Autoimmune hemolytic anemia, also known as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), is a blood disorder where the immune system destroys red blood cells in a pet. Anemia occurs when there is a reduction in red blood cells, hemoglobin, or both in the body. And autoimmune diseases are immune reactions against the body’s tissues.
Hemolytic anemia in dogs happens when the body system produces red blood cells, which break down rapidly upon release into the bloodstream. IMHA in dogs occurs when the red blood cells produced are destroyed by the immune system.
Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA) is different from immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP), which is also a blood disorder. Thrombocytopenia in dogs occurs when platelet levels decline. In immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, platelets are destroyed by the immune system. Up to 50% of the time, both IMHA in dogs and ITP in dogs happen simultaneously and can become life-threatening.Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia and Immune-mediated Hemolytic Anemia in dogs is triggered by infectious diseases, cancer, exposure to drugs, and allergens. Sometimes, they occur for unknown reasons.
IMHA in dogs triggered by unknown causes is called primary IMHA. When triggered by an underlying disease, it is called secondary IMHA. Any breed of dog is susceptible to IMHA. However, dog breeds at more risk include Dachshund, Cocker Spaniel, Irish Setter, Old English Sheepdog, Poodle breeds, and Springer Spaniel, amongst others.
Symptoms of Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia
Symptoms of IMHA in dogs include:
- Pale gums
- Increased weakness and lethargy
- Increased heart rate and rapid breathing
- Vomiting and poor appetite
- Yellowing of the skin, gums, and eye whites as bilirubin levels increase (bilirubin is a product of red blood cell destruction)
Treatment of IMHA in Dogs
Blood transfusions: Blood transfusions are for dogs with severe, life-threatening anemia. Transfusions stabilize the dog while trying to ascertain what the underlying cause of anemia might be.
Immunosuppressive therapy: Immunosuppressive therapy using high doses of corticosteroids or other immune suppressants is beneficial in primary IMHA. The side effects of immunosuppressants on the dog, and the prolonged duration of treatment, are drawbacks of immunosuppressive therapy.
Specific treatment of underlying cause: Treatment aims at resolving the underlying cause of hemolytic anemia in cases of secondary IMHA. Treatment may vary from antibiotics to toxin antidotes and others depending on the cause of anemia.
Your veterinarian determines a treatment plan depending on the diagnostic test results and meeting your dog’s needs. Sometimes, relapses occur after IMHA therapy. Therefore, follow-up visits to the vet are recommended to monitor your dog’s progress and medications over the years.
Can Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia Be Cured in Dogs?
Stem cell therapy provides a safe alternative to treatment with immunosuppressants in IMHA. Stem cells reset the immune system and stop the abnormal breakdown of red blood cells. Treating IMHA in dogs with several intravenous stem cell therapy sessions can restore the immune system’s normal function; and cure the dog of hemolytic anemia for life. Stem cell therapy is preferred to the life-long treatment of autoimmune hemolytic anemia with immunosuppressants.