Anemia in dogs is often a symptom of a serious underlying medical conditions. In this post, our Middlesex vets explain what anemia is, as well as its symptoms, causes, and treatment.
What is anemia in dogs?
A dog without enough red blood cells or hemoglobin in their blood has what is known as anemia. Red blood cells are essential as they supply oxygen to the rest of your dog’s body and remove carbon dioxide. Hemoglobin is the protein inside these cells, and it carries oxygen.
In sick or injured dogs, this process is interrupted and anemia can occur from a number of diseases, injuries or conditions, including:
- Parasite infestations (hookworms, roundworms, fleas, ticks, etc.) which result in blood loss
- Immune diseases, in which healthy blood cells are attacked by the immune system
- Canine influenza, parvovirus and other infectious diseases
- Poor nutrition
Certain dogs or breeds may be predisposed to diseases or conditions which are known to cause anemia. Ask your veterinarian about any health-related risks your dog may have, and what can be done to prevent them or reduce the chances your pup will suffer from them. This way, you’ll be aware of signs and symptoms to look for.
What are symptoms of anemia in dogs?
Anemia is tricky - though it can be one of many symptoms that manifest due to an underlying condition, it’s possible that it may be the only symptom you see. Regardless, you should watch for these symptoms of anemia in your dog:
- Fatigue; running out of energy easily during play or exercise
- Dark or “tarry” stools, or dark blood in feces or vomit
- Change in color of gums (whitish or pale pink)
- Bruising on skin (from loss of platelets)
What should I do if I think my dog is suffering from anemia?
Visit your veterinarian as soon as possible; in particular, blood in feces or vomit is an emergency that needs immediate tending.
Anemia needs to be officially diagnosed and tested to find out which type of anemia your dog has, and what’s causing it. Your veterinarian may do a series of blood tests for diagnostic purposes, in addition to ultrasounds, x-rays and imaging.
Blood tests can include the PCV (packed cell volume) test, which measures the percentage of red blood cells in your dog’s blood stream. If his levels register at lower than 35 percent, he’d be classified as anemic.
Other tests can include blood smears and bone marrow biopsies, which can help your vet find out whether the anemia is responsive or unresponsive.
If your dog is diagnosed with responsive anemia, this means their bone marrow is attempting to correct the anemia. But if their bone marrow is not responding as it should, this would be unresponsive anemia. Hemolytic anemia occurs when a dog’s body destroys or loses red blood cells.
How is anemia in dogs treated?
The severity of the anemia changes the treatment, but in some cases your dog will require a blood transfusion. Your vet will develop a custom treatment plan to treat the underlying condition. Depending on the condition, treatment options could range from medications to surgery.
Is anemia fatal for dogs?
Anemia is a serious symptom that could be caused by a number of illnesses, injuries, or toxins. Contact your veterinarian immediately for help, as the cause and treatment of the anemia will determine your dog’s prognosis.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets.