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Can You Naturally Treat Autoimmune Disease In Dogs?

Can You Naturally Treat Autoimmune Disease in Dogs?

Autoimmune disease in dogs does not just refer to one disease. Rather it is a general term for a number of disorders that can affect the dog’s body. But, in the most basic terms, it is any disease in which the dog’s immune system attacks otherwise healthy cells. Researchers refer to it as a canine autoimmune disease. There are several conventional treatment options that your vet may recommend. Natural remedies are also available, but can they be effective in managing the symptoms?


What is Autoimmune Disease?

Remember that the immune system is the natural system of defense in all mammals. It is responsible for targeting foreign cells within the mammalian body (broadly referred to as pathogens) and then using its system of white blood cells to destroy these pathogens. Furthermore, inflammation will also occur at the site of infection.


Unfortunately, canine autoimmune disease can affect one organ at a time or the entire functional system of the dog’s body. Consequently, your poor dog can be affected via their:


Endocrine system

This refers to the system of hormones and hormonal glands that are present in your dog’s body. It can result in a lack of corticosteroids production and leads to Addison’s disease, diabetes, or autoimmune thyroiditis.


Circulatory system

This refers to the vessels and arteries that carry oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood throughout the mammalian body as well as red and white blood cells. The circulatory system may result in autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) because the immune system is attacking its own red blood cells.


Integumentary system

This is the medical terminology for your dog’s skin (this includes all the various layers down to the underlying muscle and fat). It can result in pemphigus vulgaris or system lupus, whereby the immune system is attacking healthy skin cells.


Ocular system

This refers to your dog’s eyes. It can result in uveitis or dry eye.


Digestive system

This refers to your dog’s gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). It could result in inflammatory bowel disease.


Skeletal system

This can refer to your dog’s bones as well as their joints. This may result in rheumatoid arthritis.


As you can see, canine autoimmune disease can mean any number of conditions that share one common characteristic: an immune system that is malfunctioning. This fundamental malfunction is when the system targets normal, healthy cells and causes a host of underlying conditions and overlying symptoms.


Because there is no single autoimmune disease in dogs, it is extremely important to have a veterinarian make the final diagnosis to determine the precise condition. Once an accurate diagnosis has been made, then the proper treatment and management of symptoms can truly begin.


What Causes Autoimmune Disease in Dogs?

In order to better understand all these interconnected conditions, it is crucial that we understand what causes this immune system malfunction. Unfortunately, science and veterinary medicine do not completely know the answer to this question.


In many cases, we understand the mechanics of canine autoimmune disease but not what causes it. In other words, we know what happens once it starts but we do not always know why it starts. Some of these autoimmune diseases are remarkably common.


For example, many people do not realize that allergies are an autoimmune disease in all mammals, including dogs. As their owners, we can certainly sympathize with their plight if they experience an allergic reaction considering that most of us have suffered from this condition before.


allergic reaction

The main difference, however, is that humans tend to sneeze and have itchy eyes (or, in severe cases, suffer from anaphylaxis). Dogs, on the other hand, will manifest their allergies primarily on their skin. They develop red, inflamed skin that may develop ulcers and then result in secondary bacterial infections.


Still, we do not fully understand why any mammal develops allergies. Possibly it’s some kind of survival response to outside factors? Maybe it is a relic of our evolutionary history? Is it nature or nurture? None of these answers have been definitively answered yet.


However, we have been able to identify some culprits that may trigger autoimmune diseases in dogs. 


Possible Triggers of Canine Autoimmune Disease



This is an unfortunate risk factor as there is virtually nothing that a concerned owner can do, some dogs are simply predisposed to developing these conditions.

tick on a dog


We love to see our dogs run around and play outside, but there is a potential danger, hiding in the tall grass or trees. Ticks are blood-sucking parasites carry various diseases (most infamously Lyme disease) and may trigger autoimmune responses in the mammalian body.


Sulfa antibiotics

These are a common type of antibiotics that are prescribed to treat bacterial, urinary, or respiratory infections as well as various inflammatory conditions in the GI tract.


