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This month we begin a three-part series on autoimmune diseases in pets. Autoimmune diseases, which occur more commonly in dogs than in cats, are those diseases in which the pet’s body forms antibodies attacking its own tissues. The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is not known. However, many doctors feel that the immune system may malfunction as a result of infections or chronic exposure to toxins. The fact that an increased number of cases are seen shortly following repeated immunizations prompts many holistic doctors to surmise that vaccinations may be responsible for the formation of autoimmune diseases in some pets.


Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA). In this disorder, the pet forms antibodies against its own red blood cells, causing anemia.

Hypothyroidism. The pet forms antibodies against its thyroid gland.

Immune-Mediated Thromobocytopenia (ITP). In this disorder, the pet forms antibodies against its own platelets, causing reduced blood-clotting ability.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS). Also called “dry eye,” dogs with this disorder form antibodies against their tear glands, causing chronic eye disease.

Pemphigus. A number of disorders make up the pemphigus complex of diseases. In these disorders, the pet forms antibodies against its skin.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). In this disorder, the pet forms antibodies against its own joint tissues, causing lameness and arthritis.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). Also simply called Lupus, in this disorder, the pet forms antibodies against a number of its tissues, including blood cells, skin, and the kidneys.



Certain vitamins and minerals function in the body to reduce oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical process that occurs within the body’s cells. After oxidations occurs, certain by-products such as peroxides and “free radicals” accumulate. Theses cellular by-products are toxic to the cells and surrounding tissue. The body removes these by-products by producing additional chemicals called antioxidants that combat these oxidizing chemicals.

In disease, excess oxidation can occur and the body’s normal antioxidant abilities are overwhelmed. This is where supplying antioxidants can help. By giving your pet’s body extra antioxidants, it may be possible to neutralize the harmful byproducts of cellular oxidation.

Several antioxidants can be used to supplement pets. Most commonly, the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and the minerals selenium, manganese, and zinc are prescribed. Other antioxidants, including N-acetylcysteine, Coenzyme Q10, Ginkgo biloba, bilberry, grape seed extract, and pycnogenol may also be helpful for a number of disorders.

There is no “correct” antioxidant to use. Dosage varies with the specific antioxidant chosen.


Proanthocyanidins (also called pycnogenols or bioflavonoids, a class of water-soluble plant-coloring agents; while they don’t seem to be essential to life, it’s likely that people and pets need them for optimal health) are naturally occurring polyphenolic compounds found in plants. Most often, products containing proanthocyanidins are made from grape seeds or pine bark. These compounds are used for their antioxidant effects against lipid (fat) peroxidation. Proanthocyanidins also inhibit the enzyme cyclooxygenase (the same enzyme inhibited by aspirin and other non-steroidal medications); cyclooxygenase converts arachidonic acid into chemicals (leukotrienes and prostaglandins), which contribute to inflammation and allergic reactions. Proanthocyanidins also decrease histamine release from cells by inhibiting several enzymes.

Some research suggests that pycnogenol seems to work by enhancing the effects of another antioxidant, vitamin C. Other research suggests that the bioflavonoids can work independently of other antioxidants; as is the case with many supplements, there probably is an additive effect when multiple antioxidants are combined. People taking pycnogenol often report feeling better and having more energy; this “side-effect” may possibly occur in pets as well.

  • Quercetin is a natural antioxidant bioflavonoid found in red wine, grapefruit, onions, apples, black tea, and in lesser amounts, in leafy green vegetables and beans. Quercetin protects cells in the body from damage by free radicals and stabilizes collagen in blood vessels.
  • Quercetin supplements are available in pill and tablet form. One problem with them, however, is that they don’t seem to be well absorbed by the body. A special form called quercetin chalcone appears to be better absorbed.
  • Quercetin appears to be quite safe. Maximum safe dosages for young children, women who are pregnant or nursing, or those with serious liver or kidney disease have not been established; similar precautions are probably warranted in pets.

In people, a typical dosage of proanthocyanidins is 200 to 400 mg three times daily. Quercetin may be better absorbed if taken on an empty stomach. The suggested dosage of proanthocyanidins complex in pets is 10 to 200 mg given daily (divided into two to three doses). The actual dosage of each product will vary with the product and the pet’s weight and disease condition.

While there is no specific research showing benefit in specific autoimmune disorder, the use of antioxidants is widely recommended by holistic veterinarians to reduce oxidative damage to tissues that may occur in various autoimmune disorders.

More research on antioxidants and other complementary therapies in the treatment of autoimmune disorders are needed.

Next month we will look at fatty acids as a treatment for autoimmune diseases.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

As my thank you for reading my articles, enter code “drshawn” at my natural products web store,, to save 10% on all your future purchases!

Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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