Treating Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) in Dogs with Prednisone

AIHA, also known as the autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a rare autoimmune condition that can affect canines as well. The immune system of the dog affected by AIHA will attack the red blood cells and this will lead in a red cell imbalance. There are several types of AIHA and these may be treated with prednisone, which is a corticosteroid.

The Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

The autoimmune hemolytic anemia also called autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a condition that will lead to hemolysis and a deficiency of red blood cells.

There are several types of AIHA including:

  • The warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia is the most common type of AIHA in felines and is an idiopathic disease that will destroy a membrane of the red blood cells
  • The cold agglutinin disease is a condition in which the antibodies only bind the red blood cells at low temperatures; there are 2 types of cold agglutinin disease; one is idiopathic, the second type is caused by an underlying disease caused by leukemia
  • Paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria or PCH is a disease that will cause the elimination of hemoglobin in the urine, especially after the exposure to extremely cold temperatures

Diagnosing AIHA

The AIHA will cause the cat to be lethargic, have pale gums and sleep more than usual. The symptoms can be subtle, so the disease is difficult to detect. However, a few specific tests can identify the problem.

The AIHA can be detected using the direct antiglobulin test that can detect the antibodies that destroy the red blood cells. This test is also known as the Coombs test.

Prednisone for AIHA

Corticosteroids are the first choice treatment option for any type of AIHA in dogs. Prednisone is an effective corticosteroid that will suppress the immune system and will stop the formation of the antibodies that destroy the red blood cells.

Prednisone can be administered as a drug, but may also be taken intravenously. The vet will determine the right dosage, based on the age, the size and the state of the disease in your pet.

Prednisone may be replaced by prednisolone, which has the same immunosuppressant effects.

Prednisone Side Effects

The most common prednisone side effects include:

  • Susceptibility to contract different infections due to a suppressed immune system
  • Increased blood glucose
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent urination
  • Anxiety
  • Skin rashes
  • Irritability

Prednisone can cause dependency, as the adrenal gland will stop working if the prednisone is administered for longer than 7 days in a row. For this reason, when discontinuing the prednisone treatment, this should be done gradually, so that the adrenal gland starts becoming functional.

Alternative AIHA Treatment Options

If the prednisone is not effective in treating the AIHA in your pet, the vet will recommend immunoglobulins.

Another treatment option is the removal of the spleen (spleenectomy).

Other drugs that could be used if prednisone is not effective include cyclophosphamides or cyclosporines.

Intravenous immune globulin can also be administered to control the red blood cell count.