Immune Mediated Disease

immune mediated disease

The body’s immune system is a host defense system in both people and pets. But I bet you don’t often think about your own immune system. There are several reasons the immune system is harder to wrap your head around than other body systems.

  1. You hardly know the immune system is there unless it doesn’t work. The immune system’s job is to protect you against invading organisms that might make you sick. If it is working well, you feel great. If it doesn’t work, you get the flu or the chickenpox.
  2. The immune system is all over your body. The respiratory system seems so obvious. You have a nose, a windpipe and lungs. They control respiration. Bet you can’t describe the location of the cells of your immune system, but they are strewn about in the lymph nodes, spleen, lungs, intestines, and are circulating in your blood stream.
  3. The immune system can cause serious diseases when immune cells start attacking normal cells. These diseases are classified as autoimmune diseases or immune mediated diseases.

Autoimmune Disease
An autoimmune disease is a disease where a hyperactive immune system attacks normal cells as if they were foreign organisms. A diagnosis of autoimmune disease is made when the antibody produced by the abnormal immune function can be identified in the laboratory. Examples of this in people are gluten sensitivity due to an antibody induced by dietary gluten against intestinal cells, or Type 1 diabetes where the immune system makes an antibody that attacks insulin-producing pancreatic cells. Autoimmune diseases are thought to exist in veterinary patients, but tests to confirm the diagnosis are lacking.

Immune Mediated Disease
Immune mediated disease is a disease of unknown cause, but one which is thought to be modulated by an aberrant immune response. Unlike autoimmune diseases, the antibody causing this group of diseases has not been identified. This classification describes several important dog and cat diseases. In dogs and cats, immune mediated hemolytic anemia is an example of an immune mediated disease. Dogs also suffer from immune mediated thrombocytopenia and immune mediated polyarthritis. These diseases target red blood cells, platelets and joints, respectively.

Treatment of Immune Mediated Disease
The key to treatment of immune mediated diseases is to halt the immune reaction underlying the disorder. Veterinarians use immunosuppressive medications to turn off the cells of the immune system. The first line therapy in immune mediated hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia and polyarthritis is prednisolone/prednisone, which is a steroid medication. Prednisolone/prednisone receives top billing because it works quickly and is inexpensive. But prednisolone/prednisone is not enough in some cases and a second immunosuppressive agent such as azathioprine, cyclosporine or mycophenylate can be added. Increasing the number of immunosuppressive agents runs the risk of turning off the immune system completely, increasing the risk for a serious infection. Dogs and cats on immunosuppressive agents need close monitoring. Once the immune disease is controlled, the medications are slowly withdrawn and the patient is carefully monitored for relapse.

In future blogs, I will discuss the specifics of some common immune mediated diseases in pets.

3 thoughts on “Immune Mediated Disease”

  1. It wasn’t long after I applied Frontline that my dog came down with autoimmune disease. Not sure if this had anything to do with the disease, as I have used this application for years. I have been treating him with 4 different medications with little success. Attacked his kidneys.

  2. My Maltese-Cavalier mix was 8. 1/2 when he was diagnosed with IM disease. He went to the vet in April for wax discharge in his ears. He had never had any type of meds in his life. He had routine visits and vaccines. The vet said he needed a steroid for inflammation in the ear canal, an antibiotic for the infection as well as a topical antibiotic. He also insisted at the time that he receive a parvo vaccine. Three and a half weeks to the day he started acting off. He went from hiking 4 miles a day to nothing. He was lethargic, no appetite, just quiet not himself. I thought he was just under the weather. I took him to the vet, he had bruising, pale gums..he immediately said he is in bad shape..he had two blood transfusions and was put on prednisolone. He was bouncing back and the vet starting reducing his prednisone within the first couple weeks. He was active and seemed more himself. Two months and two weeks later he had a horrible relapse, he was tired ..bleeding from his mouth and spots on his skin. I took him back to the emergency hospital he had another successful blood transfusion. From that day I switched to the ER doctor to manage his recovery. He has added azathioprin and cyclosporine..he has been slowly reducing the prednisone. I have added milk thistle to his diet to help his liver process all the medicine. I also give him chicken cooked in coconut oil with steamed sweet potatoes. I use a tiny amount of Greek plain yogurt to help his digestion with the cyclosporine. I have added two 3 mg tablets of melatonin, this helps with platelet production. I hold my breath and cross my fingers at each vet CBC visit. He walks between 1-4 miles daily even I. The cold and snow.. this helps with weight brought on by prednisone. I hope this helps someone else, and if any body has any helpful tips I would love to hear from you.

    1. Hi my dog is suffering from auto immune disease. The prednisone is attacking her liver and spleen. I would love to talk to you about your digd therapy, and if it worked.
      Thank you.. my email is

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