Symptoms of Heinz Body Anemia in Dogs

by Scott Morgan
    Anemic dogs typically are listless and lethargic.

    Anemic dogs typically are listless and lethargic.

    Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    Heinz body anemia is a hemolytic anemia, a condition that destroys the red blood cells. For dogs, the condition can come on rapidly and escalate quickly. Among its many causes, one of the healthiest people foods is on the list. Dogs who've contracted Heinz body anemia need prompt medical attention, so if you see the signs, call your vet immediately.

    What Heinz Bodies Are

    Heinz bodies are parts of a red blood cell that consist of damaged aggregated hemoglobin. When these cells and hemoglobin weaken from oxidation, Heinz bodies form and keep red blood cells from deteriorating naturally.

    The Process of Heinz Body Anemia

    Healthy red blood cells break down to form hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body, and bile, which aids in digestion, every four months. Hemolytic anemia occurs when the normal breakdown rate of red blood cells accelerates and depleted cells pile up in the body. Dogs become anemic when the percentage of red blood cells by blood volume drops out of the normal range of 39 to 60 percent to below 37 percent.

    Outward Signs

    Because of what red blood cells do after they break down, a buildup of nonfunctioning cells keeps oxygen from getting to tissues and deadens the appetite. The first signs that your dog might be anemic, then, are a loss of appetite and a noticeable sluggishness or weakness. More obvious signs of hemolytic anemia specifically are found in the gums and tongue, which will turn a pale pink from lack of oxygenated blood, and dark brown urine.

    Internal Issues

    In more severe cases of anemia, weakness can lead to your dog collapsing from overexertion, even if he's not being very active. Because his body is starved for oxygen, his pulse likely will increase dramatically and he may begin breathing heavily. Heinz body anemia also may cause a heart murmur in some dogs, and also may lead to enlarged liver, lymph nodes and spleen.

    IMHA and Babesiosis

    Immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) occurs when your pup's autoimmune cells attack her red blood cells instead of germs. This occurs far more frequently in dogs than cats and is more common among certain breeds, namely cocker spaniels, poodles and Old English sheep dogs. Babesiosis, a condition in which germs or parasites directly attack and destroy red blood cells, also is more common among dogs than cats, but is not as breed-specific as IMHA.

    Watch What Your Dog Eats

    Though dogs eat pretty much anything, certain substances your dog ingests can trigger the onset of Heinz body anemia. Drugs, such as Tylenol, and some metals, particularly zinc -- found in pennies and ointments he might get into -- are especially dangerous. Some foods, chiefly onions, can trigger hemolysis in dogs. Also, keep him away from skunks, as skunk spray could be a contributor to hemolytic anemias in dogs.

    Photo Credits

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    About the Author

    Scott Morgan is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered central New Jersey since 2001. He has worked with the Princeton Packet Newsgroup, US 1 Publishing, "Unique Homes Magazine" and Community News Service. Morgan also serves as a professional speaker and teacher. He holds a bachelor's degree in humanities from Thomas Edison State College.

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