Anemia In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Anemia in dogs is a condition that results in a reduction of the number of red blood cells, hemoglobin, or both in the blood stream. The function of red blood cells and hemoglobin is to bring oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. There are several types of canine anemia with various symptoms that can affect dogs, and they often have different causes and treatments. While some severe forms of the disease can present life-threatening symptoms to anemic dogs, many mild cases can be managed or reversed with proper veterinary care.

Types And Causes Of Anemia In Dogs

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There are several types of anemia in dogs. In a healthy dog, the red blood cells, also known as erythrocytes, carry protein molecules called hemoglobin that bring oxygen from the lungs to all body tissue. Red blood cells have a lifespan of about two months before they are removed from circulation by the spleen. Some parts from hemoglobin molecules are recycled by the bone marrow to create new blood cells, while the rest is filtered by the liver. The process then repeats. The different forms of anemia create irregularities in this process. Here are a few different kinds of canine anemia.

  • Blood loss anemia happens when there is a severe loss of blood typically due to injury, surgery, or a bleeding disorder. It can also be caused by internal bleeding due to ulcers, parasites, cancer, or other conditions.
  • Hemolytic anemia is caused by the destruction or shortened lifespan of red blood cells. This can be immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) or autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), conditions where the white blood cells attack the body’s own cells, and antibodies end up destroying the red blood cells. It can also be non-immune mediated, which is caused by parasites, hereditary disease, toxins, or low phosphorous levels.
  • Aplastic or non-regenerative anemia means that there is an insufficient production of red blood cells. It can be caused by several factors, including bone marrow disease and tumors, kidney disease, parvovirus, chemotherapy drugs, certain medications, or sometimes radiation or toxin exposure.
  • Methemoglobinemia happens when there is too much methemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin carries oxygen, but methemoglobin does not. It is the result of iron oxygenation and is normally converted back into hemoglobin. When that process is disrupted, the level of methemoglobin is too high, and the blood may appear brownish in color as it loses oxygenation. This type of anemia is caused by genetic disorder or exposure to chemicals including some medication like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and benzocaine.

Symptoms Of Anemia In Dogs

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Symptoms that appear in anemic dogs can range from mild to severe and may vary on the type of anemia that a dog suffers from. In some cases dogs may present no signs, so it is important to keep up with regular veterinary exams. Here are some signs to watch for and seek veterinary attention if you spot them.

  • Pale gums
  • Paleness in the eyes or ears
  • Discoloration of the skin or mucous membranes
  • Weakness, tiredness, or depression
  • Lack of appetite or weight loss
  • Black stools
  • Ingesting dirt
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling in the face or jaw
  • Fast pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hypothermia

Treatment For And Prevention Of Anemia In Dogs

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Treatment for anemia depends on the type and cause of the condition, and your veterinarian will formulate a plan after running tests and forming a diagnosis. These tests will likely include a red blood cell count, tests for parasites, evaluations of liver, kidney, and pancreatic functions, electrolyte tests to check for dehydration, a urinalysis to check for urinary tract infections, and other tests to rule out certain causes. Depending on the type of anemia your dog suffers from, your vet may consider the following treatment options.

  • Intravenous fluids
  • Blood transfusion, especially in life-threatening cases
  • Bone marrow transfusion
  • Antibiotics if the cause is bacterial infection
  • Changing medications that may cause anemia
  • Immunusuppressive drugs in the case of IMHA or AIHA
  • Gastrointestinal medication
  • Parasite or de-worming medications
  • Potassium phosphate supplements

Your vet may consider other options, as well. It is important to also follow methods of preventative care. Prevention of anemia in dogs should include the following.

  • Flea and tick medication to prevent illnesses that they carry, which cause anemia
  • Avoid exposure to toxic substances like lead
  • Avoid ingestion of human medications, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen
  • Keep up with parasite prevention medication
  • Avoid exposure to human foods that are toxic to dogs like onions
  • Avoid major injury by supervising your dog while outdoors and do not allow them to roam into streets

Has your dog ever suffered from anemia? How did you treat it? Let us know in the comments below!