Hospital Pet CarePet Health

What Is Immune Mediated Hemalytic Anemia (IMHA)?

IMHA is a viscous autoimmune disease and can be difficult and expensive to treat. Female dogs are more likely to contract IMHA as are middle-aged to older dogs. Breeds like Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Old English Sheepdogs, Irish Setters, Poodles, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Dachshunds are more likely to get IMHA but any dog, and even cats, can get it.

What Happens To A Pet With IMHA?

A dog or cat with IMHA will get sick very quickly.

Watch for these signs:

  • Lethargy
  • Pale Skin
  • Pale Gums
  • Yellow-Tinged Eyes
  • Yellow or Jaundiced Skin
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Decreased Water Consumption
  • Peeing Blood or Pink Colored Urine

What’s confusing about IMHA is that the signs above happens with other illnesses as well. However, this is way worse than many other issues. If your dog or cat isn’t seen by a veterinary quickly, their body won’t be able to fight off what’s going on inside. There’s only a short window for treatment so if you see any of the signs above, take your pet to an emergency vet immediately.

What’s happening inside the dog’s body is dangerous. The pet’s healthy red blood cells are being destroyed by IMHA. The cell destruction is done at such a breakneck speed that if treatment isn’t started quickly, death is almost certain. When the red blood cells are destroyed, the white blood cells are thrown off, the platelets get out of whack and the body is thrown into a state of chaos. High levels of billirubin leads to the jaundice coloring and is indicative of disease or anemia. Basically everything in the body is affected when a diagnosis of IMHA is determined.

Why Red Blood Cells Are Attacked

There’s no clear answer as to why the body goes after the red blood cells. Something interesting I discovered is that allergies are the result of autoimmune disease, so is canine inflammatory bowel disease and Addison’s. Did you know that pollen and grass allergies are autoimmune diseases as well? Obviously they’re less dangerous but still bad for your pet to have.

Treatment Options For IMHA

Treatment varies. Generally a blood transfusion is needed. Often multiple blood transfusions are needed if your pet has any chance at surviving.

The blood transfusion gives the body time to rebuild the healthy red blood cells. This rebuilding can only take place with the help of medications such as steriods, typically prednisone, corticosterioids and other immunosuppressive medications. Plasma and oxyglobin are sometimes given to dogs as well.

Speaking of expense, many veterinarian offices will not be able to handle IMHA cases like this. And many vets and vet staff have actually never seen an IMHA case. Most likely your pet will need to go to an emergency veterinarian hospital, like Northwood Animal Hospital in Anderson, IN, which ups the expense, but ups the chance of survival as well!

Contributing Factors and Causes

Contributing factors and causes include:

  • Ingesting Stuffing from Toys
  • Swallowing Cotton or Cloth Material (stuffing, cotton and cloth is hard to pass and sits in the stomach)
  • Vaccinations within a month of diagnosis of IMHA
  • Hemastatic cancers such as hemangiosarcoma which is typically found in German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers.
  • Tick borne illnesses, like lyme disease and rocky mountain spotted fever
  • Severe Bacterial Infections Like Sepsis and Toxin Ingestion or Exposure
  • Consuming metal objects with high levels of zinc or eating pennies that were made before 1982 can also throw the body into an autoimmune system war zone.

Dr. Matthew at Northwood Animal Hospital jokingly told me that most cases he’s seen have come from idiopathic factors, in other words, “We look like idiots scratching our heads trying to figure out the cause.” Veterinarians are often left without definitive answers and pet parents like myself feel lost, hopeless and incredibly sad when their dog can’t beat IMHA.

Healing After Losing A Pet From IMHA

If you have had a pet that has survived or passed away from IMHA, please feel free to share your story with us. Sharing my experience including the horrible news of Boston’s has helped me grieve my sweet boy.

Healing from a pet death is never easy. You take all the time you need.

Here’s a couple tips I can give you:

Remember the good times…remember that your pet is no longer suffering.

Two years later and I still miss my boy. He was my spooning buddy, the best foot warmer, my cuddle buddy, the best nanny dog for my granddaughter, the best partner when I roller bladed and rode my bicycle. Boss was the best pit bull advocate and changed many hearts and minds about his breed. Boston met hundreds of children between 2008 and 2016 and provided a positive ‘pit bull’ relationship to many. He’ll be remembered forever and I love and miss him so much.

IMHA dog deathRIP Boston boy. January 11, 2016. 9:45am.

Thank You

Joyce Kreps for confirming that I needed to take Boston to the vet on January 6.

Dr. Hobson and the staff at Care Animal Hospital. You all treated Boston with kindness.

Dr. Jason Matthew and staff at Northwood Animal Hospital in Anderson, Indiana. You all were patient with my questions, loved my dog, treated him the best you could and supported me throughout the process.

Thank you to the supporters who called Northwood and donated money towards Boston’s vet bill. Without your help I wouldn’t have been able to even think about treating him.

Thanks to our supporters through my GoFundMe page. People from all over the United States, fellow pet sitters, strangers, friends and family. I love each and everyone of you. Thank you for your generosity and sharing the struggle with me.

Missing Boston,

Kelley Stewart, CEO|Pet Sitter
sit-stay-play In-home pet sitting & more.LLC

P.S. Boston’s Fund was established at Northwood Animal Hospital on May 1, 2018 to help with unexpected veterinary costs. Donations are always accepted, just tell the desk staff you’d like it designated to this fund. Our donations come from the pet nail trims we host in Anderson, IN. Learn more and see our calendar for these services here.

Sites referenced:
http://www.vin.com/animalicious/default.aspx?pid=756&catId=5860&id=5774643 and https://www.vetinfo.com/dimha.html