Anemia is a medical term which describes a low number of red blood cells (and or hemoglobin) in the circulation. Anemia is the result of decreased production of red blood cells (from the bone marrow) or increased loss of red blood cells (from the circulation).
Symptoms of Canine Anemia
In dogs, a loss of normal gum color and a decreased level of energy are the main symptoms of anemia. Anemic dogs will lose stamina and energy and may seem listless or depressed due to reduced delivery of oxygen (via hemaglobin in the red bloods cells) to organs and muscles. If you are concerned about your dog, lift his lip to view the gums. They should be a healthy, vibrant shade of bright pink. If they’re pale or white, you should speak to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
A simple test performed at the clinic is the hematocrit (HCT) or packed cell volume (PCV). A small amount of blood is collected from the patient, which is then spun at high speed in a centrifuge to separate the red blood cells from the blood plasma. Healthy dogs will have between 35% to 55% red blood cell concentration. If the result is below 35%, the dog will likely be diagnosed as anemic.
Your veterinarian will run further tests to help support the finding and to better understand the underlying cause of the anemia. Blood smears, red blood cells counts, fecal parasite examination, hematology, biochemistry and urinalysis are all indicated to help determine what is going on.
What Causes Anemia And How To Treat It
The main causes of blood loss anemia in dogs are:
- Trauma to blood vessels or organs
- Parasite infestations (fleas, ticks, and hookworms most commonly)
- Cancer (intestines, kidneys, bladder or spleen most commonly)
- Blood clotting disorders
The main causes of anemia from a reduced production of red blood cells in the bone marrow are:
- Chronic disease (like chronic kidney or chronic liver disease)
- Autoimmune disease
- Extremely poor nutrition
The main causes of anemia from destruction of red blood cells are:
- Autoimmune disease
- Blood parasites
As you can see from the list above there are many potential causes of anemia in dogs. Treatment is targeted at the primary cause and supportive treatment will be given to the patient until normal red blood cell levels are restored.
Diagnosing anemia early is important. Patients with severe anemia caused by autoimmune disease, cancer or toxins have a guarded prognosis.