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Autoimmune Anemia in Dogs

Autoimmune Anemia in Dogs

Autoimmune anemia is a sign that your dog is suffering from an underlying health condition that requires immediate attention. If your dog is diagnosed with autoimmune anemia, your vet will begin the process of diagnosing and treating the underlying illness that is causing it.

What is Anemia in Dogs?

Anemia is a condition that affects the blood, which indicates your dog is suffering from an underlying disease or condition. Anemia in dogs occurs in four different ways:

  1. The animal's body does not produce enough red blood cells (Aplastic or non-regenerative anemia).
  2. Your pet's body produces the correct number of red blood cells but other systems within the body attack and destroys those cells. 
  3. When your dog is suffering from severe blood loss due to conditions such as cancer or stomach ulcers, or trauma such as an injury or accident (blood loss anemia).
  4. Too much methemoglobin is in the blood due to a genetic disorder, or exposure to toxins such as some human medications including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and benzocaine.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

There are two unique types of autoimmune anemia seen in dogs, primary and secondary.

Primary Autoimmune Anemia

Primary autoimmune anemia in dogs occurs when your dog's immune system creates antibodies to incorrectly fight off and destroy its own red blood cells. This form of anemia occurs due to a problem with your pet's immune system.

Secondary Autoimmune Anemia

Secondary autoimmune anemia in dogs happens if the structure of your dog's red blood cells is changed in such a way that your dog's own immune system mistakes the red blood cells for a foreign invader that needs to be destroyed. Secondary autoimmune anemia can occur in dogs due to an underlying condition or the ingestion of a toxin.

Conditions that can lead to secondary autoimmune anemia in dogs include cancer, infections such as Ehrlichiosis or Leptospirosis, parasitic infections including Babesiosis, snakebites, drug reactions, toxins, or even bee stings.

Signs of Autoimmune Anemia in Dogs

 If your dog has autoimmune anemia, you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Very pale gums
  • Lethargy/easily tired
  • Fainting
  • Disorientation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dark urine
  • Yellowish skin or mucous membranes
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced appetite

If your dog is displaying any of the symptoms listed above it's time to head to the vet.

Diagnosing Autoimmune Anemia in Dogs

If your vet believes that your dog is suffering from anemia, they will perform several blood tests including a complete blood count (CBC) and packed cell volume (PCV) to determine the type of anemia causing your pet's symptoms.

If autoimmune anemia seems likely your veterinarian will run further diagnostic testing to help determine the cause of the anemia. Tests may include chest and abdomen x-rays or ultrasounds as well as further blood tests to look for parasites or toxins and urinalysis to check kidney function.

Treatment for Autoimmune Anemia in Dogs

If your vet is unable to determine an underlying cause for your dog's anemia, or if your dog is suffering from primary or idiopathic autoimmune anemia, immunosuppressive therapy will be prescribed. This form of treatment typically includes immunosuppressive doses of corticosteroids (prednisone). In more complex cases a combination of immunosuppressive medications, such as cyclosporine or azathioprine may be necessary to get the condition under control.

For dogs suffering from secondary autoimmune anemia, treatment will focus on addressing the underlying cause of the condition. Depending on the cause of your dog's anemia treatment may include toxin antidotes, heartworm treatment, or antibiotics.

If your dog is suffering from a severe life-threatening case of autoimmune anemia a blood transfusion may be necessary to stabilize your dog's condition while other treatments take effect.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of autoimmune anemia? Contact our vets in Lexington to have your dog examined.

Emergency Care

Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency is open 24/7 for emergencies and is accepting patients for advanced diagnostic appointments. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lexington companion animals. 

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