Pemphigus foliaceus disease is the most common autoimmune skin condition found in dogs and can be fatal if not properly treated. The condition, in which a dog develops skin ulcers and crusty skin, is most often found in Akitas, chow chows, dachshunds, bearded collies, Doberman pinschers, schipperkes, Finnish spitzes and Newfoundland dogs. Akitas, in particular, are prone to this disease.
Pemphigus foliaceus occurs when the dog's natural immune system begins attacking the canine's skin as if it were a foreign body. The disease is characterised by crusty sores and lesions that develop mostly around the head, particularly around the eyes, ears and nose, as well as the feet and groin. The sores are almost always first noticeable on the dog's head. The disease can result in hair loss and dandruff-like flaking, and pet owners may notice the dog is lethargic, stiff and has a decreased appetite. Often, dog's suffer from infections as a result of the lesions and can develop fevers.
While pemphigus foliaceus is, by far, the most common autoimmune skin disease, other similar diseases often have the same symptoms. Pemphigus erythematosus effects only the dog's face while pemphigus vulgaris features blister-like sores that appear on the skin of the lips, nose, eyes, pads, nails, and in the mouth. Pemphigus vegetans is the most rare form of canine autoimmune skin disease and results in wart-like sores over the dog's entire body.
Once diagnosed through a skin biopsy, a veterinarian will often prescribe high doses of glucocorticoids, a steroid which suppresses the dog's immune system. After the initial aggressive treatment, lower doses are given to the dog every other day until the condition improves. Dogs that do not respond to treatment or require additional high doses of immune-suppressing drugs, often have a poor prognosis. Treatment of the disease can be frustrating, as not all dogs respond favourably to the drugs and, because their immune system is suppressed, may develop other serious conditions.
The cause of pemphigus foliaceus is believed to be genetic, but can sometimes occur spontaneously or as a reaction to certain medications that may trigger a dog's predisposition for the disease. While certain antibiotics are thought to trigger this skin disease in humans, no direct correlation to administering antibiotics and the onset of the disease has been found in dogs.
The mortality rate for dogs with this condition is still fairly high because so many dogs develop secondary illnesses due to their compromised immune systems. One study reported in the Journal of American Veterinarians Association, found a 60 per cent fatality rate for dogs with this condition, mostly due to infections from the open sores created by the skin disease. Pet owners must work closely with their vets to treat the animal for a successful outcome. Treatment can be long, expensive and require close observation of the animal.