Anemia is a condition in which there are an abnormally low number of red blood cells called hemoglobin or erythrocytes in the blood.
Hemoglobin is a protein molecule inside a red blood cell. It is capable of moving oxygen in the blood to all the tissues in the body. As red blood cells age or damage, they are collected by the spleen and removed from the circulation.
A part of the hemoglobin molecule is recycled to the bone marrow and is included in a new red blood cell while the other parts are processed by the liver.
Causes of Anemia
The three most common causes of anemia are the following:
- Blood loss
- Destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia)
- Insufficient production of red blood cells (aplastic anemia)
Anemia that is caused by blood loss can result from surgery, trauma, or another bleeding disorder that is an effect of a sudden reduction in the overall numbers of circulating red blood cells. However, anemia from blood loss can also be the result of slower, chronic condition which includes bleeding in the GI tract because of ulcers, internal or external parasites, cancer, and a number of other conditions.
Symptoms And Diagnosis
An oxygen starvation happens when a pet has an abnormally low volume of red blood cells and consequently insufficient hemoglobin to carry oxygen to the body's tissues.
Symptoms may include:
- Exercise intolerance
- Elevated heart rate
- Pale mucous membranes
- Loss of appetite
- Mental confusion
- Rapid breathing
If your pet is passing a large amount of digested blood from the GI tract, a black tarry stool may occur as well.
Typical diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count, a serum biochemistry panel, and packed cell volume. A blood smear can be analyzed under a microscope to evaluate the structure of the red blood cells.
A urinalysis and a test to check for Ehrlichia canis may also be done.
A coagulation panel can also be performed by your vet, as well as mucosal bleeding time test to evaluate your pet's clotting ability. Another one is a fecal test to check for occult blood loss, which is blood loss from the intestines.
A diagnosis of anemia doesn't identify the underlying problem, however, there are several other tests that often must be run to determine the cause of the low red blood cell volume.
These tests may include abdominocentesis, abdominal X-rays, ultrasound or an endoscopy to look inside the abdomen for the presence of tumors or ulcers.
Treatment For Anemia Depends On The Underlying Cause
If you think your pet may be anemic then you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. Anemia is a life-threatening disease depending on what's caused it.
Depending on the cause of the anemia, treatment options may include:
- IV fluid therapy to increase blood volume
- Transfusions of packed cells, whole blood, platelets, or fresh frozen plasma
- Transfusions of bone marrow
- Antibiotics if infection is present
- Vitamin k1 for coagulation disorders or certain poisoning
- GI protectants
- Anti-parasitic medications
- Potassium phosphate supplementation
- Surgery to fix the cause of bleeding
Anemia is rarely related to iron deficiency in pets, as it is in many women. You should avoid giving iron supplementation unless iron deficiency is actually diagnosed in your pet.
Anemic pets must be carefully monitored while undergoing treatment.