Everyone expects that when you accidentally cut yourself a clot will form and the bleeding will stop shortly after applying some pressure to the area. The same thing normally happens when your pet cuts itself too. When clotting does not occur within a reasonable length of time or if bleeding should occur spontaneously without any known cause then it is important to find out what the underlying problem is. There are many intrinsic and extrinsic factors that are needed in order for a clot to form. One ingredient that is required for a clot to form is the platelet or thrombocyte.
Idiopathic thrombocytopenia (ITP) is one of many possible explanations for why there can be a spontaneous bleeding or why a clot does not form. The word "idiopathic" means unidentifiable cause, while the word "thrombocyte" means platelet, and "penia" means low numbers. Thus, a condition that we do not really know the cause of results in low numbers of platelets that are a necessary ingredient in order for clotting to occur. This is an example of an autoimmune disease in the dog.
Clinically the owner sees a sudden onset of bruising to the skin or mucus membranes. Bleeding from the mouth or in the urine or in the stool is also possible. Diagnosis in made by a blood test in which all other variables are normal except that the platelets are low. Treatment is to give high levels of corticosteriods to suppress the immune system in order to stop it from destroying more platelets. The body will then produce new platelets so that normal clotting will again occur. In most cases it will be necessary to remain on a reduced or maintenance dose of prednisone for life in an attempt to prevent another crisis from occurring.
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