ROSCOE'S BATTLE WITH IMHA
If you're lucky, you have no idea what IMHA is. Unfortunately, on April 10th, 2019 I had to learn first hand, when my baby Roscoe was diagnosed with Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, which took his life 16 days later.
I got Roscoe on August 26, 2016 when driving by an adoption hosted by The Lovejoy Foundation in Redondo Beach, CA. He was in a cage on the sidewalk with his brother and sister, all 6 weeks old. I knew he was the one I wanted because he was sleeping on top of his brother and I knew he was a cuddler! Convincing my parents to take him home was a no-brainer. I named him Roscoe because he would always lay with his legs spread backwards and he looked like a Rotisserie Chicken. He spent his days messing with his sister, Bailey and burying our socks. His favorite hangout spot was on the floor of the bathroom upstairs next to the toilet (gross). He was an attention whore and got super jealous if you gave his sisters attention instead of him. He was the first one to greet you when you walked through the door but immediately demanded belly rubs. He hated when you would be on your phone or computer around him and would nudge you until you stopped and pet him. He was a big baby who seemed to be scared of everything... yelling, thunder, fireworks, the vaccum, when people would stand behind him, etc. But he was the best little guy, would never ever hurt a fly. Unfortunately, on the morning of April 26th, 2019, we lost our baby boy Roscoe to IMHA at only 5 1/2 years old.
WHAT IS IMHA?
When your dog has IMHA, it means his immune system starts destroying its own red blood cells. Your dog’s body will still produce red blood cells to replace the destroyed ones, but as quickly as new ones are produced, they are destroyed again. Your dog can have primary IMHA, where there isn't necessarily a cause, their body just suddenly begins destroying the cells. Or they can have secondary IMHA, which can be caused by cancer, bee stings, snake or tick bites, parasites, reactions to a certain drug or medication, over vaccination, exposure to certain chemicals, allergic reactions, etc. Symptoms of IMHA include pale gums/tongue, lack of energy, weakness, shallow or rapid breathing, fast pulse, lack of appetite, black stools, etc.
April 9th We suddenly noticed Roscoe was acting strange. He wasn't eating and was laying on the couch all day and wouldn't get up. My parents forced him to go upstairs to bed and he peed on the stairs and couldn't jump on the bed.
April 10th Roscoe fell off the bed and could barely walk. He made it outside to pee and them collapsed in the puddle of his urine. We took him to the vet immediately. When the vet checked his gums and tounge it was WHITE. This meant his kidneys were failing and they immediately began running tests on him. He told us he likely has IMHA and that his red blood cell count was under 10% (a deadly level). He said the chances of survival were very slim and the cost of the procedures would be upwards of $6,000. We decided to try and save his life and took him to the VCA Pet Hospital down the street for an immediate blood transfusion. They began running tests to determine the cause of his sudden IMHA and gave him his first blood transfusion. They were unable to find any underlying causes, meaning he likely had Primary IMHA. His blood cell count spiked to 25% after the transfusion, but began dropping again. The vet said some dogs need multiple blood transfusions.
April 11th Roscoe stayed at the hopsital overnight and recieved another blood transfusion.
April 12th His blood cell count went back up to 24% and the vet suggested we take him home so we could spend time with him and bring him back periodically for blood cell count checks. He was very happy to be home, but spent most of his time sleeping on the couch and wouldn't eat his normal dog food. From this point on, all he would eat was cooked salmon, chicken, ground beef, liver, rice, and scrambled eggs. He would usually only get off the couch to pee. The medication he was on made him pee a lot, drink a lot of water, and breathe very rapidly.
April 13th His blood cell count only went down to 22%, which was a good sign because it wasn't dropping as rapidly as before.
April 14th His blood cell count dropped again to 19%. The vet said she was optimistic but wanted to see the count holding or going higher.
April 15th His blood cell count held at 19% for the first time and his lab tests came back that his bone marrow was beginning to produce new blood cells again. They said we could bring him back in for a recheck in a few days. Over the next few days, he fluctuated. Some days he seemed like he was getting better and some days he seemed to be weaker and was coming outside less and sleeping more.
April 19th His blood cell count dropped to 12%, back to a deadly level. The VCA Pet Hospital was out of blood so they couldn't give him another blood transfusion and they said it wouldn't do much good because his body is just destroying the new cells too fast. They prescribed him a different medication, but advised us that he probably isn't going to make it
April 24th He wasn't eating much anymore except a bite or two. He started peeing on the couch and couldn't really walk so we had to carry him outside and inside.
April 25th (night time) My dad carried Roscoe inside and I slept on the couch next to him but I noticed he didn't sleep at all the entire night.
April 26th, 6AM I woke up and got ready for work. My parents got up and tried to get Roscoe off the couch to go outside and pee. He barely made it out the door and peed. He came back inside and collapsed onto the floor. He started growing and twitching, having a seizure or a stroke. He died in my arms around 6:20am.
MY ADVICE IF YOU THINK YOUR DOG HAS IMHA
1. By the time your dog is showing symptoms that you are able to pick up on, they are probably already in the critical stages of IMHA and need to go to the vet immediately. Always check the color of their gums. If they are pale they need to go to the vet as soon as possible. The sooner you take your dog the better.
2. Some dogs have a better chance of survival than others. Roscoes was under 50% but we still wanted to try because he was so young. If your dog's IMHA was caused by something (allergic reaction, tick bite, etc.) you have a better chance of fixing the underlying issue and ultimately, survival. Talk to your vet and see where you need to go from there.
3. The blood transfusion(s), medication(s) and lab tests that your dog will need to potentially survive will be expensive. Do not give up just because you don't have the financial means to treat them! There are many organizations that will help pay for emergency life saving procedures for your pet. Some you can contact are: PETA, The Pet Fund, Paws 4 A Cure, Speaking For Spot, etc. Do this as soon as possible as they sometimes take days to respond.
4. If you decide to try to save your pets life, remember there is the possibility of them relapsing and needing another blood transfusion in the future, or medication for the rest of their life. Again, this is something thats different for every dog and you need to talk to your vet.
5. Through some research and recommendations, some home remedies to help your dog beat IMHA include feeding them nutritious, raw foods like Beef (GREAT SOURCE OF IRON), Chicken, Rice, Kale, Eggs, Liver, Salmon. Research foods that help increase red blood cell production. Anything high in iron is great for them. Additionally, people have found success in treating their dogs holistically (IN ADDITION TO VET PRESCRIBED MEDICATIONS) such as Microalgae/BioPreperation, Chloroxygen, and Milk Thistle. Do research on this ASAP and start giving your dog the recommended vitamins asap. We didn't learn about this until Roscoes last day with us, unfortunately.
6. I strongly encourage you to join this facebook group, IMHA Dogs-Support Group. There are hundreds of people there who are going through or have gone through the scary battle with IMHA. They have a lot of information, home remedies, success stories, recommendations, and financial resources so read and learn all you can!
7. No case of IMHA in dogs is the same. Some have horrible survival odds and survive, some nip it in the butt and are weaned off their medication indefinitely, some have their blood cell counts raise and drop for years. Don't give up hope!