Pemphigus in Dogs and Cats


Pemphigus in dogs and cats can impact you when raising a pet, it requires more than just loving, petting and feeding the animal. It also requires providing the animal with proper medical care. Pet owners are generally diligent about annual wellness checks, rabies shots and required vaccinations but tend to not think about the various other illnesses that can occur. One example of a serious illness is pemphigus. While this disease is more common with dogs, it can also affect cats as well.

What is Pemphigus?

Pemphigus is a rare autoimmune disease that can affect the skin of cats and dogs. Pemphigus consists of four forms.

Pemphigus Foliaceus

Pemphigus Foliaceus is a form of pemphigus that results in itchy blisters developing on the skin. The sores or blisters are generally in the mouth, on the sin or on the genitals. Hair loss is also common with this form of pemphigus. This is generally considered the most serious form of the disease and is generally found in middle-aged or senior cats and dogs.

Pemphigus Erythematosus

Pemphigus Erythematosus, also known as Senear-Usher syndrome, is a form of pemphigus that causes an erythematous rash that resembles the butterfly rash found with lupus erythematosus. The rash is generally on the central part of the face, the head, the trunk or the neck. This form is generally devoid of mucous membranes. In rare circumstances, this form of pemphigus may be associated with thymoma.

Pemphigus Vulgaris

Pemphigus Vulgaris is a form of pemphigus that causes painful blisters on the mucous membranes and on the skin. It’s the most common of the four types of pemphigus. What makes this disease so seriously is that once the body develops an autoimmune disease like this, it can affect healthy tissues in the body. Proteins in the upper layer of the skin, in particular, are attacked by the compromised immune system.

Pemphigus Vegetans

Pemphigus Vegetans, also an uncommon variant of pemphigus vulgaris, is a rare form of pemphigus where vegetating plaques resembling cauliflower develop in the flexures. While they’re mostly found in the flexures, they may also develop anywhere on the body. This form of pemphigus typically affects adult animals.

Regardless of what form of the disease the animal develops, antibodies attack parts of the skin, which can lead to a very painful separation of the skin. The most common factors of pemphigus are blisters, pustules, erosions, ulcer and crusting of the skin.

How Do Pets Get Affected by Pemphigus?

While pemphigus is believed to be a hereditary disease, the mode for inheritance remains to be unknown. In other words, experts know it’s inherited but are not sure through what genes or possible genetics. They have managed to somewhat link certain forms of the disease to certain breeds. For instance, Doberman Pinscher, Bearded Collie, Schipperke, Newfoundland and Akita are believed to be predisposed to pemphigus foliaceus, while German shepherd, collie and mixes of these breeds are believed to be predisposed to pemphigus erythematosus.

Ultraviolet light from the sun is also believed to be a trigger for pemphigus foliaceus. In fact, more dogs living in warm climates develop this disease than those living in cooler regions of the country.

Pemphigus vulgaris and pemphigus vegetans are not believed to be associated with any specific breeds. With cats, there does not seem to be any specific predispositions. Age, sex or breed don’t seem to play a part in feline or canine pemphigus. Cats and dogs as young as a few months old as well as cats 15 and older have developed pemphigus foliaceus.

Signs and Symptoms of Pemphigus in Dogs and Cats

Cats with pemphigus foliaceus may exhibit the following symptoms.

  • Crusting lesions on the face, nose and the exterior part of the ears
  • Lesions surrounding the nipples and also on the abdomen
  • Lesions may have a caseous (cheese like) discharge
  • Anorexia, fever, depression
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Hyperkeratosis (thickening of the other layer) of the footpads

Diagnosis for pemphigus in cats include a physical examination and learning the cat’s history. The vet may also perform a cytological examination of the primary lesions and a histopathological examination of any sub-corneal pustules.

Dogs with either pemphigus foliaceus or pemphigus erythematosus may exhibit the following symptoms.

  • Lesions on the ears and face that have the appearance of crusted pustular wounds
  • Lesions on the feet or groin often signify pemphigus foliaceus
  • Dog may be lethargic and have little to no appetite
  • Pain and itchiness
  • Lesions on the muzzle or bridge of the nose
  • Signs of sunburn\

Diagnosis of Pemphigus in Dogs

Diagnosis for pemphigus in dogs is generally determined by doing a skin biopsy to eliminate and other skin diseases that may have similar rashes. The skin biopsy is usually done with skin scrapings. The vet may also take blood tests to look for bacteria or infections. Immunofluorescence testing may also be performed on the animal, but it’s often more for research purposes than actual diagnosis.

The cost of diagnosis of pemphigus can vary depending on the severity of the disease when diagnosed and how hard it was to actually be diagnosed. If basic tests are successful and effective, it may only be inexpensive. If more thorough testing is required, it can be anywhere from $300 to $1,000.


Treatment for this disease also depends on the severity of the disease at the time of diagnosis. Some respond well to corticosteroids, which is inexpensive, while others may require the services of a veterinary dermatologist. In this case, the cost may be substantially higher.