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Anemia in Dogs

Learn the causes, signs, diagnosis, and treatment of canine anemia.

Anemia is when a dog's red blood cell (RBC) count is too low. It is the result of some other condition. RBCs deliver oxygen to all the cells of the body, so when anemia is present, that's not happening. The results can be anywhere from mild to severe, depending on the number of RBCs and whether the condition is acute (happened recently and rapidly) or chronic (happened over time, slowly).

Causes of Anemia in Dogs

A wide variety of conditions cause anemia in dogs, but they fall into the three general categories below.

Blood Loss

Anything that causes rapid loss of blood can result in anemia, including:

Red Blood Cell Destruction (Hemolysis)

Normally, red blood cells are tagged for destruction by the body when they become old. However, their replacement with newly produced RBCs is balanced. In conditions that destroy RBCs prematurely, production may not be able to keep up with the hemolysis. Causes of this include:

Decreased Red Blood Cell Production

If the body doesn't produce enough RBCs to account for those lost to natural hemolysis when the cells get old, the result is anemia. The bone marrow produces new RBCs, so bone marrow suppression results in decreased production. Causes of bone marrow suppression include:

  • Any chronic disease
  • Poor nutrition or malnutrition diseases
  • Autoimmune conditions that attack the bone marrow
  • Chemotherapy and some other medications
  • Many types of cancer

Signs of Anemia in Dogs

Dogs with anemia develop pale mucous membranes. At first, that can be difficult to spot, but as the condition worsens, it becomes more apparent.

Anemic dogs are low on energy and develop labored breathing and increased panting. They may not eat well and generally become lethargic. If internal blood loss is occurring, blood may be noticed in the urine, stool, or vomit.

How Is Anemia in Dogs Diagnosed?

A veterinarian may have an idea that anemia is present based on the signs seen at home and a physical examination. A blood test called a CBC will verify the anemia and give clues to its cause.

From there, other tests may be performed, including a fecal exam, x-rays, an ultrasound, blood chemistry tests to check organ function, and other specialized blood work such as clotting tests. A bone marrow aspirate may be required. That is a test where cells are collected from the bone marrow and examined under a microscope.

Treatment of Anemia in Dogs

A blood transfusion may be necessary if the anemia is at a life-threatening level at diagnosis. From there, treatment depends on the cause and may include:

  • Treatment for cancer
  • Surgery for trauma-related blood loss
  • Corticosteroids for autoimmune conditions
  • Vitamin K treatment for rat poisoning
  • De-worming in the case of parasites
  • Antibiotics

The prognosis for anemia in a dog is entirely dependent on the cause and severity of illness at the time of diagnosis.

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