. Look for symptoms on your husky's coat.
Uveodermatological syndrome may be suspected if patches of your husky's skin lose their pigment. This can occur on the head, such as on the nose, lips, hard palate, or eyelids. It can also show up on the scrotum or anus.
2. Look for symptoms in your dog's eyes.
Your dog's eyes may be red and itchy and it may have impaired vision. This can cause your dog to rub its eyes or to loose its ability to navigate around the house. The ocular signs can even come on rapidly over 24 hours and consist of sudden blindness.
3. Get a veterinary diagnosis.
A definitive diagnosis can be made by the vet taking a skin biopsy (removing a small pinch of skin) and sending it to a lab for analysis. The lab worker will pick out the absence of pigment cells and the presence of inflammatory cells. The biopsy will also rule out other problems that could mimic uveodermatological damage, such as skin cancer, allergies, or generalized inflammatory conditions.
- Your vet cannot do a biopsy of the eye to verify the diagnosis. Instead, the vet may start treatment with drugs to reduce inflammation, on the assumption that the condition is uveodermatologic syndrome. In addition, the vet may run tests to rule out conditions such as glaucoma (increased pressure within the eye) and a specialist may draw off a sample of fluid from inside the eye to rule out infection or cancer.
4. Get treatment for ocular uveodermatologic syndrome.
The ocular form may be treated with corticosteroids either as an eye drop, or injection or tablets. For severe cases additional immunosuppressive drugs may be needed, such as azathioprine.
- Swift treatment may reverse the inflammation and save the dog's sight. This means that after a careful examination and being reasonably confident there are no contra-indications for starting steroid treatment, the vet may start treatment on the basis of a strong suspicion and the chance to prevent blindness.
- Treatment is not necessarily warranted for the skin form, as the effects are purely cosmetic.
Screening for Autoimmune Disorders in Huskies
1. Discuss the risk of autoimmune disease in your pet with your vet.
Uveodermatologic syndrome is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is a condition that is not infectious or something the dog catches or acquires. It happens because the body's immune system turns on itself to attack normal tissue.
- The dog's immune system is designed to detect invading pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and attack and destroy them. The invader is called an "antigen" and it is this antigen that activates the immune system. To defend the body "antibodies" are produced, designed to deactivate and destroy the invading bacteria or virus.
- What happens in autoimmune disease is the body reads its own tissues as antigens (foreign materials or threats to health). It then mobilizes its defenses against these tissues in a case of mistaken identity.
2. Repeatedly screen dogs that are at higher risk of uveodermatologic syndrome.
Some breeds are at increased risk of this syndrome, including the Husky, Akita, and Samoyed. Here the immune system targets two specific areas, which are the melanocytes (pigment producing cells) in the skin and the delicate structures of the eye.
3. Track symptoms you suspect are caused by uveodermatologic syndrome on the skin.
Certain areas are the body are more likely to be affected and these include the nose, pads, eyelids, scrotum, lips, and hard palate. These areas stop producing pigment and so previously colored areas turn white. This is however only of cosmetic significance and is not painful or injurious to health.
- If these symptoms increase consult your veterinarian about the condition.
4. Take your dog to its vet immediately if you suspect its eyes are affected.
This is more serious than the skin form. The immune system attacks the eye leading to severe inflammation both externally (seen as the eye changing color or glowing red) and internally (loss of vision). The eye has limited ways to defend itself and the inflammation can lead to cloudiness across the cornea or front of the eye and also damage to the light-receptive layer at the back of the eye. Both of these impair vision and, if untreated, can lead to permanent blindness.