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Anemia in Cats

By: Dr. Erika De Papp

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Anemia is defined as a low red blood cell count and can be caused by a number of different processes, including blood loss, red blood cell destruction, and inadequate red blood cell production.

The aforementioned categories of anemia can be caused by trauma, cancer, immune-mediated disease, which is a disease in which the body attacks its own cells or organs, infectious disease, toxins, genetic defects, inflammatory disease, iron deficiency, drug reactions, kidney failure, and generalized chronic (long term) illness.

Because there are so many different types and causes of anemia, there is no gender or age predisposition for anemia. Individual disease processes may be more common in certain age groups and breeds, so it is important to characterize the type of anemia present.

The impact of anemia on your pet will depend on the cause of the anemia as well as the severity of the anemia. Additionally, animals with a sudden onset of anemia may be clinically sicker than animals with chronic anemia. This is due to the fact that animals can become partially adapted to the anemia over time, and may feel relatively good in spite of the anemia.

What to Watch For

  • Generalized weakness
  • Pale gums
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Episodes of collapse
  • Evidence of blood loss
  • Blood in the urine or feces
  • External blood loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Yellow discoloration of the skin
  • Abdominal distension
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

    Depending on the underlying cause of the anemia, your pet may show some or all of these signs. Some pets may not show any signs at all.

    Diagnosis

    Initial database:

  • History and physical exam
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Reticulocyte count
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis

    Other possible diagnostic tests based on initial findings:

  • Abdominal radiographs (x-rays)
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Thoracic (chest) radiographs
  • Coagulation profile (clotting tests)
  • Bone marrow aspirate
  • Specific tests for infectious diseases
  • Tests of immune function/dysfunction
  • Iron levels
  • Genetic testing
  • Blood type

    Treatment

    The most important component of treating anemia is treating the underlying disease process that is causing the anemia. If anemia is severe, patients might require a blood transfusion, or multiple transfusions.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Administer all medications as prescribed by your veterinarian. Monitor your pet for pale gums, extreme weakness, anorexia, increased respiratory rate, or recurrence of any of the original clinical signs.

    There are no specific means of preventing anemia, since it can be caused by numerous factors.

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