Dog Hemolytic Anemia

Table of Contents

Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment


"There are two types anemia; primary and secondary. Primary hemolytic anemia is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own red blood cells. The cause of the disease is not known. Treatment involves using steroids to suppress this response.

In the secondary form the cause is usually a parasite or toxin of some kind. Once the underlying cause is removed the disease can be brought under control."


Hemolytic anemia (IMHA) is an autoimmune disease. In secondary hemolytic anemia the cause is known such as a parasite. Treatment involves removing the cause while stabilizing the patient.

In secondary IMHA the body identifies the red blood cells as being a foreign substance and begins to destroy them. While the body is supposed to destroy old and damaged red blood cells, in dogs that have hemolytic anemia they are destroyed faster than the body can produce new ones.

Breeds where this disease is seen more often than others include cocker spaniels, English springer spaniels, collies, poodles and miniature schnauzers.

The condition can be triggered by your taking ingesting acetaminophen Tylenol), eating onions or vitamin k supplements.

Dog Hemolytic Anemia Symptoms

Symptoms of dog hemolytic anemia include depression, anorexia, weakness and lethargy. Your dog's urine may also change color.

The mucous membranes, such as the gums and eyelids, will appear pale. In severe cases, dogs may have jaundice, in which the eyes and skin will take on a yellowish color.

There will be other symptoms that the vet will notice, including increased heart rate, heart murmur and fever.

Dog Hemolytic Anemia Diagnosis

Dog hemolytic anemia is diagnosed by a blood test. The test identifies a low number of red blood cells. The red blood cells that are present are misshaped and abnormally clumped together.

If your dog is diagnosed with hemolytic anemia, your vet will do more tests to find out the cause of the condition. It could be caused by cancer, blood parasites, infectious disease, or by certain drugs. In addition to blood tests, a bone marrow biopsy may be done to check for these conditions.

In some cases, hemolytic anemia occurs for no known reason. This is known as primary hemolytic anemia.

Dog Hemolytic Anemia Treatment

Corticosteroids are the primary drugs used to treat canine hemolytic anemia such as prednisone. A hospital stay of 6 days is often recommended where large doses are given at first in order to induce the body to stop attacking its own cells and force the condition into remission. The cortisone dose is gradually decreased to a maintenance dose. Many dogs will have to remain on medication throughout their lifetime, particularly those with primary hemolytic anemia.

If warranted, antibiotics will be prescribed if their are any signs of infection.

If treatment with steroids is not effective, strong immunosuppressive drugs are used. Dogs on these medications must be carefully monitored for side effects, including decreased white blood cell count.

A splenectomy (removal of the spleen) is another treatment option. This benefits the dog in two ways. Fewer antibodies are made against the red blood cells, and the primary organ responsible for breaking down the red blood cells is gone. Dogs can live just fine without a spleen.

While blood transfusions are commonly used to treat other forms of anemia, there is mixed evidence supporting their use for hemolytic anemia. Adding foreign material to the body simply increases the amount of material which the body must break down.

Your dog will be examined every week and urinalysis every 3 months to ensure that the anemia doesn't return. The prognosis for dogs with this condition results in 50% of dogs still being alive after one year.


Canine Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia
A.E. Hohenhaus
The Animal Medical Center

Basic Approach to Anemia Diagnosis
Tvedten, Harold William