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Anemia in Dogs: Signs & Symptoms

Anemia in dogs can be a sign of a potentially serious underlying condition. Our South Charlotte vets explain the condition, symptoms, and how we treat it. 

What is anemia in dogs?

Sometimes, dogs do not have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin (it can be both) in their bloodstream. This is a condition referred to as anemia. Because red blood cells supply oxygen to the rest of your pooch’s body and remove carbon dioxide, they are critical.

These blood cells are created in the bone marrow and circulate for about three months until they break down and are replaced. In healthy dogs, the cycle repeats. But in dogs that are injured or ill, this process is disrupted. A number of diseases can cause anemia, such as:

  • Immune diseases, where the immune system attacks healthy blood cells.
  • Poor nutrition
  • Parasite infestations (ticks, roundworms, fleas, etc.) which lead to blood loss
  • Cancer
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Parvovirus, canine influenza and other infectious diseases

Some breeds may be predisposed to conditions or diseases that often cause anemia. Your veterinarian can provide advice on any health-related risks your dog may face, and what you can do to prevent them.

They may also have insight on how you can reduce the risk your four-legged friend will suffer from these illnesses. This way, you can be prepared to watch for certain symptoms.

What symptoms of anemia should I watch for in my dog?

Anemia can be deceiving - it may be one of several symptoms to manifest from an underlying condition, but it’s also possible that it may be the singular symptom that appears. Regardless, keep an eye out for these symptoms of anemia in dogs:

  • Change in color of gums (pale pink or whitish)
  • Dark, “tarry” stools, or dark blood present in vomit of feces
  • Fatigue or lack of energy after exercise or play
  • Bruises on skin (due to platelet loss)

What should I do if I suspect my dog is suffering from anemia?

See your veterinarian as soon as possible. If there’s blood in your dog's feces or vomit, this is an emergency situation that needs immediate veterinary care.

Your vet will need to officially test for and diagnose anemia to determine the type of anemia your dog has, along with the cause. The vet may run several diagnostic tests, including blood tests, imaging, x-rays and ultrasounds in order to diagnose the condition.

Your vet may do a PCV (packed cell volume) test, which measures the red blood cells in your dog’s blood stream. If his levels come in at under 35 percent, this would mean he’s anemic.

Bone marrow biopsies and blood smears may also be done. These can help your vet determine whether the anemia is responsive or unresponsive. Responsive anemia indicates the bone marrow is attempting to resolve the anemia. However, if bone marrow is not responding properly, this would be classified as unresponsive anemia. Hemolytic anemia happens when red blood cells are broken down or lost within a dog’s body.

How will my vet treat my dog’s anemia?

Depending on how severe your dog’s anemia is, a blood transfusion may be required. Your vet will create a custom treatment plan to correctly treat the underlying condition. Treatment options may range from medications to surgery.

Is anemia fatal in dogs?

Anemia is a serious symptom that requires the care and attention of a qualified vet. Several conditions, from diseases to toxins, injury or autoimmune disorders, are potential causes. Contact your veterinarian immediately for help, as the cause and treatment of the condition determines prognosis.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets.

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