Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs is a condition in which abnormal antibodies in your dog's immune system attack and kill his own red blood cells. Your dog's bone marrow continues to produce adequate amounts of red blood cells, but they don't survive long enough in your dog's blood to serve their intended purpose. Dogs with AIHA often develop thrombocytopenia, a decrease in blood platelets that can lead to canine hemophilia symptoms. Here's what you should know about canine AIHA.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia and Thrombocytopenia

In AIHA, your dog's body continues to manufacture red blood cells at a normal rate and in adequate numbers, but your dog's immune system destroys them. In healthy dogs, the immune system forms antibodies to fight off infection by viruses and bacteria, but in dogs with AIHA, the immune system forms antibodies to fight off the dog's own red blood cells. This leads to significantly decreased numbers of functioning red blood cells in your dog's blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen to your dog's tissues; without them, your dog can't get the oxygen he needs and will suffer from anemia symptoms.`

Some dogs with AIHA develop thrombocytopenia, a condition in which platelet numbers drop dangerously. Platelets are the blood cells responsible for clotting to control bleeding from wounds and bruises. If your dog doesn't have enough platelets, he won't be able to stop bleeding if he bruises or injures himself. He could easily bleed to death.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

Dogs with AIHA develop anemia symptoms. Their gums and lips appear pale, and may take on a yellowish hue as the disease reaches its advanced stages. Fatigue, weakness, lethargy and fainting spells are common.

As your dog's immune system destroys his red blood cells, hemoglobin, the part of his red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen molecules, builds up in his blood in abnormal amounts. Your dog's liver must work overtime to remove excess amounts of hemoglobin from the blood, which eventually leads to a condition called jaundice. In jaundice, toxins build up in your dog's body and his skin and the whites of his eyes take on a yellowish tint. Your dog's body may attempt to secrete hemoglobin in his urine, making the urine much darker in color.

Your dog's heart rate may increase as his body attempts to compensate for lowered blood oxygen levels. If he is suffering from thrombocytopenia, you may notice blood in his stool or he may suffer from frequent bloody noses.

Treating Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

AIHA is a serious illness that is often fatal. However, the steroid drug prednisone has been long used in the successful management of symptoms. Prednisone suppresses the production of the abnormal antibodies responsible for damaging your dog's red blood cells. Medically therapy is often needed in the long term, and some dogs require blood transfusions as part of their treatment, though some dogs may eventually recover from AIHA.