Canine Haemolytic Anaemia
Last month, I was saying goodbye to my dogs, Rocky and Floss, on my way out to do a raw food feeding lecture to a group of very enthusiastic dog handlers. Rocky trotted over as usual, but instead of rolling over for a tummy tickle, she fell over. She quickly got up again, but didn’t look quite right. When she stretched herself, she stopped half way and quickly stood up. I thought she’d hurt her back running under our wooden fence on our walk earlier, so I gave her some Arnica. I massaged her which she loved, then gave her tummy a good rub when she rolled over. They both then curled up in their bed and seemed fine.
A few hours later, I came back and was greeted as usual by their wagging tails and exuberant barking. We went out into the woods for a walk, but Rocky started lagging behind, looking sorry for herself. I stopped and had a good look at her. Her gums were really pale. What had happened so suddenly? Last time I checked her mouth a few days before, her gums looked fine. I could find no source of bleeding, no fluid accumulating in her abdomen, no coughing, but she was clearly very anaemic. I carried her home thinking she must have had a haemangiosarcoma that had just ruptured. How could this happen to such a fit, healthy, raw food fed dog?
I phoned Summerhill Veterinary Surgery, one of the surgeries where I do veterinary dentistry, and took her straight down. An x-ray showed there was nothing abnormal in her abdomen or chest. We took blood samples and checked her haematocrit, made a slide to look at her red blood cells under the microscope and checked all her other blood parameters. The agglutination test showed a positive diagnosis of Haemolytic Anaemia. I was so relieved it wasn’t a tumour, but horrified to learn that only 50% of affected dogs survive. A guarded prognosis. My own dog. How could this be? Why on earth was she breaking down her own red blood cells?
We put her on a drip, gave her some antibiotics, intravenous cortisone (in an effort to stop her immune system from damaging any more red blood cells) and some multivitamins, although I couldn’t imagine she really needed them, but it might help. I never left Rocky’s side! Hannah, Jean, all the other vets and the nurses were fantastic. I was close to tears the whole time and they all ran around, doing everything for me and Rocky. They even brought me a text book, opened at the relevant chapter, describing in absolute detail the whole story of Haemolytic Anaemia. I read it whilst cuddling Rocky on the operating table as the drip gradually dripped in.
Any obvious cause?
The only realistic cause out of a huge list was a tick-bourne parasite from a tick bite in the summer. For some reason, her immune system had chosen now to destroy it. I have an idea what triggered this! Two weeks before, our kamikaze kitten, with vertical take-off, knocked a three pound haggis from the top of a wall unit (just under the ceiling) onto the floor, where both cats and both dogs enjoyed an early Burn’s Night supper! I suspect the high fat content of that cooked delicacy was the final straw for her system, which is used to completely raw food.
Thank goodness I’m a vet so I didn't have to leave her at the surgery! I could monitor her and the drip myself through the night, so I took her home with the drip still running. She hardly moved all the way home, but as soon as we arrived, she was clearly desperate for a wee; not surprising after all those fluids. So we set off for a short walk, but Rocky was having none of it. She was feeling so much better, she wanted to go far a walk in the woods! It was a very dark, moonless night! Armed with a torch, holding the drip and lead in the other hand, we set off. I kept thinking she’d be ready to stop at any moment, but no! Up the hill, along the path then down through the forest, sniffing everything with renewed vigour! I had forgotten about the stile at the bottom, so I picked her up and climbed over with the drip still running! A bit of a crazy thing to do, I know!
By the time we got home, I had had time to think a bit.
I gave her some Rescue Remedy then some Arnica, both of which help to reduce inflammation, so should help to stop her immune system’s attack on her red blood cells.
She wasn't impressed when I syringed 20mls of Aloe Vera into her mouth! Never mind, poor thing! It’s a potent anti-inflammatory, so I decided to give her the same 4 times daily.
The drip still had three hours to run, so I moved her bed next to the radiator, fastened the drip to the picture hook above and tied her lead to the radiator. Dozing on a mattress next to her, I was able to remove the drip and canula at 3am when it finished. Another quick trip out to water the flowerbed, then sleep!
Over the next couple of days, I had some more ideas on treating Rocky and spoke to some of my colleagues. In this picture, she is lying in my Russian Healing Blanket. I put her in it 4 times daily for at least 20 minutes; she usually lay in it for longer and I often got in with her which helped to revive me as well! It was a great time to cuddle her and give her plenty of love and TLC!
I also gave her Ferr. Phos. tissue salts, 4 at a time, twice a day. Every morning, I gave her a couple of raw eggs mixed up with Pet Plus, extra probiotics, wheat grass powder (to help with the regeneration of haemoglobin), omega 3 oil (flax / linseed) and Samylin (to help to stabilize red blood cell membranes), local raw honey from the hives in our field and Aloe Vera. She lapped it up!
After the first day, she started eating properly again, so after her egg, she had organic raw liver as well as her usual raw meat and bone with liquidized greens.
She was pretty up and down for the first few days, but definitely had pinker gums after each session in the blanket. One of my veterinary homoeopathic colleagues suggested Arsenicum Alba or Pulsatilla. I tried the Arsenicum first, but it didn't appear to have any effect. The next day, I gave her one Pulsatilla and within minutes, she brightened up. It was amazing!
We took blood samples regularly to monitor the situation. After 5 days, she was still breaking down her red blood cells, but there was evidence that she was also making new ones, an amazingly rapid recovery. To help her to stop attacking her own red blood cells, we increased the cortisone to an immunosuppressive dose and added Azothioprine, a seriously immunosuppressive drug.
A few days later, a friend gave her some cranial osteopathy and some healing, then she really rapidly improved. We started reducing the drugs, finishing them a week ago, so she had a month of treatment. We'll do another blood test tomorrow which I expect will show everything's fine, as she is back to her normal energetic self. What a month!