A white cat laying on a desk

Anemia is defined as a deficiency in the number of circulating red blood cells in the body. It is a relatively common health condition in humans – especially in women, due to low iron levels.

In pets, however, anemia is often the result of chronic disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, trauma or other medical condition. 

Understanding Anemia

Red blood cells have no nucleus, DNA, or internal structures, but they serve a vital role in the body in that they contain hemoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen.

When a pet inhales, oxygen molecules attach to the hemoglobin and are transported by the red blood cells from the lungs to the cells and tissues of the body. Once the oxygen is delivered, carbon dioxide (waste) in the body’s cells and tissues attaches to the hemoglobin and is carried by the red blood cells back to the lungs where it is exhaled. 

When red blood cell levels are deficient, the cells and tissues of the body are not able to function properly, due to less oxygen reaching the cells and tissues, and less waste carried away. As a result, the body becomes weak. In extreme cases, anemia can be fatal. 

Signs of Anemia in Pets

Signs of anemia in pets include:

  • Pale pink or white gums
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse/weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • Blood in the stool, urine, vomit, or nose

Causes of Anemia

The following are possible causes of anemia in pets:

Blood loss – Internal bleeding due to cancer or trauma, as well as gastrointestinal disease and extreme external parasite infestation (ticks, fleas, hookworms) that cause bleeding, are the most common causes of blood loss leading to anemia in pets.

  • Decrease in red blood cell production – Anything that causes the bone marrow to be suppressed can result in a decrease in the supply of red blood cells. Examples include a long-lasting disease (such as chronic liver or kidney disease), an autoimmune disease, extreme nutritional deficiencies, Ehrlichia, cancer, and certain medications. 
  • Hemolysis – Hemolysis, or the breakdown/destruction of red blood cells, can be caused by a variety of factors, including, autoimmune disease and cancer, as well as exposure to certain toxins (rodenticides, onions, garlic), and blood parasites (such as Babesia).
  • Iron deficiency anemia – is common in humans, and is seen occasionally in pets, especially puppies with hookworm infections or nutritional deficiencies. Addressing the underlying cause is usually sufficient to correct iron deficiency anemia.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Anemia in pets is diagnosed by evaluating red blood cell levels via a standard blood test. If red blood cell levels are deficient, your veterinarian may order a number of tests such as, a blood smear, urinalysis, fecal examination (to look for evidence of parasites), biochemical profile, x-rays, ultrasound, and sometimes a bone marrow biopsy, in order to determine the cause.

Depending on the cause, treatment options for anemia may include medication, a blood transfusion or surgery. 

We are Here for You

As always, your pet’s health is our top priority at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any concerns about your pet’s health or your pet’s behavior. We are here to help your pet live its best life!