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What is Aplastic Anemia?

Bone marrow is essential to the replenishment of red and white blood cells, and platelets. Upon reaching maturation, these cells are released into your dog’s blood stream. Aplastic anemia is a life-threatening condition which is caused by normal bone marrow being replaced by fatty tissue. This replacement prevents the release of the blood cells and platelets.

While red blood cells carry oxygen and remove waste such as carbon dioxide, the white blood cells are essential for fighting infections. Platelets provide blood clotting and prevent hemorrhage. A lowering number of these three vital components can cause severe problems throughout the body.

This disease is caused by a deficiency of the bone marrow to replenish red blood cells and can be life threatening for your dog.

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Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia in Dogs

Red and white blood cells and platelets all have different roles to do within your dog’s body, so the symptoms can vary depending on which type of cells are affected most. 

  • Red or purple spots (petechial hemorrhage) on the surface of your dog’s skin that is due to tiny hemorrhages 
  • Recurrent infections
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nosebleeds from no known cause (epistaxis) 
  • Pale mucous membranes 
  • Weight loss
  • Occasional vomiting 
  • Weakness and lethargy 

Types  

  • Aplastic anemia is a serious condition caused by bone marrow failure or some form of toxicity
  • This condition is known to affect all three types of blood cells – red, white and platelets
  • The result is an inability to fight infections, and bleeding problems (hemorrhage)
  • A bone marrow biopsy confirms what cell lines are affecting the disease
  • Idiopathic aplastic anemia (often the cause cannot be found which can make treatment harder to administer with the cause being the unknown factor)

Causes of Aplastic Anemia in Dogs

The causes of aplastic anemia are many and varied. 

  • Infections, such as the canine parvovirus infection which is a highly contagious viral illness
  • Rickettsial infections such as Ehrlichiosis which is transmitted by ticks and infects the white blood cells
  • NSAIDS which are given to relieve your dog from pain caused by inflammation 
  • Albendazole medication which is administered  for parasitic treatments 
  • Radiation
  • Antibiotics can be a trigger in some cases 
  • Chemotherapy drugs administration 
  • Toxins  
  • Administration of estrogen

Diagnosis of Aplastic Anemia in Dogs

It can take extensive testing to get a confirmed diagnosis of aplastic anemia in your dog due to the many and varied causes that can instigate this condition. Your veterinarian will need to perform a full physical examination, as well as an extensive laboratory testing. These tests will include urinalysis, and full blood and biochemical profiles. From these tests, your specialist will be able to determine the count of various cells and determine how far they vary from the normal ranges. 

Your veterinarian will also want to rule out any infectious disease as being the cause and will need to do a bone marrow sampling from your dog. This test involves the gathering of a small sample of the marrow through aspiration or biopsy. A microscope can reveal the condition of the bone marrow and indicate any problems that may be occurring within the bone marrow.  While this all sounds quite harrowing, and in severe cases the prognosis can be grim, the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better. MRI imaging may also need to be utilised. Dogs of any age can have this disease, and all breeds may be affected. General symptoms are quite vague, but any persistent lethargy, weight loss or intermittent vomiting needs to be checked by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Treatment of Aplastic Anemia in Dogs

After a confirmed diagnosis, your veterinarian may hospitalise your dog for a few days to begin treatment and monitor the progress. Supportive therapy to provide the necessary nutrition and energy that your dog is lacking will be provided. The main focus of the treatment is to suppress the immune system with drugs such as cyclosporine A. This drug, or others that are similar, will suppress the bone marrow over-response. Other drugs supporting the bone marrow’s natural development will be given to your dog.

Blood transfusions may be needed if your dog is severely affected; this will happen on a fortnightly basis at the beginning of the treatment. For any secondary infections and to prevent further infectious developments, an antibiotic will be given. Prognosis is guarded during treatment, although some dogs have recovered and continued to lead fulfilling lives. Consideration must be given to older dogs with severe cases of aplastic anemia; the hard decision to assess whether your dog will retain the quality of life dog should be given vital consideration.

Recovery of Aplastic Anemia in Dogs

Your dog may be required to spend some time in hospital during the treatment phase. Your veterinarian will be able to monitor your dog’s progress and adjust the dosages depending on how effective the treatment is.  Blood tests will need to be continued to see how the treatment is affecting your pet’s system. Throughout the recovery, repeated tests on the bone marrow will also need to be done to see if the marrow is responding to the treatment. Sadly, it is often the younger dogs that respond best to treatment, but even once the initial recovery is achieved your dog may take several weeks or months to recover completely. Your care and support will make it easier for your dog, and ensure it has a comfy, clean bed and quiet area to sleep will help.