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What causes anemia in dogs?

Anemia in dogs can potentially be caused by any number of underlying health conditions. In today's post, our Orlando vets define the different types of anemia diagnosed in dogs, in addition to their various symptoms and treatments. 

What is anemia in dogs?

The medical term 'anemia' refers to a reduction in the number of red blood cells (RBCs), hemoglobin (Hb or Hgb), or both that's circulating in the body. While it is not a specific disease, it results from another disease process or condition in your dog's system. 

After red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream, they circulate for about three months. During this time, the cells will age or become damaged before they are removed from the bloodstream and their components recycled into new red blood cells. The number of red blood cells may drop due to decreased production, cell destruction (lysis) or increased loss as seen during hemorrhage (bleeding). 

Because hemoglobin delivers oxygen to the body's cells and tissues, an anemic dog will suffer from symptoms associated with a lack of oxygen. 

What are types of anemia seen in dogs?

Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia - The breakdown or destruction of red blood cells in a dog's body causes this type of anemia, which often results from parasites, toxins, low phosphorous levels or hereditary disease.

Occasionally, our vets will be asked, 'Can vaccines cause anemia in dogs?' In response to neoplasia, an inflammatory condition, toxin, drug or infection, immunoglobulin (Ig) M or IgG antibody may attack RBCs. This may be rarely true for vaccines and the duration from vaccination to potential onset of IMHA is unclear. While some toxicities can result in direct damage to RBCs and be mistaken for IMHA, this would not be immune-mediated.

Aplastic or Non-Regenerative Anemia - An insufficient production of red blood cells is the culprit for this form of anemia, which may be caused by bone marrow disease, kidney disease, certain medications, parvovirus, chemotherapy drugs or exposure to toxins. 

Methemoglobinemia - Characterized by too much methemoglobin in the blood, methemoglobinemia in dogs can potentially be caused by certain genetic disorders or toxin exposure, including to a number of medications meant only for human use such as benzocaine, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. 

Blood Loss Anemia - When your dog has experienced severe loss of blood due to a bleeding disorder, surgery or injury, blood loss anemia can occur. This can also be caused by internal bleeding due to parasites, ulcers, cancer or other health conditions. 

What are the symptoms of anemia in dogs?

The underlying cause of your dog's health condition can determine which symptoms will appear. If your dog is suffering from anemia, you may see one or more of these symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Fast pulse
  • Black stools
  • Pale gums, ears, or eyes
  • Facial swelling

What causes anemia in dogs?

Numerous health conditions can lead to a dog developing anemia. Some common causes of anemia in dogs include:

  • Infectious diseases including canine distemper
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease
  • Severe blood loss as a result of accident or injury
  • Chronic diseases that suppress red blood cell production
  • Blood loss caused by parasites 
  • Medications that interfere with red blood cell production
  • Poor nutrition
  • Kidney disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Toxins or poisons
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Bone marrow disease
  • Cancer

What causes sudden anemia in dogs?

Rapid blood loss will often cause low blood pressure, an increased heart rate and place gums. Major injury or another clear cause may be the culprit, but sometimes blood loss is internal or hidden. Such is the case if your dog has parasites, a bleeding disorder or stomach ulcer, or a tumor on the spleen that ruptures. 

While animals with long-term anemia have time to adapt and their symptoms usually develop more gradually, sudden anemia may give your dog a jaundiced look (yellowish color to the skin, eyes or gums).  

Sudden anemia can lead to shock or even death if more than 30 to 40% of your dog's total blood volume is lost too quickly and not replaced with blood transfusions, intravenous fluids, or both. 

Can Lyme disease in dogs cause anemia?

Parasites, including ticks, are bad news for dogs. Ticks can consume enough of your dog's blood to cause anemia and another well-known condition: Lyme disease, which can cause swelling and arthritis in the joints that can lead to pain and lameness. 

What are causes for anemia in old dogs?

Senior dogs are often at risk of kidney disease, cancers and other conditions that require certain medications that may cause aplastic or non-regenerative anemia. Your veterinarian may be able to determine whether this is true for your your older pooch and recommend treatment options. 

How is anemia in dogs treated?

If your pet is diagnosed with anemia, the treatment recommended by your veterinarian will be focused primarily on the underlying cause of condition. Some of the treatments that your vet may recommend include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Blood transfusion
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Bone marrow transfusion
  • Change of existing medications
  • Antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs
  • Potassium phosphate supplements
  • Gastrointestinal medication
  • Parasite or de-worming medications

What is the prognosis for dogs with anemia?

Your dog's successful recovery from anemia will depend upon the availability of effective treatment for the underlying illness. Sadly, anemia can indicate that your dog is suffering from a life-threatening condition such as poisoning, cancer or an autoimmune condition.

If your pet is showing any of signs of anemia contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to schedule an examination. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for the successful treatment of many underlying internal conditions that can lead to anemia in dogs.

How can I prevent my dog from developing anemia?

Preventing anemia in dogs comes down to preventing the conditions that cause anemia (whenever possible). Year-round parasite prevention medications to protect your dog against ticks, fleas, and worms is one way to help your dog avoid developing anemia.

Storing toxic substances such as human medications and foods far out of your dog's reach, as well as providing your dog with a healthy diet, may also help to prevent your dog from developing anemia.

If your pet is a breed that is at high risk of developing anemia (American Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Shih Tzus), regular routine exams twice yearly at your primary care veterinarian may help to detect the signs of anemia early, and provide treatment before the condition becomes more serious.

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.

Is your dog showing signs of anemia? Contact our East Orlando Animal Hospital veterinarians today to schedule an examination for your four-legged friend, or visit your nearest emergency veterinary clinic for urgent care.

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Caring for Pets in Orlando

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