Dermatomyositis In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Close-up face of cute sheepdog lying on floor and looking blankly, focus on eyes, Shallow Depth of Field

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Dermatomyositis in dogs is a hereditary, immune-mediated disease that affects the skin and, sometimes, the muscles and blood vessels. The disease is most common in Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and mixes of those breeds, and it mostly affects young dogs, though it can develop in adult dogs, as well. Symptoms include inflammation and skin lesions that typically develop before dogs turn six months old, sometimes as early as seven weeks after birth. Dermatomyositis that develops early in life is usually more severe than when it appears during adulthood. Lesions can vary in intensity and increase or decrease over time. Severely affected dogs may suffer from muscle atrophy, stunted growth, lameness, an enlarged esophagus, and sores all over the face, paws, and tail. If you see the signs of dermatomyositis in your dog, consult your veterinarian so they can form a proper diagnosis and prescribe treatment that may provide some relief from symptoms. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for dermatoyositis in dogs.

Symptoms Of Dermatomyositis In Dogs

Shetland Sheepdog Puppy Sleeping

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The symptoms of dermatomyositis in dogs can vary a great deal between canines, even between puppies of the same litter. Additionally, these symptoms may increase and decrease over time. Some dogs develop mild signs that can clear up on their own and require very little treatment, while others need hospitalization. Here are some of the symptoms that can develop in dogs that suffer from dermatomyositis.

  • Lesions on the face (on the nose, around the eyes, on the tips of the ears)
  • Lesions on the tip of the tail
  • Ulcers on the foot-pads
  • Loss of nails
  • Stiff or uneven gait
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Crusting, scaling skin
  • Dandruff
  • Alopecia
  • Inflammation and redness of the skin
  • Difficulty eating, drinking, or swallowing
  • Aspiration pneumonia (due to enlarged esophagus)
  • Muscle atrophy, especially around the head, face, or jaw
  • Secondary skin infections

Causes Of Dermatomyositis In Dogs

An adult Shetland Sheepdog shares her rope toy with the latest addition to the family.

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The main cause of dermatomyositis in dogs is inheriting the condition genetically, and it’s almost completely exclusive to Shetland Sheepdogs, Collies, and mixes of those breeds. Other breeds have shown similar symptoms, but these dogs usually suffer from a condition called ischemic dermatopathy, which is a low blood supply to the skin. This is not the same condition as dermatomyositis. Other causes for the disease include immune-mediated conditions and infectious agents. Chow Chows and Corgis have also been known to develop Dermatomyositis, though it is rare.

Treatments For Dermatomyositis In Dogs

happy dog at the vet

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Treatment for dermatomyositis in dogs is focused on managing the condition, as there is no outright cure. Usually dogs that suffer from the condition are treated as outpatients or treated at home. Activity that could cause injury to the affected skin or muscles should be limited, as should exposure to ultraviolet light. It is best if dogs affected by dermatomyositis stay out of the sunlight as much as possible.

For dogs that have trouble chewing or swallowing, changes might need to be made in diet and the way that they are fed. Food may need to be softened or fed by hand. If your dog suffers from dermatomyositis, your veterinarian will tell you how to tailor your dog’s feeding habits to address their own individual condition. If a dog suffers from an enlarged esophagus, they may need hospitalization and supportive care.

Hypoallergenic shampoos can help fight some secondary skin infections. Anti-inflammatory medication can reduce some inflammation, though long-term exposure to these medications can cause harmful side effects. Often, lesions come and go on their own and may just require monitoring, rather than veterinary treatment.

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