Anaemia is a reduction in red blood cells in the body. This reduction may be due to blood loss, not enough red blood cells being made, or too many red blood cells being broken down. It may make your dog lethargic, or you might only discover your dog is anaemic following a blood test.
There are lots of possible causes of anaemia
Unlike in humans, anaemia caused by iron deficiency is less common
It might take lots of different tests to work out what is causing your dog’s anaemia
It can be quite worrying to find out your dog is anaemic – we’re here to talk through any questions or concerns as are your veterinary practice
What is anaemia?
Anaemia is a reduction in red blood cells in the body. It can be classed as regenerative, meaning the body is responding to the anaemia and trying to make more red blood cells, or non-regenerative, where not enough new red blood cells are being made.
How will I know if my dog is anaemic?
Your dog may be lethargic, and less keen to go for walks or do their normal activities. They may eat less than normal. You may notice that their skin or gums seem pale, or in some cases yellow (jaundice). They may be breathing faster than normal, and have a fast heart rate. Sometimes they can have dark stools. Many of these symptoms have more than one cause and sometimes there are no obvious symptoms with the anaemia being discovered on a blood test.
If you are concerned your dog is anaemic, we would always advise contacting your vet. Your vet will take a detailed history, give your dog a thorough examination and, if indicated, they will take a sample of blood from your dog’s vein. The blood will be used to perform a haematology assessment which looks at the red and white blood cells in your dog’s system. A low number of red blood cells indicates anaemia. This may be confirmed by looking at a sample of the blood under a microscope, called a blood smear. In addition, your vet may run a biochemistry which check things like liver and kidney function, to look for underlying causes of the anaemia.
What causes anaemia in dogs?
The causes of anaemia can be life-threatening, so the sooner they are diagnosed, the better.
Causes of regenerative anaemia include:
Toxins - from food, chemicals or drugs
Immune mediated disease (where the body attacks its own cells)
Chronic (long-term) blood loss - such as bleeding in the gut, and bleeding from some tumours
Inherited conditions (Basenjis, Beagles, some types of terrier, English Springer Spaniels)
Causes of non-regenerative anaemia include:
Acute (sudden) blood loss - e.g. due to trauma, or a ruptured tumour on the spleen
Bone marrow disease
Chronic diseases such as Cushings, thyroid disease, or liver disease.
How is anaemia treated in dogs?
This depends on what is causing it. Your vet may need to run some more tests, such as further blood tests or imaging, or they may offer to refer you to a specialist. If your dog is severely anaemic, the vet may recommend a blood transfusion.
It can be quite worrying to find out your dog is anaemic, but rest assured your vet will do their best for you and your dog.