Can cats get a disease called IMHA?

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra – I have a cat that was diagnosed with “IMHA”. Do you know what this disease is? Is it common in cats?


Sarah Johnson.- Nashville, TN


Hi – thanks for your email. Immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), also known as Auto-immune mediated hemolytic anemia (AIHA), is a disease in which the body’s immune system, which is designed to attack and kill germs, attacks and kills the body’s own red blood cells. The red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues, and the animal cannot survive without adequate oxygenation of the tissues.

There are different forms or subtypes of IMHA. They are most commonly referred to as primary and secondary.

With primary IMHA, also known as idiopathic IMHA, results from the antibody attacking the red blood cell membrane. There is no known underlying cause or trigger for this type of IMHA. Primary IMHA is uncommon in cats.

However, secondary IMHA results from the antibody attacking a membrane antigen that is exposed because of an underlying disease. There is an underlying cause for this type of IMHA. Underlying causes that can expose the membrane may include neoplasia (cancer such as lymphoma), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), reactions to drugs, toxins, and red blood cell parasites (such as Mycolplasma hemofelis (also known as (hemobartonellosis)). Secondary IMHA is more common in cats. Possible drug triggers may include propylthiouracil and methimazole (Tapazole®).

An article that might be helpful to you is Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia in Cats (IMHA)

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

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