How to Spot I.M.H.A., The Silent Killer

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You should know that this is a sad story, but please take the time to read it. My goal is to raise awareness. My hope is for a cure.

We welcomed Lola, a Lab/Beagle mix into our home in August 2011. Lola took to my husband immediately, each time he left for work she would cry and mope. When either of us came home, Lola was estatic, running and frolicking and barking with joy. She wasn’t unruly. She just seemed to want company and was affectionate, happy, and sweet. In March 2012, Lola went off her food and became lethargic. We took her to the vet on the third day she showed symptoms. The vet was concerned at the color of her gums and took some blood for testing to rule out common illnesses.

On March 22nd, our vet gave us the bad news, Lola had contracted a deadly auto immune disease I.M.H.A. (Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia). When we attempted to research this online, I was shocked at how little information was available. Our vet explained that her immune system was attacking her red blood cells, causing a lack of oxygen and severe anemia. She was prescribed a steroid and an antibiotic.

On March 25th, her red blood cell count had dropped again so the vet added another medication – one that we had to get from our local pharmacy as it was for humans, not animals. Lola began to lose her hair as a result of the medications she was on. Her breathing was labored, especially at night. We had to coax her to eat, using rice and chicken to entice her. Our vet assured us she was not suffering, but was feeling very tired like she had just climbed a really big hill.

On March 31st, we saw a slight increase in her blood count, it went from a 16.4 to a 19. We were told the normal was 40 – 59. The medications had in essence shut down her immune system to stop it from attacking the red blood cells. We were in a dangerous stage of the treatment.

On April 3rd, she was experiencing neck pain as a result of the medications. We felt so helpless. Our vet wanted us to think about putting her down if this continued.

On April 9th, she went into respiratory distress and we lost her. I still can’t believe how fast it happened, and how little could be done to diagnose or treat her.

The facts out there are sparse and vary. One website quotes findings from a study that I.M.H.A. only affects female dogs between the ages of 3-7 (Lola was 2 1/2). Another website says both sexes are affected but more female than male. The majority of the sites state the the mortality rate is up to 80%. There seem to be many mixed findings, and no certain course of treatment. A few sites mention blood transfusions as an option, but these are both risky and costly. There is also not much info on how to avoid this illness, only to make sure your pet is on a flea and tick treatment, but Lola was on Frontline Plus at the time of contraction. The only thing it seems you can do is watch for the symptoms:

  • Not eating
  • Lethargy
  • White or pale pink gums

Our pets cant tell us what hurts with words, it’s up to us to monitor their behavior and react as needed. Don’t hesitate to contact your vet if your pet exhibits symptoms like I have described.

We miss Lola every day.

Jodi G. Thomson was born and raised in Seattle WA, she and her husband relocated to Houston TX in 2010. She enjoys writing and spending time with her husband and their pets.

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