Autoimmune Haemolytic Anaemia

What is Autoimmune Haemolytic Anaemia?

Autoimmune Haemolytic Anaemia (AIHA) is a disease that is relatively rare in Basenjis. Anaemia is not a disease in itself, it is rather a symptom of another disease or disorder. Unlike Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency which also causes anaemia AIHA is not hereditary.

In the case of AIHA the body attacks and destroys its own red blood cells. In affected dogs, red blood cells are still produced on a continuous basis by the bone marrow, but once released into the blood stream, they have a shortened life span.

What causes Autoimmune Haemolytic Anaemia?

Primary or idiopathic AIHA
The dogs immune system is not working as it should and it makes antibodies that target and destroy its own red blood cells which deplete. The cause of the deficient immune system is not known. It is estimated that 75% of cases of AIHA in dogs are primary.

Secondary AIHA
The surface of the red blood cells are altered by another disease or a toxin. Due to the alteration the dogs immune system does not recognise the cells and attack them as they are ‘foreign’ to the body. Secondary AIHA can be triggered by cancer, infection, drug reactions, Babesia (a parasite of the blood), snake bites, chemicals and even bee stings. In dogs cancer is the most common cause of secondary AIHA.

What are the symptoms of AIHA?

The symptoms follow that of anaemia:

  • very pale gums;
  • listless and tire easily;
  • fainting;
  • rapid hearty beat;
  • very dark urine;
  • yellow colouration to gums and other mucus membranes;
  • vomiting; and
  • poor appetite.

 

How is AIHA treated and what is the prognosis?

Treatment is dependent on the type of AIHA (primary or secondary).

If the condition is life threatening then a blood transfusion will be required. In primary AIHA cases the immune system is often suppressed temporarily by drugs such as corticosteroids (steroids) sometimes in combination to get the issue under control. In secondary cases treatment is generally directed to the underlying cause.

Prognosis for dogs with AIHA is dependent on the type, severity and general health of the animal at the time of diagnosis. In many cases the dogs condition can be adequately treated with drugs which often can be slowly withdrawn as the anaemia resolves and/or stabilizes.