What is Anemia in Dogs?

Anemia is a condition in which there is less than the normal number of red blood cells or fewer than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. The condition may be caused by a lack of iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, or other nutrients necessary for red blood cell production. The most common symptoms of anemia are fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath.

Anemia can occur in dogs and cats, although it is more common in dogs. Several factors can cause anemia, including genetic disorders like canine polycystic kidney disease (PKD), or autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Dogs with chronic kidney disease often develop anemia due to a decline in the kidney’s ability to produce erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production. Dogs with cancer may also develop anemia due to low EPO levels.

What Are the Different Types of Anemia in Dogs?

Dogs can develop anemia for various reasons, including malnutrition, parasitic infections, and chronic disease. The most common types of anemia include:

Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia: This autoimmune condition occurs when the immune system attacks its red blood cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders. It can be triggered by environmental toxins such as insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides; viral infections like parvovirus; bacterial infections like leptospirosis; physical trauma like road traffic accidents; or chemical injuries from certain drugs such as ivermectin and penicillin G benzathine.

Iron Deficiency Anemia: This occurs when insufficient iron is available for the bone marrow to make new red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia may be due to inadequate dietary intake of iron, gastrointestinal bleeding, or malabsorption of nutrients such as vitamin B12 or folic acid needed for erythropoiesis (production of new red blood cells).

Normocytic (Normal Size) Anemia: The size of your dog’s red blood cells is normal, but there are fewer than normal circulating in his bloodstream. This form of anemia can be caused by nutritional deficiencies or bone marrow disease.

Splenomegaly: This is an enlargement of the spleen due to a buildup of immature red blood cells called reticulocytes. The spleen breaks down these immature red blood cells to release more mature red blood cells into circulation. As a result, the spleen becomes enlarged as it accumulates the waste products from breaking down these immature red blood cells.

Blood Loss: Blood loss anemia can occur due to bleeding inside the body (intravascular) or outside the body (extravascular). Intravascular bleeding occurs when blood vessels are damaged by trauma or disease and can result from an injury, bleeding disorder, or surgery. Extravascular bleeding occurs when the walls of a blood vessel are injured or torn, causing blood to leak into surrounding tissues.

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What Causes of Anemia in Dogs?

In humans, anemia can be caused by various factors such as genetics, pregnancy, iron deficiency, or vitamin B12 deficiency. However, in dogs, there are several common causes of anemia which include:

Severe Blood Loss: Blood loss is the most common cause of aplastic anemia in dogs. If your dog has been injured and is bleeding profusely, he may become anemic because he’s losing so much blood. This can lead to serious complications if your vet doesn’t address it quickly! Blood loss can also be caused by parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites, or lice.

Viral Diseases: Some infectious diseases, such as parvovirus and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), can cause your pet’s red blood cell count to drop dramatically. If your pet has a viral disease that affects his immune system or destroys red blood cells on contact with any other cell in his body (called hemolysis), he will likely develop anemia and other symptoms from these diseases, including diarrhea and vomiting, stomach ulcer, fever, and weight loss.

Chronic Infections: Infections such as heartworm or Lyme disease can cause chronic inflammation in your dog’s body that eventually damages his bone marrow and prevents him from producing healthy red blood cells.

Inherited Disorders of Red Blood Cells (Porphyrias): A few inherited disorders of red blood cells can cause anemia if they are not treated early in life with drugs that prevent their progression until your dog reaches adulthood and can produce enough red blood cells on their own. These porphyrias include congenital erythropoietic porphyria (CEP), methemoglobinemia, and congenital erythroid hyperplasia (CEH). These hereditary diseases cause anemia in puppies and are treated with drugs that replace the missing red blood cells.

Some Cancers: Cancers that start in bone marrow may also prevent new red blood cells from forming.

Medications: Certain medications like aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause non-regenerative anemia due to their effects on platelets and white blood cells. It can also be caused by ingesting human medications such as ibuprofen, benzocaine, and acetaminophen.

Nutritional Deficiency: This is one of the most common causes of anemia in dogs. It can be caused by inadequate protein or vitamin B12 in your dog’s diet, but it can also be caused by a parasite called hookworms that lives inside your dog’s digestive tract. Hookworms steal nutrients from their hosts, so if you have a hookworm infestation, it will rob your dog of nutrients necessary to make new red blood cells.

