Bone marrow produces red blood cells and releases them into the blood. These red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your pet's body, which allows the entire body to function properly. After around 8 weeks, the body removes the old blood cells from the bloodstream and creates new ones.
Anemia is a reduced number of red blood cells in your pet's blood. An anemic pet will either remove too many cells or not produce enough new ones.
Anemia is not a disease on its own, but a result of another disease.
- Kidney failure because your kidneys produce a hormone which stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells
- Blood that does not clot properly
- IMHA (Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia) where the immune system is attacking the red blood cells
- Excessive parasites in or on the body (whipworms, hookworms, blood parasites, ticks or fleas)
- Any injury that causes excessive bleeding
- HGE (Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis) Believed to be caused by a bacterial infection leading to bloody diarrhea
- Tumors or Cancer in the intestinal tract, urinary bladder, kidneys, liver, bone marrow or spleen
The most obvious symptom is pale pink or white gums. If you notice pale gums, you must have a blood test done as soon as possible. Other signs include:
Lack of energy and depression
Loss of appetite and weight loss
Increased breathing rate (your pet is trying to get more oxygen)
Your veterinarian will begin with:
Reviewing the medical history
Then the veterinarian will perform different blood tests:
HCT (Hematocrit): checks the ratio of red blood cells to the rest of the blood. In a healthy pet, 30% to 45% percent of the blood will be red blood cells. If less than 25% is red blood cells, the animal is anemic
CBC (Complete blood count): measures the total amount of red and white blood cells in the body
Blood smear: your veterinarian will use a microscope to study a sample of your pet's blood, checking the amount, size, and shape of red blood cells. Veterinarians will also check for parasites that might cause destruction of red blood cells
Bone marrow biopsy: Checks if the bone marrow is functioning and creating enough red blood cells
Fecal parasite exam: Shows if there are parasites in the intestinal tract that might be causing blood loss
Treatment will consist of either medications or surgery, depending on the cause of anemia.
If the anemia is life threatening, your pet will need an immediate blood transfusion, which will temporarily stabilize your pet. This allows your veterinarian to determine the cause of the anemia, and begin the appropriate treatment.
There are a variety of causes for anemia, and most of them are preventable. The best thing to do is to ensure your pet is up to date on all preventives, especially for fleas, ticks and internal parasites.
The prognosis depends on the medical problem that is causing the anemia. If you catch the anemia early and your pet is in overall good health, there is a good prognosis for recovery. Sometimes, a more severe disease, such as cancer has caused anemia, and it is life threatening.