Sienna’s Auto-immune Disease

As I’ve previously mentioned, Sienna’s had a hard life.  She was about 3 when we got her, and I suspect she had a weakened immune system from poor nutrition and lack of medical care.  Her life started in Mexico where she likely lived on the streets for quite awhile.  After that, she lived with 110 other dogs in a hoarding situation.  About 4 months before she came to Canada, she was rescued by a very reputable dog rescue in Puebla, Mexico called the Dog Go Project. 

What is the Dog Go Project?

The Dog Go Project is a Mexican rescue agency that has a shelter that they call Funky Town.  While dogs are at Funky Town, they ensure that all the dogs are well cared for and vetted appropriately.  They work with several reputable Canadian rescue agencies to move the dogs up to Canada for adoption.  Why Canada?  Canada has small stray dog population due to our spay and neuters programs (most rescues and pounds require spay/neuter before a dog can be adopted out), and has ended the sale of animals with in pet stores in most provinces (rescue events are still allowed!).  We also have strict animal cruelty laws, although many argue they could be stricter. 

Sienna’s Story continued

At some point in time before she went to the Dog Go Project, Sienna was hit by a car or something else of equal force and severity, resulting in her hips and pelvis being misaligned as well as unhealed fractures.  You can read more about her FHO surgery and issues here

When we first got Sienna, she was still a little weak and her immune system wasn’t great.  She got kennel cough within days of joining our home (we had not taken her anywhere) and had kennel cough again a few months later, despite being immunized for it.  She also had PTSD, which I will post about later.  Sienna needed a lot of time and care.

As I write this in September 2022, a month ago we thought we were getting to the end of Sienna’s issues.  She is more confident, she is fully healed from her surgery and she is certainly healthier (aside from a little belly she’s developed!).  Unfortunately, we’ve just returned from the vet who has all but diagnosed Sienna with an uncommon auto-immune disease called SLO (systemic lupoid onychodystrophy).

What is SLO?

Systemic lupoid onychodystrophy (also called systemic lupoid onychomadesis/onychitis) is an auto-immune disease in the lupus family.  It effects a dog’s claws, causing them to slough, severe mutations and malformations, and even claw loss.  It can cause the nails to lift, and dogs can also experience inflammation.  Infections can happen as well, as the dog licks the paw in an attempt to ease the pain or discomfort.  Sometimes lameness or limping can develop.  Our vet informed us that it usually impacts dogs that are between 3-8 years of age. 

Image of Sienna’s first cracked nail

How did it start for Sienna?

We first noticed Sienna was licking her back right paw a lot about a month ago.  We thoroughly checked her pad, expecting to find a thorn or a stick or even a tick.  We found nothing on the pad or the paw.  Then we noticed her nail appeared to have split, with what we thought was the quick fully exposed to the nail bed.  We had our annual check up booked next week, so instead of rushing to emergency I emailed our vet a picture to see if we needed to come in sooner.  They said it wasn’t urgent but to not let her lick it.  She should wear breathable socks. 

During the next week Sienna licked her front paw so much she limped for a day, but we didn’t notice anything unusual on that paw, and the licking stopped.  She didn’t continue aggressively licking that paw. 

When we went to the vet, he told us it could be fungal and gave us some medicated soap.  Off the cuff, he also said “you know… if this happens to nails on other paws, there is this disease some dogs have”.  I didn’t think much of that comment at the time.  I thought it was just out vet being chatty.  I asked if she was in pain or needed antibiotics, but was told no. 

We bathed and soaked her paw regularly as instructed, and her licking on the front paw started up again so we started soaking and socking that paw as well.  We had booked a vacation a few days later, and luckily the dogs were staying with my parents, who they adore.  This meant they would get a week split between my parents house on a huge small town property as well as a few days at the cottage.  What could be better!?

One day while my mom was walking Willow, Sienna tore off her front sock and licked the whole time she was alone.  It was only about 15 minutes, but it was enough that she limped again.  My mom called their old vet and got her an emergency appointment the next morning.  That vet looked super hard at her paw and noticed some puss, prescribing 2 weeks of antibiotics. 

Sienna wearing her tartan socks.

When we got home a few days later, Sienna was ok for a few days, then started licking a third paw.  We kept up the soaking with the medicated soap our vet had given us and inspected her paws daily.  Shortly we noticed multiple cracks on various nails, all looking very similar to the first.  Remembering what our vet had said about a disease, I started researching and quickly found what I thought might be the issue: SLO.  What was described sounded similar, but none of the pictures looked quite the same.  Most of the pictures had nails that had fallen off, and that wasn’t the case for Sienna.  Sienna’s nails were lifted and looked hollow on the inside, but none had fallen off.  I joined a couple of Facebook groups for the disease and finally found pictures that looked exactly like Sienna’s issue!  Better still, many of these people had chronicled their experience with the disease and their treatment plans. 

I also posted in my dog training group (which has members from all around the world), just to vent about the new medical issue just when both dogs were finally getting better!  The trainer that we had worked with in person quickly emailed me to say she had a dog with the same thing many years ago!  How nice it was to finally find some answers and people with the same experience.  It made me feel relieved to have a diagnosis and to also hear that our trainer was not overly panicked about the diagnosis. 

This is still very early days for us.  Sienna is getting nightly CBD Epsom salt baths (regular Epsom salts would be just fine too; we’re only using the CBD salts because we had them on hand and it’s legal here)  and is currently wearing 2 socks (she stopped licking the original paw for now).   The vet prescribed another round of antibiotics, a high dosage of fish oil, vitamin B complex, vitamin B3, and vitamin E.  We got some tail wags in the bath the other night (Sienna’s tail is her barometer of how she is feeling, so this made us very happy!) so she is not detesting the paw soaks as much as she was originally.  She did yelp the other night though, as I was drying her paw, and limped the rest of the night.  We are due for a check up with the vet later this week and I intend to ask if Sienna can be prescribed a pain medicine to use when she needs it.

Sienna having an Epsom salt bath.

Our trainer who had a dog with the same issue also recommended considering a holistic approach.  The medications her dog was put on caused lasting damage to her dog’s liver and internal organs.  Sienna is still young, and we obviously want to avoid side effects.  Willow is already seeing an acupuncturist / Chinese medicine specialist who is also a certified vet, so Sienna will be seeing her on Friday to discuss ongoing treatment options.  Since this is an auto-immune disease, we can expect flare ups over the coming years, but for our sake and Sienna’s, we would prefer to minimize the number and the impact of the flare ups.

I will post future updates as we continue to go through this experience! 

3 responses to “Sienna’s Auto-immune Disease”

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