What are the Signs of Anemia in Dogs?

Dogs with anemia may exhibit one or more of these signs:

  • Lethargy or tiredness
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Pale gums and tongue
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Dry nose and mouth
  • Dilated pupils (enlarged pupils)
  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory distress
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) and tachypnea (fast breathing)
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Is Anemia Painful for Dogs?

Yes, anemia can lead to fatigue and shortness of breath, and it can also cause pain in dogs. Anemia increases blood viscosity, meaning that the blood becomes thicker and more difficult for the heart to pump through the body. This can cause chest pain, especially if your dog already has heart disease or other conditions that make it difficult for him to breathe normally.

If your dog has anemia, he may also experience dog joint pain due to increased pressure inside his joints and weakness. Severe anemia can lead to organ failure, especially in the heart and kidneys.

How is Anemia in Dogs Diagnosed?

The packed cell volume (PCV) or hematocrit test (HCT) is the most popular way of diagnosing anemia in dogs. These tests are frequently carried out in conjunction with your dog’s total blood cell count (CBC). Red blood cells make up between 35% to 55% of the blood of a healthy dog. However, if the PCV is less than 35%, the dog is generally regarded as anemic. 

What is the Treatment for Anemia in Dogs?

Treatment for anemia depends on its cause. Your veterinarian may perform complete blood tests, urinalysis, and X-rays of the chest and abdomen to thoroughly examine what is causing your dog’s anemia. If there is an underlying cause, such as cancer or some other disease process, then treating that disease may also cure the dog’s anemia.

If there is no underlying disease and your dog has developed anemia due to a lack of red blood cells, you may need to give him supplemental oxygen until he recovers enough to breathe normally again on his own.

Can Anemia in Dogs Go Away on Its Own?

Yes, depending on the cause of anemia, it can go away. Some types of anemia are caused by temporary problems and will resolve themselves. For example, if your dog has a blood parasite called Babesia, treatment with antibiotics such as doxycycline for dogs or tetracycline will clear up the infection and return his red blood cell count to normal.

Other types of anemia are caused by chronic diseases that require long-term treatment to control. For example, if your dog has kidney disease, he may need regular blood transfusions to keep his red blood cell count normal. But once his kidneys have failed and he can no longer produce any red blood cells on his own, he’ll need lifelong treatment with synthetic oxygen carriers called packed red cells or plasma.

You’ll need to treat your dog’s underlying condition in some cases before you can cure his anemia. For example, if he has heart failure or another type of heart disease that causes fluid buildup in his lungs (pulmonary edema), treating the problem may stop the internal bleeding and anemia caused by those conditions. Once you’ve managed to reverse the effects of anemia, your dog will need regular blood tests and injections for several weeks or months.

What is the Prognosis for Anemic Dogs?

The prognosis is good if the anemia is discovered early and the dog is still in generally good health. Dogs with severe anemia that is brought on by toxins, cancer, autoimmune disorders, or severe trauma have a worse prognosis. The prognosis for dogs with anemia may differ depending on whether the underlying condition is treatable well. Sadly, anemia can be a sign of a highly dangerous or fatal condition like cancer, an autoimmune disorder, or poisoning.

Contact your veterinarian right once to schedule a checkup if your pet is experiencing symptoms of anemia.

How Serious is Anemia in Dogs?

The severity of anemia varies depending on its cause and how quickly it is treated. Some cases of anemia are mild and resolve on their own with proper treatment. However, if left untreated, anemia can lead to serious health issues that may even be fatal if not properly treated.

Can I Prevent Anemia in Dogs?

Here are some ways to prevent your dog from becoming anemic:

  • Feed him a high-quality diet free of harmful ingredients such as corn and wheat gluten.
  • Avoid processed foods and feed him whole foods like fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
  • Purchase food from companies that make their products with human-grade ingredients rather than meat byproducts or other sources difficult for humans to digest properly, such as feathers and animal intestines.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water at all times so he doesn’t become dehydrated, which can lead to liver disease and other health problems down the road if left untreated.
  • Make sure your pet gets plenty of exercises every day so he stays active while also helping his body production of red blood cells to prevent anemia from developing in the first place.
  • Your pet needs to have all its vaccines and get a complete physical examination by a veterinarian, so health problems can be spotted early before they become serious.