Post 1 of 2:
While I am no expert on this awful disorder, I can speak from personal experience having recently lost an 11-month old Mini bitch to Thrombocytopenia, one of the forms of autoimmune disorder found in canines. (Thrombocytopenia, as I understand it, indicates a disorder in which the white blood cells begin destroying the red blood cells of the same body. Other forms are Hemolytic Anemia and Lupus, a skin disorder.)
Rave's symptoms came on slowly: she quit eating her normal quantities of food. She seemed very depressed and lethargic. I believe that I began to see the earliest symptoms emerge about two weeks prior to the day I took her to the vet. She was due to come into season shortly and I thought she had gone off her food because the other dogs were "bothering her".
What made me take her to the vet on that particular day was a high fever - 104 degrees. The vet did an immediate blood test and found Rave's red blood platelet count to be very low. She also showed anemia. We began an immediate drug therapy of prednisone and an antibiotic to help with the high temperature. Also, because there is a tick-borne disease - ehrlichiosis - which causes autoimmune in dogs, the same antibiotic would be helpful if that is how Rave had become ill. However, the test for erlichiosis was subsequently negative in Rave.
In short, the prednisone and other drugs failed to work. We made two additions to her drug regime, but neither was able to help her in time. One of the dangers of using prednisone - explained by my vet - is that it can cause internal bleeding if the amount is not balanced in the dogs' tiny bodies just right.
Two weeks after her diagnosis, Rave was "put down" after she began bleeding internally and exhibited severe respiratory problems. My vet said it was the worst case she had ever seen in a dog.
Often, blood transfusions are used as an expensive, last-ditch effort; a form of "treatment" but it is important to understand that this cannot save the dog in all cases. In Rave's case, it simply would have "bought her time" for the drugs to work - drugs to which she was not responding at all.
However, others have been luckier. I received a number of letters stating that dogs had survived autoimmune and lived a number of years after.
The overpowering question is - What causes autoimmune? What causes the blood cells to "go haywire" and begin attacking other blood cells? It seems that there is little information. Many believe that bad vaccines or over-vaccination (vaccinating more than is necessary, therefore weakening the natural immune system) can instigate the disorder. Not so in Rave's case. She had not had any vaccination in nearly 5 months. My vet said that sometimes it is thought to be environmental - stress, chemicals, and as mentioned above, one possible contributor is the tick. Others mention certain heartworm medications which have been used prior to the disorder appearing in dogs. Rave was not on heartworm medication as we do not use it as a rule in this part of So. Californa.
Post 2 of 2:
I resolved my problem several years ago but I will recount it because it may help someone else. One of my bitches dies of an autoimmune disorder - she had been absolutely fine until the day before she died. I sent everything down to Cornell to be tested. At the same time, I was not having any puppies. Any bitch I bred became pregnant and then aborted or reabsorbed the pups during the course of the pregnancy. Every dog in the house, of different lines and both standard and mini, tested high for cholesterol and also had to be put on thyroid medication. This was the last straw for me. It was impossible for all of these animals to have the same disorder in a short span of time.
After carefully looking through everything, I decided that the only thing that all had in common was the heartworm med. I told my vet that I was going to take them all off the IVOMEC. He said that all studies showed that this was safe (except for shelties, collies and dobes) and I had the same info from my reading and research...still...it bothered me. I took everyone off the med and within 3 months, they all tested normal for cholesterol....no need for thyroid meds...and to further test my theory, when my girls came into heat, I bred them all (foolhardy?...YES) All but one became pregnant. The bitch that had been on the heartworm the longest died before the pups were full term. It was determined that she, too, had an autoimmune disorder - she was not related to the first bitch and she had not been sick at all. The rest had small litters (thank goodness). The standard had to be spayed because her reproductive tract was in terrible shape and my vet (now agreeing with me) felt that this was probably another effect of the heartworm med.
Now, I have no one on heartworm meds. Everyone is tested regularly and I have them all on Bio-Spot. The Bio-Spot prevents mosquitoes from biting -so...no heartworm.
Prior to all of this (13 years ago), I had a 6 month old die of Lepto. She had had all of her shots, including the lepto. The report from Cornell only said that possibly the vaccine was at fault. Now I use the ProGuard 5 vaccine program for everybody and do not use it yearly.
The Immune System and Disease Resistance
by Dr. Jean Dodds
On Hemolytic Anemia
Hemopet - Hemopet is the clinic in So. CA run by Dr. Dodds whose article on autoimmune was published in the Jan. Feb. '98 issue of Schnauzer Shorts.