Information

Anemia in Cats


Overview

If your cat has anemia, there’s been a drop in the number of his red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the cells in the body and pick up carbon dioxide. A low red blood cell count can result from many causes: blood loss; the destruction of the red blood cells, such as with Feline IMHA, a variation of anemia in which your cat's immune system attacks red blood cells; or an inadequate production of new red blood cells

There are many causes of anemia, including excessive blood loss due to trauma, immune-mediated diseases (when the body attacks its own cells or organs), cancer, genetic defects, disease of the kidneys and other major organs, infectious diseases, and bone marrow disease. Human and pet medications, as well as certain foods, can also bring about this condition. Onions, for instance, don’t only cause bad breath; they can also cause anemia!

Risks
All cats are at risk of anemia in one form or another because there are so many different conditions and diseases that result in an anemic state. For example, if your cat has a parasitic infestation, such as worms or fleas, she could experience blood loss and anemia—another reason why flea and tick prevention is so important!
Certain medications, such as cancer-therapy drugs and anti-inflammatory drugs, may also increase the risk of anemia.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Signs
Warning signs that your cat is anemic or becoming anemic include:

  • Pale gums
  • Acting tired, weak, or listless
  • Faster-than-normal pulse
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Black, tarry stools
  • These signs can vary from pet to pet and really depend upon the underlying cause of the anemia. In some situations, your cat may present no signs at all!

Diagnosis/Treatment
When a cat is anemic, it is crucial to identify the underlying cause. Your veterinarian will recommend various tests, depending on your pet’s symptoms and history.

These tests may include:

  • A complete blood count to identify how anemic your cat is and including a reticulocyte count to identify if your cat’s body is responding to the anemia and making new red blood cells*
  • A blood film to look for parasites and blood cell characteristics
  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver and pancreatic function as well as sugar levels
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your cat isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • A complete urinalysis to rule out urinary tract infections and to evaluate the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine
  • Specialized tests that can help identify underlying infectious disease (e.g., various titers or PCR testing)

Prevention
Since anemia is caused by other conditions, it is best to focus on prevention of those conditions. Protecting your cat from common parasites by using preventives is important, as well as having him vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease, such as feline leukemia. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see any of the common signs of anemia.

Treatment of anemia depends on the underlying condition. It includes stopping blood loss as well as treatment of bacterial, viral, toxic, and autoimmune conditions. If the anemia is severe, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed by:

Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM


Anemia in Cats

What does it mean to be anemic?
Anemia is a reduced number of red blood cells or hemoglobin or both. It is not a specific disease but a symptom of another disease process. Hemoglobin delivers oxygen to the cells and tissues of the body, and a patient who is anemic will suffer from symptoms related to a lack of oxygen.

Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow and are released into the blood where they circulate for approximately two months. The cells are removed from the bloodstream when they become damaged or old, and their components are recycled to form new red blood cells. Anemia is the result of decreased production or increased loss of red blood cells.

How is anemia diagnosed?
The most easily observed sign of anemia is a loss of the normal pink color of the gingivae or gums. Anemic cats also have little stamina so they seem listless or tired. Pale gingivae and lethargy are indications to perform blood tests to determine if anemia is present.

The most common test to diagnose anemia is the packed cell volume (PCV), also called the hematocrit. To measure the PCV, a blood sample is processed in a centrifuge to spin down or separate the red blood cells from the plasma (the liquid part of the blood). Once separated, the sample is measured to determine what percentage of the sample is made up of red blood cells. Twenty-five to forty-five percent of the normal cat’s blood will be red blood cells. If the PCV is below 25%, the cat is anemic. Others tests to determine anemia include the red blood cell count and the hemoglobin count. If these are below 5.5 X 106/mm3 or 8 g/dl, respectively, the cat is anemic.

What other tests are important when a cat is anemic?
It is important to know if the bone marrow is producing an increased number of new red blood cells. Often, this can be determined by a study of the stained blood smear. The presence of increased numbers of immature or young red blood cells called reticulocytes usually means the bone marrow is responding to the need for more red blood cells.

A careful study of the blood smear is also important to look for parasites that might be causing red blood cell destruction and abnormal cells that could indicate leukemia.

If bone marrow response is not obvious by studying the blood smear, a reticulocyte count is performed, using a special stain that clearly identifies these immature red blood cells.

A bone marrow biopsy or aspirate is obtained if there is concern that the bone marrow is not responding appropriately to the anemic state. A sample of bone marrow is withdrawn and analyzed, providing valuable information about the cause of some anemias and the condition of the bone marrow.

