Three weeks ago I didn’t even know what IMHA was, and now I know more about it than I want to. IMHA is short for Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia. It is a disease that causes the white blood cells to attack the red blood cells. The red cells are destroyed at an alarming rate and the body cannot keep up with this destruction. The red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body, and when they are destroyed the body cannot function properly. My three year old healthy miniature schnauzer was suddenly stricken with this horrific disease, and I am writing this piece as a tribute to her, and with the hope other dog owners read this, and think twice about over vaccinating their pets.
Bailey was a healthy, active, playful, loving little dog. She ran around the backyard like a jack rabbit. She chased squirrels, and balls. She was so active that I would get tired just watching her. She would bring me her toys and we would play. Our dogs love us unconditionally, and the love, they bring to their families is amazing. I have been a dog owner most of my life, and each one of my dogs has brought their own personality, and uniqueness to my world. I love them very much, and know when taking in a pet the responsibility of keeping them safe, and healthy rests with me. But that is okay, because that is what I signed up for when choosing to have these adorable creatures become part of my life.
Bailey was a very healthy little girl. She was a good eater, but maintained a normal weight for her size, and breed. Great lines and good muscle tone. I took her to the groomer, because schnauzers have that distinct look with their rectangle faces that emphasizes the beard. The rest of the body is trimmed back, and they also have a skirt which is a little longer than the hair on their backs which connects with the longer hair on the legs. Not all schnauzers are groomed this way, but we chose to give her the true schnauzer look. Because my goal was to keep her healthy, and well, and give her a good chance of having a long and happy life I took her to the vet for exams, and vaccinations that I was led to believe would prevent her from getting certain dog diseases that can cause sickness, and death.
One day Bailey started vomiting. I did notify the vet later that day, and he told me to keep a watch on her. She threw up a few times after that went to sleep and by the next day she had trouble, walking. Her head was tilted to one side, and her left eye was rolling. She also had bloody urine. All this happened within minutes. I picked her up and drove to the vet. Bailey’s last vaccine was in July, this was now Sept. The two vaccines she received may or may not have caused this illness, but in any case they did add to the accumulative shots that she had been given in her three short years of life. Her vet was seeing her every six months, and many times another booster was given for different shots. I did not know that was excessive, and unnecessary. I went with what a trained professional (her vet) was advising.
The doctor told me to go to the nearest specialized trauma center where they could better evaluate her condition. I knew that morning what was happening to her was bigger than both of us, I was scared for her, and the thought of losing my little furry companion was unbearable. I rushed Bailey to the hospital thirty minutes away. They were wonderful, and worked on her immediately. At first they were not sure what was going on, but said her liver levels were through the roof, which indicated a shutdown of the organ. They questioned me about a possible ingestion of some toxic substance, which I knew did not occur. The vet then discovered an infection was present, and the blood test showed her red blood cells were decreasing in volume, and as a result she was becoming jaundice. The doctors said she may have an autoimmune disease that caused the liver issue and the many other problems she was experiencing. They told me she was dizzy from the vestibular that caused her left eye to be circling, and her head to tilt. To see my once vibrant, healthy dog in this shape was heartbreaking. I signed the necessary papers to initiate treatment, and told them to do everything possible to save her.
Bailey was in ICU for six days where she received IV fluids, antibiotic, glucose, two blood transfusions, and immunoglobulin which was given to try and keep the white blood cells from destroying the red. She did not eat, could not stand, and was very sad. She perked up four days in when there was a glimmer of hope. Her internist tried everything, and would not give up on her. She stabilized for a bit, but, it was short lived. I visited her daily, and she looked at me with those sad eyes as if to say what is happening? It was horrible to go through this for me, but Bailey went through so much more. The hospital told me she was not in pain, but it was obvious that my beautiful, loving schnauzer was fighting an uphill battle. The last day she was there she had fluid in her lungs that was caused by the breakdown of protein in the cells. The water was drained, and she was given oxygen. I held her in my arms one last time, cried, told her how much I loved her, and how much I was sorry she got so sick.
The doctor said there was a slim chance, but a chance none the less, she would beat this devastating illness, but it was up to me if I wanted to wait the night. She assured me she was not in pain, but I said my goodbyes before I left. I did not put her down, but needed to be accepting of the grim outcome. I knew nature had to take its course one way or another. I had to give her that last chance, because we went this far with treatment. I did not know if I could get back to the hospital in time if she took a turn for the worse, and I advised the doctor to put her down if she was in any pain. At 2:00 in the morning I received a phone call saying Bailey passed away peacefully in her sleep naturally. I could not be there but knew in my heart she said her goodbyes to me when I visited that afternoon. As much as I expected it I was devastated. I was holding on for that little hope she would recover.
I am not writing this article to criticize all vaccines, because there are some shots that are necessary such as Rabies, given every three years, and the initial puppy shots that are administered because a pup has no immunity against certain dog diseases. I have since read an article written by Dr. Jean Dodd a world renowned veterinarian who advises inoculating your dog in three year intervals as opposed to every year. Many dogs retain the initial immunity for awhile, and it becomes unnecessary to give boosters so close apart. There is also a titers test which can determine the dog’s immunity at that time, and can eliminate the need for extra vaccines.
Unfortunately in Bailey’s case her vet did not inform me of the test, or that it is possible but not proven that over vaccinating can cause IMHA. Of course there are some cases when a dog is stricken with an autoimmune disease that may be unrelated to the shots, but, possibly from a genetic predisposition to the disease. I believe that is a possibility, but, it seems highly unlikely that a great number of dogs are predisposed unless some common thread is linking these cases together. I was told that there was an increase in this diagnosis recently, which is extremely troubling. If I was informed I could have made my own decision to opt out of vaccinating her every year. I could only hope that some in the veterinary business are not looking to give unnecessary shots to increase the vet bill, and generate more income to their establishments.
IMHA will cause havoc to the immune system, and causes the body to attack itself. Although it has not been proven that vaccines cause IMHA, vaccinations do work on immunity, and may cause the body’s defenses to work against protection. Most vets will not give shots to a dog that has survived IMHA. I would imagine that is because the immune system has been compromised and the shots will increase the likelihood of it to overreact. In this case there is the danger of the immune system to become overactive with the vaccine, but before according to some in the veterinary world the vaccine doesn’t cause the defense system to become compromised originally. I have trouble comprehending this logic. I guess if a dog shows no signs of the disease it becomes a game a Russian roulette. That is unacceptable. The only way a vet will know not to give shots is if the dog already has been diagnosed with this dreadful disease, and by that time the damage has already been done.
As dog owners it is vital that we become advocates for our pets that have no voices. It is better to be informed, and make intelligent decisions for our pets then to regret the loss of our beloved companions afterwards. Bailey will be terribly missed. I am happy I had her for three years, and her paw print will always be etched on my heart. I wish I had more time with her, but, know that won’t be the case. If someone reads this article, and it saves other dogs her death won’t be in vain. As some in the veterinary world may conclude the vaccinations have not been proven to be a cause of IMHA, but, I believe it needs to be looked at more carefully, because too many dogs from different parts of the country, coming from multiple litters and many breeds have died from this particular autoimmune disease. In Bailey’s case there was no history of this disease in her lineage. The numbers have increased, and as dog owners we need to be aware of the possible causes to prevent future heartache with the loss of our beloved companions.