Canine and feline pemphigus foliaceus: Improving your chances of a successful outcome - Veterinary Medicine
Medicine Center
DVM Veterinary Medicine Featuring Information from:


Canine and feline pemphigus foliaceus: Improving your chances of a successful outcome
A thoughtful diagnostic and therapeutic process is critical to managing dogs and cats suffering from this potentially fatal dermatologic disease.



Pemphigus foliaceus is often a chronic skin condition with a waxing and waning course. Clients should be aware of the possibility of disease recurrence after remission. Because of the potential side effects of medications, doses should be tapered in response to clinical signs.

It is important to educate clients about medication side effects so that they understand why medication doses need to be tapered. Remind clients that pemphigus foliaceus flares may occur after decreasing the medication dose. Without client education, it is easy for owners to become frustrated and perceive that the medications are not helping. The long-term costs of recheck examinations and tests to monitor pemphigus foliaceus patients receiving therapy can also be high. A client handout can help educate owners about pemphigus foliaceus (to download a handout, go to

Once clients have been fully informed of the prognosis and medication side effects of treatment, initiate pemphigus foliaceus treatment. No set protocol exists for treating canine and feline pemphigus foliaceus. Instead, medications and their doses need to be selected for each individual patient based on the severity of clinical signs and the medications' efficacy and side effects.

Canine cases of pemphigus foliaceus with localized skin lesions may be managed with topical glucocorticoids. In mild cases, topical glucocorticoids can be used alone. In more severe cases, topical glucocorticoids can be used to minimize the dose of systemic immunosuppressive therapy. Topical glucocorticoids are less commonly used in cats because it can be more difficult to apply topical medications to cats. In most dogs and cats, systemic immunosuppression remains the initial treatment of choice for pemphigus foliaceus. Concurrent systemic antibiotic therapy should be considered if there is a bacterial skin infection.



Topical glucocorticoids can be used as monotherapy for mild cases of pemphigus foliaceus, especially in dogs with localized facial lesions. They can also be used in combination with other systemic medications in more refractory cases. A variety of glucocorticoids more potent than hydrocortisone have been used topically for pemphigus foliaceus such as betamethasone or triamcinolone, both of which are available in a variety of concentrations. Since glucocorticoids can cause skin atrophy, protect the area of glucocorticoid application from trauma. Mild skin atrophy can be managed by switching to a lower-potency topical glucocorticoid. More severe skin atrophy should be managed by stopping all topical glucocorticoids.

Systemic immunosuppression with glucocorticoids provides the most rapid clinical response in dogs and cats with pemphigus foliaceus. Prednisone is initially started at 2 mg/kg/day orally in dogs, and prednisolone is initially started at 2 to 4 mg/kg/day orally in cats. The dose of prednisone or prednisolone may then be increased if no improvement in clinical signs is evident within one or two weeks. Cats may respond better to glucocorticoids other than prednisone because of the lower bioavailability of prednisone compared with other glucocorticoids in cats.48 If glucocorticoids of different potencies are used, equivalent doses should be calculated. In cats, triamcinolone can be initially dosed at 2 to 4 mg/kg/day orally, and dexamethasone can be initially dosed at 0.3 to 0.6 mg/kg/day orally. The glucocorticoid dose should be selected based on the clinical signs. Dogs and cats with mild pemphigus foliaceus lesions may respond to lower doses of glucocorticoids.

Long-acting injectable glucocorticoids such as methylprednisolone acetate (Depo Medrol—Pfizer Animal Health) are not recommended for treating pemphigus foliaceus; the dose of any immunosuppressive medication should ideally be adjusted in response to the patient's clinical signs.

Dermatologists occasionally use high-dose pulse oral and intravenous glucocorticoid administration to treat pemphigus foliaceus in dogs. These high dosages (oral prednisone at 10 mg/kg/day49 or intravenous methylprednisolone succinate at 11 mg/kg/day50 ) are typically given for three days followed by a much lower dose of oral prednisone (0.5 to 2 mg/kg/day). High-dose glucocorticoid administration is used primarily in severe pemphigus foliaceus cases in which quick remission of signs is required. Relapse is still possible once the glucocorticoid dose is decreased. At this time, high-dose pulse glucocorticoid therapy should be considered experimental; further studies are needed to demonstrate its benefit.


Click here