Genetic hemolytic anemia goes by many different names including immune mediated hemolytic anemia and autoimmune hemolytic anemia or AIHA. It can be caused by something as simple as a bee sting a vaccination or even a complication from a basic skin infection or cut. It is a disease that is most common in both intact and spayed females and typically effects a wide number of dog breeds, both mixed and purebred. Within the purebred group the most common breeds to experience genetic hemolytic anemia are the Basenji, Cocker and Springer Spaniel, Old English Sheepdog, Poodle, Dachshund, Malamute, Shih Tzu and West Highland White Terrier. Mixed breeds that have lineage from one or more of these breeds are also at risk.
Genetic hemolytic anemia is an autoimmune disorder or a condition where the body actually attacks its own blood cells. The dog is first exposed to some sort of compound to which the body would normally produce antibodies to fight off the infection or toxin. Instead the body produces antibodies that actually attack the body's own red blood cells, meaning that the oxygen is no longer carried to the cells, resulting in mild to fatal conditions of anemia.
The first symptoms of genetic hemolytic anemia are often very subtle and include general depression, weakness, fever and general fatigue. As the problem becomes more severe seizures will occur as well as blood in the urine, enlarged spleen and a whitish yellow or gray color to the gums and other membranes. As the body produces more antibodies to kill the red blood cells, more and more cells are destroyed. Destroyed red blood cells naturally produce a substance that causes the blood to clot or thicken. As this occurs severe blood clots can block the blood flow through the heart or can stop liver functioning, leading to a complete breakdown total body functioning as toxins in the blood rise.
If the condition progresses slowly and is diagnosed before the heart, brain and liver become compromised the use of various drugs known as corticosteriods are very effective. Drugs that also suppress the bodies autoimmune system are also used over a period of months until the condition is under control. This condition can reoccur later in the dog's life so once the dog has had the condition owners need to be very vigilant in checking any possible health concerns. In cases where the liver, brain or heart has become damaged the disease is usually fatal.
Watch for any early signs of a change in the dog's energy level if they are one of the identified breeds. If the dog has any other health issues ask the vet to check for hemolytic anemia if the condition involves the immune systems or any type of cancers or tumors.