Immune-mediated hemolytic anaemia in dogs

Immune-mediated hemolytic anaemia is a condition where the immune system attacks and destroys the body’s own red blood cells. This can rapidly lead to severe anaemia, affect the liver and kidneys, and cause blood clots (thromboembolism) and other life-threatening complications. 

Primary IMHA, which represents the majority of cases in dogs, does not have an apparent cause. For secondary IMHA, possible immune system triggers include medications, blood parasites, tick-borne diseases, bee stings, snake bites, or cancer.

What are common IMHA signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Poor haircoat
  • Decreased appetite
  • Depression

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Bloody vomit or diarrhoea
  • Dark brown or red urine
  • Pale or yellow-tinged gums
  • Abdominal pain
  • Panting
  • Tremors
  • Collapse

Panting may be a sign of Immune-mediated hemolytic anaemia (IMHA) in dogs.

How is IMHA managed in dogs?  

IMHA can have a high mortality rate during the first two weeks of treatment. Most dogs with the condition will require hospitalisation, blood transfusions, immunosuppressants and antithrombotic medications. 

Refractory IMHA cases can require multiple blood transfusions or surgery to remove the spleen. Any underlying disease should be identified and treated. Dogs will need medication for several months, with regular veterinary visits and diagnostic monitoring. 

Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian is important for the best outcome for your dog.

What is the prognosis for dogs with IMHA?

The prognosis for dogs with IMHA depends on their condition at the time of diagnosis and their treatment response. After the initial crisis, up to 75% of dogs with the condition can have a good quality and length of life. However, there is a 15% chance of relapse in the first five years.

Management tips for dogs with IMHA

At-home needs include:

  • Easy access to food and water, and a comfortable location
  • Strict consistency with medications - do not stop unless directed by your veterinarian
  • Monitoring for changes in gum colour, energy level, appetite, thirst, urination and defecation

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog becomes lethargic, is unable to walk, has abnormal gum colour or difficulty breathing, or suddenly collapses.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.


This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.