Symptoms of Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

Hemolytic anemia in dogs is not a very common disease. When it does occur, it quickly becomes life threatening if not controlled. Because the condition progresses rapidly and is typically undetected, it is imperative that owners be observant of any abnormal symptoms occurring in their dog. Catching the onset of hemolytic anemia in dogs quickly may very well save the animal's life.

Hemolytic Anemia Explained

In dogs, red blood cells are produced by the bone marrow. These are the cells that carry oxygen to the various structures of the body. When either the bone marrow does not produce a sufficient amount of red blood cells, or the cells have been destroyed by some underlying cause, the condition of hemolytic anemia becomes a reality.

Because red blood cells have the vital role of supplying oxygen to the body, an insufficient supply of them causes the body to become deprived of oxygen. This in turn leads to a lack of normal functioning in the dog and causes the death of other oxygen-dependent cells and tissues throughout the body.

Signs and Symptoms

Time is of the essence when it comes to recognizing hemolytic anemia. Once the destruction of red blood cells begins, there is no way to stop it unless medical intervention is sought. It is imperative that owners be aware of signs that may indicate hemolytic anemia in their dog, including:

  • Mild to moderate lethargy and inability to participate in normal activities
  • Excessive panting or labored breathing
  • Abnormal white appearance of the gums
  • Jaundice - yellowish tint of gums, eyes or ears

All of these symptoms are relatively specific to some type of anemia, so the largest obstacle sometimes is identifying hemolytic anemia.

Methods of Treatment

In cases of hemolytic anemia in dogs, successful treatment is directly linked with treating the cause. Hemolytic anemia can have a range of different causes, so proper blood testing and laboratory work should be done to make sure that the diagnosis is definitive.

The most common cause of hemolytic anemia is known as immune mediated hemolytic anemia. In this case, the immune system actually begins attacking the red blood cells in the body as they would viral or bacterial invaders. This dysfunction of the immune system is routinely more common in the Poodle and Cocker Spaniel breeds.

Depending on the underlying cause, most cases of hemolytic anemia in dogs will be treated with blood transfusion initially. This helps to replenish the body quickly with oxygen-rich red blood cells that can keep the body alive and functioning. Intravenous fluids are also used to maintain a satisfactory level of hydration and electrolyte balance.

After the dog has been sent home, a regimen of corticosteroids is typically given to help suppress the immune system. While this does generally weaken the immune system, it also helps to keep the supply of red blood cells sufficient to sustain life.