A biochemical profile and urinalysis are other important tests for anemic cats. These tests evaluate organ function and electrolyte levels. They will often provide important information about the total health of the cat.

A fecal exam is important to identify the presence of parasites in the intestinal tract that might be causing blood loss.

Finally, an anemic cat should be tested for the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) because these viruses are important causes of anemia.

What diseases cause anemia?
There are many diseases that cause a decrease in the number of red blood cells or hemoglobin. These are grouped into 1) diseases that cause blood loss, 2) diseases that cause hemolysis or red blood cell breakdown and destruction, and 3) diseases that decrease the production of red blood cells through bone marrow suppression.

What diseases of cats cause blood loss?
The main causes of blood loss in cats include:

  • Trauma or injury t to blood vessels or internal organs resulting in bleeding
  • Severe parasitic infestations with fleas, ticks, and hookworms
  • Tumors of the intestinal tract, kidneys, and urinary bladder
  • Diseases that prevent proper clotting of blood or damage or reduce the number of blood platelets

What diseases of cats cause hemolysis?
The main causes of hemolysis in cats include:

  • Autoimmune disease Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Blood parasites such as Hemobartonella
  • Chemicals or toxins Neoplasia (cancer)

What diseases of cats prevent red blood cell production through bone marrow suppression?
The main causes of bone marrow suppression in cats include:

  • Any severe or chronic disease
  • Very poor nutrition or nutritional imbalances
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Chemicals or toxins Neoplasia (cancer)

There has been no mention of iron deficiency anemia. Why not?
Iron deficiency anemia is a common disease in people, especially women. However, this is not common in cats and only occurs secondary to chronic blood loss.

How are anemic cats treated?
If your cat’s anemia is life-threatening, a blood transfusion is needed. This may be performed immediately after a blood sample is taken for testing purposes. The main purpose of a blood transfusion is to stabilize the cat long enough that a determination of the cause of the anemia can be made.

If the veterinarian determines that the cause for the anemia is a lack of response by the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells, we may start injections of a hormone called erythropoietin or procrit. This is a relatively safe treatment, but it does require regular injections initially 2-3 times a week for 2 weeks and then once every 10-20 days.

Further treatment will be determined once the underlying disease has been diagnosed.


Causes Of Anemia In Cats

Anemia in cats may come about in three ways: by blood loss, by a problem with RBC production, or by conditions in which RBCs are destroyed. Sometimes, more than one of these factors is involved.

Common causes of anemia in cats include:

  • Blood loss due to internal or external bleeding.
  • Auto-immune conditions where the immune system destroys its own RBCs.
  • Severe flea infestations.
  • Toxin ingestion. Examples include rat poison, zinc, lead, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and onions.
  • Certain infections, such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
  • Blood parasites (many of which are carried by fleas or ticks).
  • Stomach ulcers or bleeding in the intestines caused by intestinal parasites, certain medications, or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Other chronic diseases.
  • Blood clotting disorders.
  • Certain cancers, especially lymphoma and leukemia.

Anemia may affect any cat, although specific underlying causes are more common depending on a cat’s age or lifestyle. For example, fleas and other parasites are most likely to cause anemia in kittens. And anemia of chronic disease (where the body doesn’t produce enough RBCs anymore) is more likely in older cats.

Also, going outdoors puts cats at an increased risk of anemia due to trauma/injuries, parasites, and infections.


Feline Anemia: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment Options

Feline Anemia is the reduction of red blood cells in your cat’s circulatory system. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through both humans and cat's blood. Unfortunately, cats are prone to anemia due to the short life span of their red blood cells.

Cat’s red blood cells have the shortest life span of many other mammal species. If your cat is not producing enough red blood cells or his/her body is destroying them, it can seriously affect the overall health of your cat. Below are the types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of anemia in cats.

There are three different types of anemia: regenerative, non-regenerative and Hemotropic Mycoplasmosis. Regenerative anaemia refers to bone marrow producing new red blood cells in response to severe blood loss.

Non-regenerative anemia refers to the lack of new red blood cell reproduction in the bone marrow, which is usually due to an underlying disease. Cats often have multiple causes for their anemia. For example, they may be suffering from two medical conditions at the same time. One condition can be causing regenerative anemia, but the other condition can be causing non-regenerative anemia. This can be tricky for veterinarians to diagnose and treat.

Another type of feline anemia is Hemotropic Mycoplasmosis. This condition is actually caused by parasites, and cats are usually affected through tick, flea or mosquito bites. It is a serious infection that can easily be passed from cat to cat. Cats that spend a lot of time outdoors, especially during the spring and summer are at higher risk of developing this type of anemia.

