Autoimmune Disease in Pets

Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system reacts against the body. It sees a part of the body as "foreign" and attacks those cells. The disease can have many causes and in dogs and cats includes a long list of possibilities:

  • polyarthritis
  • pemphigus
  • lupus
  • hemolytic anemia
  • thrombocytopenia
  • IBD
  • thyroiditis
  • Addison's disease
  • masticatory myositis
  • lupoid onchodystrophy
  • and many others

Triggering factors may include genetics, over-vaccination, use of harmful chemicals and pesticides, and an imbalance in body systems.

Each of these diseases is associated with heat in the body. They may also be associated with Blood Deficiency from a TCVM standpoint. Symptoms will vary, depending on which organ system is being affected. Low-grade fevers, spiking fevers, joint pain, lethargy, brittle or broken nails, muscle wasting, panting, rapid shallow respiration, pale gums, bruising, bleeding, oozing sores, vomiting, and diarrhea may all be seen at various points in the disease. Symptoms will worsen during hot weather, just like turning up the heat under the frying pan on the stove. Disease will be aggravated by feeding energetically warming or hot foods (lamb, chicken, venison, dry kibble).

Most often, pets with these diseases will be treated with immune-suppressing drugs like steroids, cyclosporine, and others (prednisone, prednisolone, Atopica,  Apoquel, etc). While suppressing the immune system will decrease symptoms and hopefully, stop progression of disease, this does not actually cure the disease in most cases. The immune system needs to be re-set to function optimally.

From an alternative perspective, cooling diets can be extremely beneficial. Cold water, wild caught fish will make an excellent protein base. Rabbit is also a good choice. Duck or grass-fed beef, which are great blood tonics, may also be beneficial. For dogs and cats with hemolytic anemia, add Blood tonics like dark leafy greens, egg yolks, and sardines, along with the herbal formula Four Substances.

As 80% of the immune system lies within the bowel, it is imperative to feed an organic, clean diet that decreases inflammation. Add good probiotics to an easily digestible (home cooked) diet. Coconut oil (1 tsp per 20 pounds body weight per day) can also help strengthen the bowel.

Herbal alternatives to steroids include plant sterols (similar benefits without the horrible side effects) and PEA which binds to cells in the body to decrease pain and inflammation. 

Antioxidants, including CoQ10, can decrease inflammation by decreasing free radicals in the body and decreasing oxidative stress. 

For skin lesions, healing salves should not include petroleum-based products. Cold laser therapy can be very helpful in getting lesions to heal. Chemicals should be avoided for these pets, including all flea and tick chemicals. Use essential oil, natural products instead.

These pets should no longer receive vaccinations. Vaccinations stimulate the immune system and can be overwhelming, particularly if multiple vaccines are given at one time. Remember, one injection may contain more than one vaccine, like DHLPP which actually contains 8 antigens.

Acupuncture can be very beneficial for these pets, as well as the use of herbs. Cooling herbs, like kelp, coptis, rhubarb, winter melon, gentiana, and honeysuckle can work very well. Gui Pi Tang and Wei Qi Booster can be very effective at rebuilding platelets in dogs with thrombocytopenia. Si Wu Tang helps build blood, which is necessary in cases of hemolytic anemia and lupoid onchodystrophy. Work with a veterinary herbalist to choose the best formula for your pet.

Autoimmune disease is not a death sentence. Knowing signs and symptoms to watch for can help get your pet diagnosed sooner. For more information, check out this video. By strengthening the immune system and avoiding triggers that will aggravate the disease, your pet can enjoy a long life by actually achieving a cure.

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