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Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Canine autoimmune hemolytic anemia is the most common cause of hemolytic anemia in dogs. As indicated in the name of this disease, it is an autoimmune disease. This page looks at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs.

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Canine hemolytic anemia is a type of anemia caused by an acceleration in the normal process of red blood cell breakdown.

There are several causes of hemolytic anemia in dogs. They include:

  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (aka immune-mediated hemolytic anemia)
  • Congenital hemolytic anemia
  • Drug reactions to certain medications (e.g. acetaminophen)
  • Infectious diseases (e.g. canine leptospirosis)
  • Poisonous snake bites

This page focuses on autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs.

What is Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia?

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs is the most common cause of canine hemolytic anemia.

As indicated by its name, this is an autoimmune disease which occurs when the immune system launches an autoimmune response against the body's red blood cells. Specifically, the red blood cells are destroyed prematurely by auto-antibodies that attack the antigens on the surface of the cells. These cells under attack are weakened and are trapped in the spleen and destroyed.

Although autoimmune hemolytic anemia can occur in all breeds, certain breeds of dogs are predisposed to the disease. They include:

  • Poodles
  • Old English Sheep Dogs
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Irish Setters

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is more common in females than males - females outnumber males four to one. Dogs affected are mostly between 2 and 8 years of age.

Causes of Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

In most cases, the cause of autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs is unknown.

In some cases, the disease is caused by recent drug therapy. It has also been found that systemic lupus can cause autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs.

Symptoms of Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Symptoms of autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs vary in severity. Mild symptoms are usually non-specific and include such signs as loss of appetite, weakness and lethargy, lack of energy, depression, and listlessness.

Dogs who are in more serious condition usually show signs of jaundice and have traces of blood in the urine which is dark-brown in color. Other symptoms include gums that are pale, and the dog will have rapid breathing and heart beat. In addition, there may be enlargement of the spleen, liver, and lymph nodes.

In addition, because there are insufficient red blood cells circulating to carry oxygen to various organs, many dogs with this disease suffer and die from organ failure, such as kidney, liver, or heart failure.

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Treatment of Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

The goals of treatment are to slow down the destruction of red blood cells, and to prevent further red blood cell destruction. To this end, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants are used to block antigen-antibody reaction.

If the dog patient has severe anemia, blood transfusions are needed.

The response to drug therapy depends on the severity of the condition and whether an underlying cause can be identified and corrected.

Unfortunately, mortality rate is rather high among dogs severely affected with this condition (about 40%). They may die even with the best treatment due to kidney, liver, or heart failure, or because of a bleeding problem.

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