For the love of your pet: Life-threatening diseases in animals

By Shana Bohac
Dec. 26, 2013 at 6:26 a.m.

My dog recently had to be given a blood transfusion for a disease. My vet said that my dog was killing off his own red blood cells. Can you tell me more about this disease?

Immune mediated hemolytic anemia is a life-threatening disease in which the body destroys or removes red blood cells at a rapid rate. The body recognizes its own red blood cells as foreign because of markers being placed on each red blood cell's surface. The red blood cells will clump together and then be destroyed by the body's defense system.

This can be because of unknown causes, some sort of disease process or a variety of toxins. In some cases, infectious agents, vaccinations, chemicals, drugs, surgery, hormonal changes or other stressful events within the previous 30 to 45 days can trigger this event.

The most common infectious organisms are mycoplasma, leptospira, eehrlichia, feline leukemia virus and feline infectious peritonitis.

Neoplasia, snake bites, heartworm disease or exposure to certain types of drugs can trigger the body to destroy its own red blood cells as well.

Owners typically see collapse, weakness, lethargy, anorexia, exercise intolerance, difficulty breathing, fast breathing, vomiting, dark feces, joint pain and diarrhea. At a physical exam, your veterinarian will look for pale mucous membranes, fever, fast heartbeat and fast breathing.

Animals will frequently have yellow gums or ears and occasionally discolored urine, blood spots on the gums and bloody stool. Upon evaluation by your veterinarian, the spleen, lymph nodes and liver may be enlarged.

Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia can be seen in both dogs and cats. Dog breeds most commonly affected are cocker spaniels, miniature poodles, Irish setters, bichon frise, English springer spaniels, Doberman pinschers and collies. Purebred dogs are at a higher risk than mixed-breed dogs.

The mean age of occurrence in dogs is 5 to 6 years, whereas 3 years is the mean age in cats. Females are more likely to get immune-mediated hemolytic anemia than males canines; however, male cats are at higher risk than females.

Your veterinarian may perform any or all of the following: blood work, x-rays, urinalysis and/or ultrasonography. Treatment may require a blood transfusion if the red blood cell level in the body is low. Once the underlying cause is found, then your veterinarian will treat for that as well.

After an episode of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, your animal's blood work should be rechecked weekly until stable and then checked every two weeks for two months. If stable after two months, then monthly check-ups are recommended for six months.

If you have any questions regarding immune-mediated hemolytic anemia or any other causes of anemia in dogs or cats, please feel free to contact me at

Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hill crest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on both small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to



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