There is a fourth potential risk factor: vaccination booster injections. This is still a controversial topic in veterinary medicine, so it is always best to work with your veterinarian. Some dogs may be more sensitive to these booster injections than others, so it may be necessary to create custom vaccination plans fitting their specific needs.


What are the Symptoms?

Because the term “autoimmune disease” encompasses a broad range of various conditions, all of which have the same or similar underlying causes (a fundamental malfunction of the canine immune system), there is a wide range of symptoms that are associated with the disease. 


General canine autoimmune disease symptoms

  1. Weakness of the muscles
  2. Kidney dysfunction/failure
  3. Weight loss (known as anorexia in dogs)
  4. Pain in the abdomen
  5. Fever
  6. Low red blood cell count (otherwise known as anemia)
  7. Swollen lymph nodes
  8. Dry skin/dermatitis/dandruff
  9. Internal bleeding


These symptoms can range from mild to completely debilitating. Furthermore, they are shared by a number of conditions that your dog may be suffering from, so a trip to the veterinarian is the best way to ensure a proper diagnosis.


More specific canine autoimmune disease symptoms

Many of the specific diseases have their own set of symptoms that differ slightly from the list of general ones. For example, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a hereditary autoimmune disease.


This is where the dog’s immune system attacks otherwise healthy cells and tissues throughout the body. It most frequently affects Beagles, Collies, Afghan Hounds, Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Old English Sheepdogs, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Poodles.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) symptoms

  1. Joint/muscle pain (that may cause an inability to walk properly)
  2. Increase in urination and excessive thirst
  3. Lesions/ulcers on the skin, especially the feet and/or face
  4. Hair loss (known as alopecia)
  5. Anemia
  6. Fever
  7. Thyroid dysfunction
  8. Infections in the kidney
  9. Swollen lymph nodes
  10. Enlargement of the liver, kidney, and/or spleen


There is also autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) in which your dog’s immune system attacks its own red blood cells. Though any breed can develop the disease, Cocker Spaniels and Poodles are the most likely to suffer from AIHA.


Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) symptoms

  1. Lethargy/weakness
  2. Anorexia
  3. Increased heart rate and difficulty breathing
  4. Discoloration of the eyes, skin, and/or gums
  5. Fever
  6. Liver dysfunction (jaundice)
  7. Organ failure and collapse (in serious cases)


There are also various autoimmune diseases of the skin that can cause a variety of symptoms that are unrelated to those listed above. Here are four autoimmune skin disorders and their related symptoms:



This unfortunate skin disease can cause scaly skin, pus-filled sores, scabs, blisters, and ulcers (particularly at the mouth, nose, anus, and vagina). Certain breeds of dogs are predisposed to developing this condition, including Chow Chows, Akitas, Dachshunds, or Doberman Pinschers.


Bullous pemphigoid

Many people confuse this as a form of pemphigus, but it is actually a different kind of autoimmune disease. Its symptoms include large welts on the skin that are itchy and red as well as hives, blisters, and/or ulcers that form at the mouth, armpits, or groin.


Discoid lupus erythematosus

This form of lupus is probably related to SLE, but it only targets the nose and face. It causes a loss of pigmentation, dry/scaly skin, and bleeding sores around the nose.


Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-like syndrome

This is a rare, but serious, autoimmune skin disease. It causes a loss of pigmentation (the lips, eyelids, nose, footpads, and anus turn from black to white or pink) as well as eye disease and even blindness.


As you can see, canine autoimmune disease may be responsible for a whole host of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe to even fatal. Consequently, it is important to always monitor the health and function of your beloved pet and take them to a veterinarian immediately if they exhibit any signs of disease or distress.


