Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

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Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia


What is immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA)?

IMHA can be a primary autoimmune disease that attacks red blood cells or secondary to some tumors or infection with mycoplasma, a tick-borne parasite.

 How do I know if my dog has IMHA?

Dogs with IMHA may exhibit lethargy, anorexia, have dark orange or brown urine, pale or yellowish gums, fever or a yellowish tinge to the whites of the eyes.  IMHA can be diagnosed with blood tests, including a Coomb’s Test designed to detect antibodies on the surfaces of red blood cells.  Other diseases that may cause IMHA must be ruled out.

 What does it mean for my dog if it has IMHA?

Secondary disease can be treated by treating the disease that caused the IMHA.  In an IMHA crisis the dog will require emergency care and hospitalization, often including blood transfusions and immunosuppressive medications.   Long term care includes immunosuppressive therapy for several months post-crisis.  The disease can be life-threatening.

How common is IMHA in Aussies?

Very rare.  However, it is important to keep in mind that breeders should approach all chronic autoimmune disease as a single health concern; different types of autoimmune disease frequently occur in affected families.

Is IMHA inherited in Aussies?

Yes.  All autoimmune diseases are genetically predisposed:  The dog must have the genes to get the disease, but not every dog with the genes will become ill.

Is there a screening test for IMHA?

Not at this time.

What does IMHA mean for my breeding program?

Breeders should approach each autoimmune disease as part of an overall health and breeding issue because different autoimmune diseases frequently occur in an affected family.  See Autoimmune Disease & Breeding.

Is IMHA contagious?

No.  However, Mycoplasma haemocanis, the organism that can cause secondary immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, is transmitted by ticks.  Not every dog infected with Mycoplasma gets IMHA, nor is it the root cause of every case of IMHA.