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When oxygen-carrying hemoglobin breaks down in blood cells, the damaged molecular components can form a Heinz body. The formation of this particle is often triggered by injury, toxins, or drugs. Heinz bodies can also indicate some forms of anemia and cause the destruction of red blood cells, called hemolysis. They are usually removed from the blood stream by the spleen but, if present in large quantities, can cause the organ to enlarge. Discovered in the late 1800s, these particles are often called Heinz-Ehrlich bodies and appear in humans as well as cats and dogs.
Heinz body content can be assessed using a dye in a blood sample. Under a microscope, each one is typically similar to various other particles but the staining often makes the Heinz bodies distinct. On the molecular level, many researchers believe that they are caused by substitutions of amino acids and proteins that are structurally broken down. Genetic mutations or oxidation are often causes of Heinz body formation.
If electrons from hemoglobin are transferred to an oxygen molecule, then blood cells can be damaged beyond repair. These cells often die as a result, and are removed by the spleen. A condition called Heinz body anemia can appear if this process occurs on a large scale throughout the blood supply. Enzyme deficiencies as well as liver diseases sometimes cause enough damage to hemoglobin to trigger anemia. Physicians often use the presence of Heinz bodies to diagnose conditions, but there is generally no medical treatment to eliminate the particles.
Heinz body formation is also a factor in dog and cat anemia. Substances found in garlic and onions can damage red blood cells and cause anemia, and are typically poisonous to pets. Veterinarians usually recommend inducing vomiting or bathing an animal that has been exposed. A pet can experience anemia, vomiting, diarrhea, asthma, or damage to the liver if it has been exposed to such substances.
Routine blood tests can be used to find large Heinz body concentrations. Heinz bodies are usually found when there are hemoglobin deficiencies, but not always. Some studies have shown they can form when a blood sample is exposed to excessively high temperatures. Inorganic substances found in industrial toxins can also trigger formation. There are certain types of nitro and amino compounds that often do as well. A Heinz body can form from either the interior or the membrane of a red blood cell when some kind of disruption occurs.
I would like to clarify Heinz body formation causes in dog and cat anemia. While both onion and garlic contain thiosulfate, known to cause Heinz factor anemia in dogs and cats, onion contains higher concentration while garlic contains only trace amounts. It is unproven that trace amounts of thiosulfate in garlic is a direct cause of this type of anemia.
There are other factors that cause Heinz body formation in cats and dogs that are ignored. As stated by Wendy Wallner, DVM, "Onions are only one of the substances which can cause Heinz body anemia. Other substances such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and benzocaine-containing topical preparations can also cause Heinz body anemia in the dog." In an article written by
Lisa S. Newman, ND, Ph.D, titled "Garlic, The Facts" she states "The latter (Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and benzocaine-containing topical preparations) probably accounts for many cases as it is prevalent in creams often recommended for allergy-suffering pets due to its ability to numb the itch. It is absorbed through the skin and builds up in the blood stream. This other substance is likely to have been involved in cases where garlic was suspect."
This is important information for pet owners, particularly dogs, as garlic does have many health benefits that are ignored when incomplete information is presented.