Conventional Remedies for Autoimmune Disease

There are a number of potential treatments for the various forms of autoimmune disease that your dog may be facing. For the most part, however, they will consist of:

  1. Steroids – Especially corticosteroids like prednisone to decrease inflammation and autoimmune activity.
  2. Immunosuppressive drugs – The three most common are azathioprine, cyclophosphamide or cyclosporine.
  3. Antibiotics – These are prescribed in order to treat the various secondary infections that arise as a result of the lesions and/or ulcerations on the skin and vulnerable tissues of your dog’s body.


natural remedies for autoimmune disease in dogs

Natural Remedies for Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

However, there are some natural remedies that can provide a tremendous amount of relief to the various symptoms and problems associated with an autoimmune disease in dogs. They vary in their efficacy and should always be developed under the guidance of a veterinarian. They include:


  • Giving your dog massage and/or acupuncture therapy


  • Hydrotherapy is especially effective for arthritis pain


  • Various supplements, including turmeric (a potent anti-inflammatory), Omega-3 fatty acid, Vitamin E, Selenium, Vitamin C, and/or a probiotic


  • Feeding your dog a diet of unprocessed food that is rich in nutrients and free of preservatives, hormones, or antibiotics


  • Avoid giving them any food with ethoxyquin or BHA


  • Avoiding any foods that your dog may be allergic to (as they get older, it may be necessary to have them tested)


When combined with a more conventional treatment regimen, these various natural remedies can help manage your dog’s symptoms and potential discomfort caused by autoimmune disease.


However, it should be noted that treatment plans must always be customized to the specific needs of each afflicted dog. Due to the wide variety of underlying disorders, they may require various medications outside of the three most common. For example, the conditions known as hemolytic anemia and thrombocytopenia may potentially require a blood transfusion and the removal of your dog’s spleen.


Consequently, it is important that a veterinarian do a complete diagnosis of the affected dog in order to determine the best course of action. This will ensure that the treatment, most likely a combination of conventional medications and natural remedies, will target and treat the specific autoimmune dysfunction that your dog may be suffering from.


What is CBD Oil?

Cannabidiol oil (CBD oil) is an extract of the cannabis plant. It belongs to the group of chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. These cannabinoids play various important roles in the mammalian body due to their interaction with and activation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a regulation and control network that is spread throughout your dog’s body. It oversees the healthy function of their mental states, sleep cycles, pain response, immune system, digestion, and metabolism.


The applicability of CBD oil is nothing short of amazing. It has such a wide variety of uses and is remarkably well tolerated by your dog and its metabolism. Furthermore, it has little to no reported side effects and is generally considered to be safe. There are a variety of CBD products available for dogs, such as CBD tinctures, CBD treats, CBD capsules, and CBD topicals.


Can CBD Oil Be Beneficial for Dogs with Autoimmune Disease?

In short, CBD is not meant to prevent, treat, or cure any disease. However it may be helpful to know that CBD oil interacts with your dog’s ECS to create a state of balance and overall wellness known as homeostasis. This is just a fancy way of saying that the various systems in your dog’s body (including their immune system) are functioning properly and at full capacity.


The exact mechanism of this interaction is complex, but it basically comes down to several molecules regulated by the ECS.


CBD dog


Inflammatory cytokines

Inflammatory cytokines are a part of the mammalian immune system and are responsible for the inflammatory response that causes allergies, hypersensitivities, and autoimmune disease.


Th17 dominance mechanism

Th17 dominance is a major cause of rheumatoid arthritis and some other forms of canine autoimmune disease. This mechanism refers to the subset of a group of inflammatory immunes system cells known as T helper cells which are responsible for the production of interleukin 17.


Inflammatory macrophage production

Inflammatory macrophages are a type of white blood cell that are sent by the mammalian immune system to surround, engulf, and break down various pathogens in the body. In other words, macrophages attack and “eat” any cells that are not normally in your dog’s body.


Free radicals

Free radicals are natural byproducts of cellular metabolism and can cause various types of inflammation in the mammalian body.



The use of CBD oil is still being researched, and is not an approved for the prevention, treatment, or cure of any diseases. It is best to conduct your own research and decide if it is the right choice for your dog. For information regarding specific dosage size, check out this easy-to-use dosing chart.









Marcin Ossowski

Marcin Ossowski is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, California. He graduated from UCLA in 2007 with a major in linguistics and a minor in biology. During his time there, he undertook original research in neurolinguistics and cognitive science, specifically focusing on language disorders and dementia. Over the past decade, he has worked as a writer and researcher for several political consulting firms, taught English abroad in Poland, and ghostwritten two books. In his downtime, Marcin spends a lot of time outdoors and actively pursuing his passion for writing fiction, creative nonfiction, and satire.

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