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How to Treat Autoimmune Disorders in Siberian Huskies
An autoimmune disorder occurs when the body’s immune system attacks itself. For unknown reasons, the immune system destroys normal, healthy cells instead of foreign cells.Siberian Huskies, like other Nordic dog breeds (i.e., Samoyeds, Akitas), can develop an autoimmune disorder called uveodermatologic syndrome, during which the body’s pigmented cells are attacked.Uveodermatologic syndrome requires immediate treatment so, if your Husky has this condition, do not delay in getting him treated.
Examine your husky’s skin.Uveodermatologic syndrome targets the pigmented cells in a husky’s eyes and skin.Loss of pigmentation around the nose, eyes, lips, and anus is usually one of the first signs husky owners notice on their dogs.The footpads and scrotum can also lose pigmentation.
- In the areas that have lost pigmentation, you may also notice hair loss.
Determine if your husky is losing his vision.Vision loss, which can be sudden, is another common sign of uveodermatologic syndrome.If your husky is bumping into the furniture or walls around your home, he is probably losing his vision. Vision loss could make his walks more challenging.
- Uveodermatologic syndrome can cause irreversible blindness due to an increased loss of pigmented cells.
Look at your husky’s eyes.Uveodermatologic syndrome can cause many changes in the eye, some of which you will see, and some that occur deeper in the eye. Noticeable eye changes include a cloudy and fluid-filled cornea, enlarged blood vessels in the sclera (the white of the eye), and a swollen iris (colored part of the eye).Your husky may squint his eyes, since they will be more sensitive to light with this syndrome. You may also see tears coming from his eyes.
- Deeper in the eye, your husky’s retina (multiple layers composed of light-sensitive nerve cells) could detach from the middle part of the eye. This occurs when the syndrome is severe.
- Your vet would be able to detect the changes occurring deep within your husky’s eyes.
Take your husky to the vet.As soon as you notice signs of uveodermatologic syndrome, take your husky to your vet for a diagnosis. Your vet will do a general physical exam and an eye exam. In addition, they will analyze your husky’s blood and urine, both of which will likely be normal. Your vet will also take some skin samples that will be analyzed by a veterinary specialist.
- The skin sample will be a skin biopsy, taking in an area of affected skin. Your vet will apply a local anesthetic (numbing agent) to the area before taking the biopsy. If your vet wants to take a skin sample from the eye area, your husky would need be fully sedated or anesthetized.
Treating Your Husky’s Autoimmune Disorder
Start treatment immediately.Uveodermatologic syndrome requires immediate treatment to prevent permanent eye damage.Treatment is focused on suppressing the immune system to stop the attack on pigmented cells. Treatment is aggressive at first, then gets tapered over time.
- Several immunosuppressant drugs are available. Your vet will determine which immunosuppressant drugs will work for your husky, along with their dosages.
- Steroids, which suppress the immune system, are commonly used to treat uveodermatologic syndrome. They are given as eye drops, injections into the conjunctiva (the inner lining of the eyelid), or by mouth.
- Treatment for uveodermatologic syndrome is lifelong.
Administer medications as prescribed.Your vet will show you how to give your husky his treatment. Initially, he will need several medications to get the syndrome under control, so be very diligent about administering all of his medications.You may notice your husky responding rapidly to the treatment, but this response may not last very long.
- If your husky needs eye injections, your vet will likely perform them.
- You can give your husky pills or eye drops on your own.
Take your husky to your vet regularly.When your husky begins treatment for uveodermatologic syndrome, he will need to go to the vet twice a week. During these visits, your vet will conduct some laboratory tests, examine your husky’s eyes, and determine if the medications' dosages need to be adjusted.After the initial twice-weekly visits, your vet will recommend a schedule for follow-up visits.
- As long as your husky is on treatment, your vet will need to regularly monitor and adjust the medications’ dosages.
Monitor your husky for treatment complications.Immunosuppressive therapy can have complications. For example, glucocorticoids, a type of steroid, can cause excess drinking and urination, muscle wasting, and liver disease. Azathioprine, another immunosuppressant, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and yellowing of the eyes (a sign of liver disease).If your husky is experiencing treatment complications, take him to your vet.
- Other effects of steroid therapy include delayed wound healing, skin disease (, hard plaques on the skin), and thin skin.
- With long-term immunosuppressive therapy, a dog can develop infections, particularly bacterial urinary tract infections (UTIs).Clinical signs of UTIs include frequent and painful urination and bloody urine; dogs do not always show signs of a UTI.
- Different immunosuppressant drugs can cause different side effects. Ask your vet about the specific complications of your husky’s prescribed drugs.
- Uveodermatologic syndrome tends to occur more frequently in male dogs than female dogs.
- Uveodermatologic syndrome can recur after initial treatment.
- If your husky has already started losing his vision, he may or may not get it back with treatment. If this is the case, the focus should be on reducing his eye pain rather than regaining his vision.
- If your husky permanently loses his vision, he can have a good quality of life as long as he doesn’t have eye pain.
- In general, autoimmune disorders are treatable, not curable.
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