One Owner's Experience
I’ve seen it many times now—that quizzical look someone gives me just before the tilt their head and questioningly state, “Lupus? Dogs get Lupus?”
Indeed they do, and unfortunately, it’s common in Siberian Huskies. The technical name is Canine Discoid Lupus. There are two varieties—Systemic and Discoid. Discoid is located only in the skin of the affected dog, cat, or human. It’s considered the second most common autoimmune skin disease in dogs, and at this time, there is no cure. It’s been stated in print that 90% of canines have this condition to a varying degree. You might also hear it with the more casual name of “Collie Nose.”
The nose on the left above was MHHR's first real exposure to this condition. Tikanni is a 4 year old male husky that has had a diagnosis for this condition for the last year. The pretty liver-colored nose on the right is Kiara, a 3 year old female with a perfectly normal nose, for comparison.
More Than a Mere Sunburn
To talk to dog owners who have dogs with a confirmed diagnosis, you’ll hear a similar line uttered—“At first, I thought it was just a bad sunburn.” This is because the symptoms look the same—scaly texture, loss of pigmentation, and dryness. But instead of getting better, things just get worse. The nose gets so dry, it cracks and oozes small amounts of blood. The skin of the nose loses its normal cobblestone-like texture. The skin itself may turn a bland grey color.
In a lucky case, an observant owner might be able to catch it while it’s topical, and treat it with zinc, sunscreen, coconut oil, Vitamin A or E oils, or even chapstick. But these treatments are topical only, and aren’t a sure means of preventing the tissue damage from creeping into the nostrils. Left untreated, the lips, gums, sinuses, and other sensitive tissues can start to endure tissue damage. As the tissues degrade, the ability for medications to reverse the damage becomes harder and harder, leading to permanent damage.
Snow Nose vs Canine Discoid Lupus
Unfortunately, Siberian Huskies have another famous condition that leads to confusion between it and Canine Discoid Lupus. Justice above has this condition--along with a little bit of sunburn damage.
“Snow Nose”, also known as “Winter Nose”, is a hyperpigmentation condition wherein the normally black or dark brown colors turn a varying shade of pink in the center.
This condition is harmless to the dog and equally common, but since its early symptoms share the same pigmentation change, it can lead to a slow diagnosis to Canine Discoid Lupus. If any other Lupus symptom shows up—dryness, loss of texture, scaly peeling—it’s time to consult the vet.
At the Vet
The vets at our higher altitudes in Denver are quite experienced in this diagnosis, because high exposure to sun is thought to be a trigger to the disease’s symptoms. This is why one of the first questions your vet might ask during an initial exam is, “is your dog outside regularly during the day?” They will check your dog’s tissues inside and out for the tell-tale tissue damage. They’re trying to rule out similar conditions such as solar dermatitis, pemphigus, ringworm, and other common types of dermatitis.
Your vet may then choose to suggest a biopsy. It’s up to you to proceed, but they may also explain that it can take a month or more to get the results back. Some vets that see this frequently find it’s less expensive to immediately start medication, as a result should be observed before the biopsy results return.
Because of that first question your vet probably asked, you’ll probably be asked to minimize your dog’s exposure to the strongest sunlight of the day. Topical applications may be discouraged, as they may hide the true treatment progress by making the exterior appear to be normalized, yet leaving internal tissues unhealed.
Oral medications are the normal course for keeping Canine Discoid Lupus under control. The two most common medications prescribed include oral niacinamide (vitamin B3 and niacin) and tetracycline (a bacterial antibiotic), though in individual cases, vets may also prescribe corticosteroids, azathioprine, or chlorambucil.
My affected husky is on niacinamide tablets and tetracycline powder. Your vet has options to offer in how you administer these medications, but know one important thing—they taste awful. Top-dressing kibble with either medication is rarely an effective way to administer them. When my dog was administered, finding tetracycline tablets or capsules was difficult for vets, so I ended up buying a large bucket of tetracycline powder marketed to chicken farmers. In order to get my dog to eat it, I had to make my own capsules. This is a remarkably simple thing to do, once you own a capsule-making machine. My dog’s dosage is ¼ teaspoon of the powder, which is a 000-size gelatin capsule. Once I knew this, buying the gelatin capsules and the machine to fill them from Amazon was simple and inexpensive. I can now make 50 capsules in about 10 minutes, which is about a 1 month supply. The bucket should last me 2-3 years at this rate, and cost me a mere $50. The niacinamide tabs come in a bottle of 60, and cost about $35. My dog gets one of each up to three times per day.
Make sure you return your dog to the vet for quick progress checks on their schedule. This usually occurs at 30 days, 60 days, 180 days, and then annually consistently controlled. At the annual visit, please make sure to mention this condition so that it’s not overlooked. Adjust the medications, dosages, and frequency as your vet recommends.
Unfortunately, this is a condition your dog will have for the rest of its life. You may be extra-diligent on the prescribed care to the point where it appears to be completely healed, but it will come back. Any dog that exhibits this condition should be spayed or neutered to prevent it from being passed on genetically. Owners of diagnosed dogs should notify their dog’s breeder, when known, so that they can use the info in their breeding program decisions. As the myriad of canine auto-immune conditions go, it’s relatively simple to control and the medications shouldn’t take a big chunk of your budget.