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When Jon and Raynae Sicotte’s Maltese started acting depressed in early April, they thought she was just miffed that they were giving too much attention to her human “brother,” 6-month-old Logan.
“She was mopey and wouldn’t eat, and she wouldn’t jump on the couch,” Mrs. Sicotte said. “We chalked it up to her just feeling left out since we have a new baby, and she sometimes is very sensitive about attention.”
The little white purebred Maltese, named Sugar Baby, went downhill very quickly, though.
“I found her lying next to a pile of bloody stool in the living room in the morning and got Jon up,” she said.
The Perrysburg couple lost their first Maltese, Geneo, two years ago to lymphoma, and Mrs. Sicotte feared the worst for 7-year-old Sugar Baby.
Mr. Sicotte, who is a sports copy editor at The Blade, called their veterinarian at South Suburban Animal Hospital and they brought the dog to the vet as soon as the office opened.
After doing blood work, the vet noted the dog’s red blood cell count was extremely low. Her hematocrit (HCT), which is the percent of whole blood that is made up of red blood cells, was at 8 percent. Normal range is 37 to 55 percent, so she was very anemic.
Her gums were white and tongue was grayish. The vets diagnosed Sugar Baby with an immune disorder and sent the couple to an emergency veterinarian where she could get a blood transfusion, since it is not a procedure they typically perform.
The emergency vet admitted the dog, who was suffering from immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, or IMHA for short. She was given a transfusion of packed red cells, was placed on oxygen, and seemed to be on the mend. She was at the clinic for about 36 hours.
When Sugar Baby was released, she was sent home with several prescriptions drugs, including prednisone (a steroid), carafate (to coat her stomach), doxycyline (to combat any infections), azathioprine (an immunosuppressant), and 0.5 cc of famotidine (also to calm her stomach). She was also on baby asprin for a short while, but is off that.
“She was eating and happy,” Mrs. Sicotte said. “Her next checkup showed that her count had gone back up to the low 30 percent range.”
Several days went by and the little dog was doing great. But her condition deteriorated again very quickly.
“While we were eating lunch, our complex’s repairman came over to do spring maintenance and she was jumping and playfully barking at him,” Mrs. Sicotte said. “She fell over and had trouble getting up. I told Jon she did the same thing the night before we found her the morning she was brought to the vet, so Jon rushed her over to South Suburban for tests.”
Her hematocrit had dropped back to 11.2 percent and she was taken again to the emergency vet and given a second blood transfusion. Several days later, she was rechecked and her HCT was at 21.2 percent. Since then it dropped to 19 percent then went up to 22 percent on April 20; as of Saturday, it had climbed to 27 percent.
It took about three weeks for the prednisone she is being given to start working, which is not unusual, said Dr. Kittsen McCumber, owner of Animal Emergency and Critical Care Center of Toledo, Inc..
“The prednisone keeps the body from attacking new red blood cells that are being made,” Dr. McCumber said.
The immune system normally helps to protect the body from outside invaders. However, it can become active against normal cells or parts of the body, or against normal cells that have been altered by exposure to infectious agents, medications, or other disease processes in the body, Dr. McCumber said.
Sugar Baby will stay on the prednisone for several months before being weaned off of it. Thus far, the couple has spent about $3,000 on vet visits since Sugar Baby first got sick.
Dr. McCumber said her office, which primarily handles animals that have been referred by the pet’s primary-care veterinarians, sees one or two cases a month of dogs with IMHA.
Like human blood, there are different types of cat and dog blood. The office uses employees’ pets to get some of the blood products, but is in need of donors for some types, including cats with type B blood.
The Sicottes have had Sugar Baby, whom they adopted from friends, since 2008. Their first Maltese, Geneo, died in March, 2011, at age 17. They are hopeful that Sugar Baby will live that long.
But their vet warned them that relapses are common with IMHA. They must monitor her carefully for white or pale gums, lethargy, vomiting, breathing difficulty, or any other sign that she is not doing well.
The couple is cautiously optimistic about the little dog’s condition, but it’s hard not to be anxious. Dogs of all ages may be affected with immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, which is a relatively common syndrome. Young to middle-aged female dogs are thought to be affected more commonly with immune-mediated disease than their male counterparts, according to research on the disease.
“It was very scary, especially since I had gone through a traumatic experience with Geneo just two years ago,” Mrs. Sicotte said. “That Wednesday morning when I found her that way, it’s tough to remove from your memory. She was just so helpless sitting there and you could tell she was scared as well.
“She’s not out of the woods by any means, but every day with her is a blessing now.”
Contact Tanya Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6066.