Dear Daisy Dog
Our dog was just diagnosed with hemolytic anemia. What can you tell me about it?
Hemolytic anemia, a red blood cell (RBC) deficiency, can be caused by any one of a number of diseases.
First, the definition. Anemic dogs have too few RBCs to carry adequate supplies of oxygen throughout the body.
Anemia can occur because RBCs are produced in insufficient quantities, lost through excessive bleeding, or destroyed by the body. Hemolytic anemia happens through the last of these three mechanisms.
Hemo (red blood cell) lytic (breakup) anemia develops when the body destroys RBCs that have been damaged by bacteria, parasites, toxins such as onions or zinc pennies, or even by tumors of the spleen, liver or blood vessels.
Often the culprit is a malfunctioning immune system, which mistakes the RBC for an invading organism and destroys it. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is sometimes accompanied by immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, destruction of platelets.
Signs of hemolytic anemia are pale gums, weakness and lethargy. Dogs sometimes also have a fever, rapid breathing and heart rate, and a yellow tinge to the gums, skin and whites of the eyes.
Treatment is directed at eliminating the cause of the RBC destruction. If the cause of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia cannot be identified, the inappropriate destructive action of the immune system is suppressed.