Some causes of feline anemia includes feline kidney disease, congenital blood disorders, poor nutrition, lack of folic acid, lack of iron or other vitamins, bone marrow disorders, feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, some cancers or injury as a result of a serious accident, or tumors that cause internal bleeding.

Other serious conditions can also cause feline anemia such as haemorrhage and haemolysis. Haemorrhage can be caused by parasites such as fleas and lice, loss of blood due to a disease in the urinary tract or gastrointestinal tract.

Haemolysis can be caused by infections such as FIP, feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) or feline haemoplasma infection. It’s also caused by low phosphate concentrations, tumors and drug side effects.

Feline anemia can also be brought on by incompatible blood used during a blood transfusion. This can also occur when blood type A kittens are born to a mother with type B blood, and they ingest antibodies that are in their mother’s milk that destroys their red blood cells, which leads to anemia.

Typically, the primary symptom that is displayed when your cat is suffering from this condition is weakness and a pale whitish tongue and gums. Additional symptoms caused by feline anemia include weakness, fatigue, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, pica (the craving of unusual foods), feline weight loss, and jaundice.

If another underlying disease is present, chronic renal failure and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) may also present themselves. If your cat shows any of these signs, seek immediate medical help from your cat's veterinarian.

Finding the cause of your cat’s anemia is essential in proper diagnosis and treatment. Feline anemia can cause symptoms that range from mild to severe. The condition can also lead to death, especially if left untreated.

Diagnosis of feline anaemia can be a complicated process since there are many causes for the condition including various diseases. Veterinarians perform a series of blood tests in order to diagnose feline anemia.

Your vet will look for a reduction in red blood cell counts in your cat’s blood through a complete blood count sample, as well as reduced packed cell volume and reduced haemoglobin concentration. Examining blood smear will help determine whether the anemia is regenerative or not.

More tests may be needed, such as a urine analysis and a blood chemistry panel, to rule out any diseases that may be causing the anemia such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and FeLV. Your vet may conduct other tests to rule out any other cat health problems based off of your cat’s medical history and any other symptoms your cat may be experiencing.

A bone marrow biopsy may be done for cat’s with non regenerative anemia to detect the presence of antibodies that can bind to the surface of red blood cells. A biochemical profile may also be done to check your cat’s organs and to determine the overall health of your cat and

It is important to find the root cause of the anemia as this may greatly affect the type of treatment used.

If the cause of your cat’s anemia is due to an infection, antibiotics may be administered. In some cases where there has been a significant loss of blood a blood transfusion may be required. Anti-parasitic medication for fleas and worms may be recommended if they were linked as the cause of the anemia.

Changing your cat’s diet may be recommended and adding nutritional supplements such as iron in combination with other treatments. Veterinarians first treat the disease that is causing the anemia, and then continue to monitor your cat to see if there is any change or improvement. A combination of proper diagnosis and care will assist your cat in recovering from this illness.

Feline anemia has many causes, and it can be difficult for veterinarians to pinpoint the reason for your cat’s low red blood cell count.

It is important to seek professional medical care for your cat once you notice any of the above symptoms or a change in your cat’s behavior. Anemia is treatable and just requires proper diagnosis and proper care.

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Treatment with Erythropoietin

Erythropoietin is not effective at treating anemia in every case. Specifically, it is designed to help address this condition when your cat has lost kidney function due to a disease like chronic renal failure. The kidney is responsible for producing natural erythropoietin, and a disabled kidney may not be able to regulate the creation of red blood cells as normal. In other types of anemia, such as those caused by blood loss, iron depletion or other problems, you may experience mixed results.

Typically, veterinarians prescribe routine erythropoietin injections subcutaneously. In most cases, you will be able to administer the drug at home about three times per week. It is often helpful to supplement the hormone treatment with an oral iron pill as well. Because it takes about five days for an injection of erythropoietin to produce fully functional red blood cells, there is a certain degree of uncertainty as to the dosage of the medicine at first.

For the first few weeks of treatment, your vet will closely monitor your pet's red blood cell levels via a packed cell volume test. This is a simple blood test that can be done in a brief period of time at the veterinarian's office. He will then adjust the dosage accordingly.

It is important to consider that a large number of cats develop antibodies against the hormone supplement over time. Consequently, their anemia may diminish upon initial treatment and then resurge again a few months later. Speak with your veterinarian if a treatment program involving erythropoietin will be helpful as part of a broader solution for your pet's anemia.


Watch the video: Vlog: Cat Shadow Has Anemia (May 2021).