Signs & Symptoms of Immune Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

Cocker spaniels are one of many breeds predisposed to autoimmune hemolytic anemia.
George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Typically, anemia -- a reduction in red blood cells and hemoglobin -- is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. But autoimmune hemolytic anemia, or immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, is a disease separate from any underlying condition. In such a case, the normal immune system responsible for fighting off infection turns on the body and attacks the red blood cells.

Breed Predisposition

Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia can affect any dog breed, though it is more common in some. Common breeds include Irish setters, English springer spaniels, cocker spaniels, Doberman pinschers, collies, Scottish terriers, miniature schnauzers, English sheepdogs and vizslas. Female dogs show a greater risk than male dogs. The disease is often triggered by internal and external factors such as stress, estrus, whelping or infection.

Visual Symptoms

Because autoimmune hemolytic anemia attacks and reduces the number of red blood cells, the most visible symptom is pale coloring of the mucous membranes. You will notice the normal red or pink coloring of the gums changes to almost white. As bilirubin builds up in the body, this white color changes to a yellowish appearance, indicating jaundice. Usually, platelets responsible for clotting are also reduced. If this is the case, you may notice bruising under the skin in light-colored dogs. Some cases cause circulation problems in the ears, the feet and the tips of the tail, causing a dark bluish-black coloring.

Breathing and Cardiovascular Symptoms

Because red blood cells and hemoglobin carry oxygen to the cells, their reduction in numbers decreases your dog’s oxygen levels. Breathing may become rapid as the dog attempts to draw in more oxygen. The decrease in oxygen can contribute to a rapid heart rate, fainting and weakness.

Behavioral Changes

As red blood cells decrease and oxygen levels diminish, a formerly active and rambunctious dog may become lethargic; he may no longer want to participate in regular walks or activities. If he does go for a walk, you may notice he becomes easily tired. He may experience muscle weakness and joint pain, along with vomiting, diarrhea and fever. A reduction in appetite is common, and thirst and urination typically increase.