Anemia in Cats

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Overview of Feline Anemia 

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 of Anemia in Cats

    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 of Anemia in Cats

    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.

    In-depth Information on Anemia in Cats

    Anemia can be a primary problem, which significantly affects your pet’s well being, or it can be secondary to other disease processes, in which case it might or might not cause important clinical illness. The most common causes of severe anemia in cats include blood loss and red blood cell destruction. External blood loss is generally caused by trauma. Significant internal blood loss in cats most often occurs due to either bleeding into the intestinal tract or bleeding into the abdominal cavity.

    Vehicular trauma is a common cause of bleeding into the abdomen. This results from damage to the liver and/or spleen and sometimes the kidneys. This type of blood loss cannot be seen, but can be life threatening and will often result in collapse. Tumors associated with the liver and spleen can also cause significant bleeding into the abdomen. A third common cause of bleeding into the abdomen is rat poison ingestion, which inhibits normal blood clotting.

    Bleeding into the intestinal tract will often result in the formation of black, tarry stools. This can be secondary to cancer, severely low platelet counts (platelets are the blood cells that aid in blood clotting), or severe inflammatory disorders of the gut.

    Red blood cell destruction commonly occurs in cats due to an immune-mediated disease in which the body destroys its own red blood cells. This type of anemia is called hemolytic anemia. Hemolysis may also be caused by cancer, exposure to certain drugs, vaccine reactions, heavy metal toxicity (zinc, copper), and infectious diseases, several tick-borne diseases in particular.

    Any chronic illness can cause anemia. This type of anemia is usually mild to moderate, and does not significantly impact the pet in most cases.

    As discussed, there are many causes of anemia and therefore many different clinical signs. Other diseases that may cause signs of generalized weakness, collapse and increased respiratory rate include:

  • Respiratory tract disease. Diseases of the lungs and/or airways may cause an increased respiratory rate and possible collapse, if severe.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Heart abnormalities may result in collapsing or fainting episodes, which may look similar to an animal that collapses due to severe anemia. Additionally, heart disease can cause secondary lung problems, which may result in an elevated respiratory rate. Heart disease may also cause poor circulation, which can result in pale gums, making the animal appear anemic.
  • Seizures or other neurologic disease. Episodes of collapse may be difficult to differentiate from a seizure.
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