An IMHA Survivor: Dylan’s Story of Survival

Thirty to seventy percent of dogs succumb to IMHA within the first couple of months after they are diagnosed.

It is usually the complications associated with the disease that prove fatal. There are dogs, however, who survive.

Thank you, Richard Ford, for sharing Dylan’s story.

An IMHA Survivor: Dylan's Story

Dylan’s story

Today is exactly one year from the day I thought my Dog Dylan would die! 

She lay on my kitchen floor, unable to stand, unable to drink water, unable to eat. That Wednesday morning was the 5th day into our journey of Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA/IMHA), where her immune system began attacking her red blood cells and breaking them apart for an unknown reason.

Although starting prednisone four days earlier when she was diagnosed, Dylan’s anemia continued to worsen.

She had been getting better in the afternoons on the first couple of days, so I had assumed she was stabilizing and maybe even improving, although at no time was I sure of anything.

Dylan gets worse

On Tuesday afternoon, her third day on prednisone, very suddenly, she could not stand and panicked.

Of course, when this happened, I was stunned and unsure what was happening and what to do. I wasn’t sure if it was the anemia or maybe a stroke. Before this, she had been able to drink, although her tongue was so pale and weak that she could barely curl it to take in water, so even drinking was a lot of work. Now I was giving her water with a syringe, and although she would not eat, she took her prednisone with a bit of ice cream.

The night before, she had been weak too, walking a little like a drunken dog and mostly resting.

I constantly watched her breathe and talked with her about letting go if she needed to, that it would be okay. She would be with me forever either way. We spent all night very near each other. I was hugging and watching her breathe. Again Tuesday night, I had this conversation with her. She was so weak, and I had so much doubt.

Later that night, after Dylan had managed to get up and wanted outside, again unsure of what to do, I let her out in the dark, totally unprepared, onto the uneven ground that my back step is, which I know now I should not have done. Everything was happening so fast, and I had no experience with it.

Scary sight

She fell hard onto the ground and looked afraid and freaked out.  She was not easy to pick up, but I picked her front end up and held her carefully and lovingly.

I was terrified of what was to come.

Finally, I got her inside and in her bed so I could clean her up and the floor where she had peed just before. Then I spent some time hiding in the bathroom crying. I could not believe what was happening to my sweet dog.

For the next few hours, I was sure I would lose her that day.  

I did not want her to feel what I felt; my other dogs certainly did. Finally, after working through the morning with her, her condition seemed to start improving, and by late afternoon she could stand and get water and eat dinner that night. She continued to improve for another week; her red blood cell levels returned to just below normal.

Adverse effects

But she did suffer brain damage from that day, although both of us consider it minor.  

She no longer turns left as well as right, and she is somewhat bent to them right now, but over the months since that day one year ago, she has improved, and it is much less pronounced than it was that day.

Within two weeks, though, it became apparent that the high dose of prednisone she was taking had begun to weaken her quickly. For several months I battled the effects of prednisone as the anemia never returned, reducing the dose of prednisone as she recovered.

Dylan turns around

Finally, she stood again and began improving steadily as we got the prednisone dose lower and lower and finally out of her system. I can’t tell you how arduous this journey was; months of carrying her out for everything night and day, moving her in her kennel everywhere. At one point, she could not lift her head to eat or drink.

Hard work paid off, though. I remember the day she stood after two months of being unable to move.

For much of that time, she could not even roll over or move at all. But, then, gradually, she started gaining strength, and although I expected her to stand one day, it happened so fast that I was completely surprised when I turned around, and she was standing to eat her dinner.

A miracle for sure!

IMHA relapse

Although Dylan had a relapse, knowing what I knew from the first attack, I could stop the attack sooner and remove prednisone faster as she recovered. Unfortunately, most dogs with AIHA don’t recover quite so quickly. Maybe that is due to Dylan’s healthy raw diet; who knows? Although she lost some muscle during the second attack, it was not nearly as bad as it was the first time, and she had no paralysis either, and thankfully no time at all stuck in her kennel.

Dylan made it

Since getting off prednisone at the end of December, Dylan has been walking daily and gaining strength constantly. She is happy and exuberant and enjoys each day.

I am incredibly grateful for every day and every moment with her and all of my dogs.

Life is very fragile, and it can end so quickly. I have witnessed this repeatedly over this last year.  It has been a tough emotional year as I try to help others facing the same intense emotional roller coaster of hope and despair that is so common with this and several related diseases.

Over the last year, I have witnessed amazing people do amazing things to save their dogs.  Endless time and money are often required and given. So many sacrifices are made, and sometimes there is no saving our dogs. I have seen far too many dogs cross the rainbow bridge this last year.  They may have been dogs I have never met, but I did become close to them through their struggle and that of their remarkable owners.

We will never be the same, but Dylan and I are also so close and spend so much time together now, more so than ever. 

That is the one benefit, but we go through each day knowing AIHA/IMHA is always there somewhere.  So we enjoy every moment we can, and we are happy today!

Related articles:
Can a Dog Survive IMHA: Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA) Survivor—Pete’s Story

Further reading:
IMHA in dogs: What do you need to know?

Categories: ConditionsImmune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA)

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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