A condition that has no known cause is taking the lives of family pets.
Vets are diagnosing more and more pets with autoimmune disorders, a condition that is difficult to treat.
Similar to humans, autoimmune disorders in dogs can happen suddenly. But what’s different is the condition is just recently being heavily researched in dogs because they’re dying from it.
As in many homes, 7-year-old Toby is a member of the family, and Tonya Skaggs said she knew when something wasn’t right.
Toby stopped eating regularly and began losing weight. but he still had energy.
“That started to change about a week before we took him to the vet. He became completely lethargic, probably three days prior to us taking him the the vet to where he didn’t do anything. He didn’t move,” Skaggs said.
Toby’s vet suspected an autoimmune disorder was behind his deterioration.
While veterinarians said autoimmune disorders in dogs aren’t necessarily on the rise, the rate at which they’re being recognized is much higher than in years past.
“The most common autoimmune disorders will be ones that are targeted toward the blood,” veterinarian Scott Campbell said.
The condition can cause severe anemia, even death.
Autoimmune disorders in dogs occur when the immune system, which is meant to attack foreign objects in the body, turns on itself, just like humans.
It attacks organs like the spleen, kidney, live, skin, nails, eyes and the blood, and often causes a rapid decline in a dog’s health.
“His gums were white, his tongue was white, the inside of his ears were white,” Skaggs said. Toby’s health declined quickly.
“They began to run tests. Of course they did a complete blood workup on him.
They did an ultrasound. They were checking it. They didn’t know if it was cancer, tumor, obviously all of those types of things, enlarged liver,” Skaggs said.
Vets have to rule out everything before they can diagnose an autoimmune condition. Even when they do, treatment is limited because there is no known cause.
Researchers are working on it, investigating antibiotics and other drugs, vaccines, or environmental causes. But none have been proven.
“You have about a 7 out of 10 chance that your pet is going to get better, but the reality is that this isn’t going to happen anytime soon,” Campbell said.
Sometimes multiple blood transfusions are needed, which can be costly.
Toby is pulling through, but his treatment is far from over.
“I said, ‘Will we ever know what caused this?’ and she said no. We may never know,” Skaggs said.
Autoimmune diseases are also found in other animals like cats.
Vets WLKY spoke to said testing is getting better and said it’s a learning process where they get more information with every case.