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What is Anemia?
Anemia occurs in animals when they have a lower than normal level of red blood cells (also referred to as erythrocytes) carrying oxygen to the body. Red blood cells contain a protein compound known as hemoglobin that gives blood its red color and transports oxygen to all the essential parts of the body. When there is a significant decrease in the number of red blood cells produced, the animal has to work extra hard to supply oxygen throughout the body. Animals with anemia have an increased heart rate which often causes fatigue, pale gums and depression.
Anemia can become a very serious condition if not treated immediately. Puppies and kittens especially, are at an increased risk of developing anemia if they are infested with fleas or internal parasites such as worms. The bodies of young puppies and kittens become easily weakened when fleas and worms are feeding off their blood and can cause severe anemia. For this reason, it is extremely important to eliminate fleas and worms as soon as they appear.
The symptoms and signs of anemia include:
- Pale gums or mucous membranes are seen when the lip is pushed up
- Pales eyes and ears
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Irregular breathing and heartbeat
- Lethargy, sleeps more than usual
- Stop grooming themselves
- Abdominal distension
- Nausea or vomiting
- Susceptibility to cold
- Episodes of collapse
- Heart murmur
- Blood in urine or feces
What causes Anemia?
There are several causes of anemia which are divided into three categories – blood loss, hemolysis and the insufficient production of red blood cells.
Blood loss can occur as a result of trauma and injury that causes damage to the blood vessels or internal organs in the form of a stomach ulcer, from parasites (fleas, ticks and hookworms), tumors of the intestinal tract, urinary bladder and kidneys and diseases that prevent proper clotting of blood. Some substances and toxins such as raw or cooked onions, drugs (Tylenol, aspirin), zinc, copper, propylene glycol which is sometimes found in canned food can also cause the destruction of red cells and are very dangerous.
One of the most common causes of anemia in pets is hemolytic anemia which occurs as a result of immune-mediated diseases. In immune-mediated diseases, the body’s immune system kills its own red blood cells rather than its own germs. Hemolytic anemia tends to be more common in dogs, particularly poodles, spaniels and Old English sheepdogs.
Female dogs are affected more than males and this disease can strike when they are young or middle aged. Infectious diseases such as feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency as well as blood parasites like Haemobartonella (affects cats more than dogs) and Babesia (affects dogs more than cats) can lead to hemolysis. Hemolysis may also be caused by cancer, kidney failure, hereditary diseases, and mechanical damage to the red blood cells, toxic heavy metals and exposure to certain drugs.
If the bone marrow does not produce an increasing number of new red blood cells, then certain factors or diseases may contribute to the prevention red blood cell production. These include poor nutrition or nutritional imbalances, exposure to toxins and chemicals, any severe, chronic disease, autoimmune disease, hypothyroidism or cancer.
The diagnosis of anemia is based on symptoms such as pale gingiva (gums), listlessness, weakness and lethargy. Certain blood tests such as the packed cell volume (PCV) which is also called the hematocrit, red blood cell count and hemoglobin count are performed to determine whether your pet is anemic.
A study of a stained blood smear, bone marrow biopsy or aspirate may also provide useful information about whether the bone marrow is producing new red blood cells and what may be causing the anemia. In addition, a urinalysis, biochemical profile and fecal exam may also be performed.
Help for Anemia
Treatment of anemia depends on the underlying cause which may be treated with intravenous fluids and medications. In cases where anemia is severe, a blood transfusion may be required to replace lost blood. In order to maintain optimal health of your pet, ensure that it is fed a healthy diet, exercises regularly and has sufficient water to drink. Keeping your pets free of fleas, ticks and worms with an effective repellant will also help to prevent anemia.
More Information on Anemia
There are number of things that you can do to prevent anemia in
pets and these include:
- Feed your pet a healthy, well balanced diet – good quality pet food ensures that your pet is getting the proper nutrition
- Incorporate iron-rich foods such as liver or green vegetables into their diet, but never feed onions and use garlic in moderation.
- Supplement your pet’s diet with kelp, nutritional yeast, vitamin C and B12
- Use products that are both effective and easy to apply to repel and kill fleas and ticks
- De-worm your animals, especially puppies and kittens regularly
- Make sure that your cat is vaccinated or limit his or her contact with other cats as they are at high risk for the leukemia virus
- Never give your pets human over-the-counter medication because these substances can contribute to anemia