Hund und Katze liegen nebeneinander

Anemia in dogs and cats

Anemia in dogs and cats  

Anemia is a disease that is generally caused in mammals by an insufficient number of red blood cells (erythrocytes) and/or a lack of hemoglobin (red blood pigment) in the blood. The disease can be caused in dogs and cats by a variety of factors. 

Since the erythrocytes are responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood, a deficiency leads to an undersupply of oxygen to the organism, which is reflected, among other things, in the form of fatigue and shortness of breath. Anemia can be caused by severe blood loss or excessive breakdown of erythrocytes on the one hand, or by inadequate production on the other. The treatment and the chances of recovery depend on the cause of the anemia. 

Why does anemia occur?  

There are three different forms of anemia that can be triggered by different causes. Anemia is always the result and symptom of another underlying disease. The most common causes of anemia in cats are blood loss, kidney disease, vitamin deficiencies, parasitic infestations, infections, blood diseases, liver diseases, tumors and autoimmune diseases. In dogs, anemia is often caused by infection, inflammation, iron loss, parasitic diseases, blood loss from internal (e.g. tumor) or external bleeding (e.g. trauma), shock, poisoning, coagulation disorders and some bone marrow diseases. Some of these causes can already be diagnosed through skin, feces and blood tests, while others require further targeted investigations. 

What types of anemia are there in dogs and cats? 

  • Hemolytic anemia: This is where the cat's erythrocytes break down faster than they can be regenerated. This can be caused, for example, by autoimmune diseases or bacteria or parasites. 
  • Anemia due to acute or chronic blood loss: Acute blood loss occurs, for example, from injuries but also poisoning, while chronic blood loss occurs, for example, from gastrointestinal bleeding of various causes or bladder infections. 

Both of these forms are regenerative, meaning the body continues to be able to produce new red blood cells. 

In addition to the regenerative form of anemia, there is non-regenerative anemia: caused by an interruption or severe reduction in erythrocyte production in the bone marrow. This type of anemia can be caused by, among other things, a serious infection (such as feline leukemia virus), tumors, or kidney problems. 

How can you recognize anemia in dogs and cats? 

The symptoms of anemia in cats and dogs can be different, depending on the type and severity of the anemia. Common symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, pale mucous membranes and reduced activity. 

How can anemia be treated? 

If the anemia is severe, it can lead to shock and death if not treated promptly at a veterinary clinic. The vet will try to find out the underlying disease that caused the anemia through various examinations. The therapy then also depends on this. In the case of a bleeding tumor, for example, a quick operation can save the day; in the case of a diagnosed rat poison poisoning, a high dose of vitamin K can be administered, and in the case of parasites, for example, appropriate anti-parasitic drugs. The chances of recovery depend very much on the underlying disease, but also on starting therapy as quickly as possible.