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What is Anemia in Dogs & What To Look For

While anemia is often referred to as a condition, it is actually a symptom itself of an underlying condition affecting the production and retention of red blood cells. Today our Cumming vets discuss the types and symptoms of anemia in dogs, what the causes are, and what the outlook might be.

What is anemia in dogs?

Anemia is not typically a condition on its own and is typically caused by an underlying condition. Anemia in dogs occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells or hemoglobin, or when they suffer severe blood loss due to conditions such as cancer or stomach ulcers, or trauma such as an injury or accident.

The Different Types of Anemia in Dogs & What They Affect

  • Blood loss anemia: Caused by severe loss of blood caused by injury, surgery, or a bleeding disorder. This form of anemia may also be caused by internal bleeding due to parasites, cancer, ulcers, or other conditions.
  • Hemolytic anemia: Resulting from the destruction or breakdown of red blood cells. Often the result of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), or non-immune mediated is caused by hereditary disease, toxins, low phosphorous levels, or parasites.
  • Aplastic or non-regenerative anemia: Insufficient production of red blood cells is the cause of this form of anemia. This may occur due to toxin exposure (poisoning), bone marrow disease, kidney disease, parvovirus, chemotherapy drugs, or certain medications.
  • Methemoglobinemia: High amounts of methemoglobin in the blood caused by certain genetic disorders, or exposure to toxins including some human medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and benzocaine.

What are the symptoms of anemia in dogs?

When a pet has anemia, 

  • Black stools
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pale gums, eyes, or ears
  • Fast pulse or rapid breathing
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Swelling in the face or jaw

What are the common causes of anemia in dogs?

Because anemia is a symptom rather than a disease, there are many conditions which can lead to anemia in dogs, including:

  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Medications that interfere with red blood cell production
  • Infectious diseases including canine distemper
  • Severe blood loss as a result of trauma (accident or injury)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Intestinal bleeding caused by medications or disease
  • Blood loss caused by parasitic infections such as hookworms, whipworms, or fleas 
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Chronic diseases that affect or suppress red blood cell production
  • Bone marrow disease
  • Toxins or poisons including rat poison or lead poisoning
  • Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease

Can dogs die from anemia?

Sadly, anemia in dogs can sometimes indicate that your dog is suffering from a very serious or possibly fatal condition such as poisoning, cancer, or autoimmune conditions. For that reason, anemia in dogs should always be taken seriously. If your dog is showing any of the signs or symptoms of anemia contact your veterinarian immediately to schedule an appointment.

Can your dog be cured if they have anemia?

The prognosis for anemia in dogs depends on the cause and whether treatment is available for the underlying condition causing the anemia. Once your vet has diagnosed your dog's anemia they will recommend the best possible treatment. Some treatments that may be recommended by your vet include:

  • Blood transfusion
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Bone marrow transfusion
  • Antibiotics
  • Change of existing medications
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Gastrointestinal medication
  • Parasite or de-worming medications

Can anemia be prevented?

Since anemia isn't a condition on its own, prevention will come down to preventing the illnesses and conditions that cause it. Parasite prevention against ticks, fleas, and worms is one way to help protect your dog against developing anemia. Keeping toxic substances far out of your dog's reach, and providing your dog with a healthy diet may also help.

If your dog is a breed that is susceptible to developing anemia including American Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Shih Tzus, regular wellness examinations twice yearly at your primary care veterinarian can help to detect the early signs of anemia and provide treatment before the condition becomes more severe.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you've seen any of the signs listed above in your pup, contact our Cumming vets at Animal Medical Center of Cumming to schedule an examination.

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Animal Medical Center of Cumming is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Cumming companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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