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A short time ago our family lost one of its most important members.  Our handsome delightful American Cocker Spaniel named Jordie.  He was a mere 5 years old with so much life and enthusiasm still to offer.  He passed within 48 hours of a disease called, Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia and we did not even know he was ill.  I have been racking my brain trying to understand how this horrific disease took our boy in such a short time.

Then I read that infection is a possible cause.  He had suffered a bad abscess in his mouth several months prior and perhaps the infection had entered his blood stream at that time and began to destroy his autoimmune system.  There were no signs of any illness.  Nothing.  No change in his energy level, his eating habits, his spirits.  He was the same happy go lucky guy he always was.

It was almost instantly that he showed serious signs of illness on a Friday night and had lost his battle Sunday morning at 5am.  He was in the ICU at the University of Guelph Small Animal hospital.  Dare I say the best facility in the country.  They tried everything.  Nothing worked.  He went through blood transfusions, corticosteroids, diagnostic testing, x-rays and a myriad of other medications to try to get him to rally.  His body did not rally.  He suffered a clot on day 2 and never recovered.

I share this story with you to bring to light this disease to make people not only aware but also of the severity of this diagnosis.  Our boy is watching over us now.  An Angel on my shoulder always.  We miss him terribly.

Except from on the cause and effect of Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia in dogs.

Autoimmune means an immune reaction directed against the self, while hemolysis comes from the Greek words ‘hemo’ meaning blood and ‘lysis’ meaning to break open. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) is an immune system disease in which the body attacks and destroys its own red blood cells. In dogs with AIHA, red blood cells are still being manufactured in the bone marrow, but once released into the circulation, they have a shorter-than-normal life span.

This disease may also be called Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia or IMHA.

AIHA may be primary or idiopathic, or it may be secondary.

With primary AIHA, the dog’s immune system is not working properly and it incorrectly makes antibodies that target its own red blood cells. In dogs, it is estimated that about three-quarters of cases of AIHA are primary.

With secondary AIHA, the surface of the red blood cells becomes altered by an underlying disease process or a toxin. The dog’s immune system then recognizes the altered red blood cells as ‘foreign’ invaders that must be destroyed. Secondary AIHA may be triggered by cancer, infection, blood parasites such as Babesia (see our handout on Babesiosis), drug reactions, snake bites (see handout on Snakebite Envenomization), chemicals, toxins, or bee stings. In dogs, neoplasia or cancer appears to be the most common cause of secondary AIHA.

Once targeted, the red blood cells are either destroyed within the blood vessels by a process called intravascular hemolysis or destroyed when they circulate through the liver or spleen by a process called extravascular hemolysis. In both situations, hemoglobin will be released; the liver will attempt to break down the excess levels of hemoglobin, increasing the workload of this organ.

If your dog’s anemia is so severe that it is life-threatening, a blood transfusion will be needed. Before giving a transfusion, blood samples will be taken for diagnostic testing. The main purpose of a blood transfusion is to stabilize the dog while the underlying cause of the anemia is determined and other treatments can begin to take effect.

The prognosis for dogs with AIHA is based on the specific diagnosis, as well as the patient’s general condition at the time of diagnosis. In many cases, the patient’s condition can be managed with the appropriate drug treatments. Once the patient’s condition improves and the anemia resolves or stabilizes, your veterinarian will recommend tapering off the immunosuppressive medications over a period of several months to lessen any side effects associated with therapy. Since relapses are common with this disease, you will need to monitor your dog closely as the medications are decreased or discontinued.

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