What is anemia in dogs?
Typically, anemia in dogs is viewed as a symptom of an underlying trauma, disease or illness. The condition can happen when your pet suffers severe blood loss due to a trauma such as a serious injury or accident, or a medical condition such as cancer.
It can also occur when your dog’s body doesn’t produce enough hemoglobin or red blood cells.
Which treatments are effective and the prognosis for a pet diagnosed with anemia will vary depending on the condition causing it.
Types of Anemia
There are 4 types of anemia that dogs can experience:
The breakdown or destruction of a dog’s red blood cells causes this form of anemia. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), or non-immune mediated causes such as parasites, toxins, low phosphorous levels or hereditary disease can result in the condition.
Blood Loss Anemia
If your dog suffers from severe blood loss caused by a bleeding disorder, injury or surgery, this type of anemia can occur. The condition can also happen due to internal bleeding resulting from ulcers, cancer, parasites or other conditions.
Aplastic or Non-Regenerative Anemia
Aplastic or non-regenerative anemia is caused by the insufficient production of red blood cells. This type of anemia can occur if your dog experiences bone marrow disease, poisoning (exposure to toxins), certain medications, chemotherapy drugs or kidney disease.
Certain genetic disorders can cause an excessive amount of methemoglobin in your dog’s blood. This type of anemia can also occur to do exposure to toxins, including some human medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or benzocaine.
What are signs of anemia in dogs?
If your dog suffers from anemia, you may notice one or more of the following signs. These symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause of the condition, and the type of anemia that’s causing the symptoms.
Symptoms of anemia in dogs may include:
- Swelling in the jaw or face
- Black stools
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy or weakness
- Pale gums, ears or eyes
- Rapid breathing or fast pulse
What causes anemia in dogs?
A number of conditions can cause your dog to become anemic, including:
- Poisons or toxins (lead poisoning or rat poison)
- Tick-borne illnesses (e.g. Lyme disease)
- Blood loss caused by parasites such as heartworms or fleas
- Cushing’s disease
- Poor nutrition
- Bone marrow disease
- Kidney disease
- Intestinal bleeding
- Infectious diseases including canine distemper
- Severe blood loss due to injury or accident
- Medications that interfere with production of red blood cells
- Chronic diseases that suppress red blood cell production
How is anemia in dogs treated?
Depending on the underlying condition, your vet will run necessary tests and recommend an effective treatment for anemia. Some treatments your vet may recommend include:
- Blood transfusion
- Bone marrow transfusion
- Deworming or parasite medications
- Antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs
- Gastrointestinal medication
- Potassium phosphate supplements
Your vet can develop a custom treatment plan for your dog’s anemia. This plan may include at-home care and support along with veterinary medical treatment, potentially providing specialized food, medications or changing your pet’s medications.
Can dogs recover from anemia?
Depending on whether your vet is able to treat your dog’s underlying illness, when it comes to anemia prognosis varies.
Unfortunately, anemia may be a sign that your dog is suffering from a potentially life-threatening or serious condition such as poisoning, cancer or autoimmune conditions. As pet parents, we need to be on guard when it comes to preventing these, and having them quickly treated if they do crop up.
If your dog displays any symptoms of anemia listed above, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to schedule a physical exam.
Prevention of Anemia in Dogs
As mentioned earlier, the key to preventing anemia in dogs is to be on the lookout for underlying causes. Keeping up on year-round parasite prevention medications is critical, as these protect your dogs from fleas, ticks and worms that can cause bleeding.
Annual or twice yearly routine examinations at your primary care vet can help detect conditions that cause anemia, and early signs of anemia itself so treatment can be provided before it becomes more severe. This is especially important if your dog is a breed that’s vulnerable to developing anemia, such as Shih Tzus, Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, and Miniature Schnauzers.
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.