What is anemia?
Anemia is a condition that affects the red blood cells and hemoglobin in a patient’s blood. Red blood cells and hemoglobin are components of the blood that are produced in the bone marrow of a dog. Hemoglobin is a protein that is found in red blood cells and it is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body. It is also responsible for giving red blood cells their recognizable red colour. When a dog is anemic they have decreased, or lack of, red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood.
Since red blood cells and hemoglobin provide oxygen to the body, a decrease in one or both of them can cause a detrimental decrease of oxygen being delivered to the cells and tissues. This has several severe implications, such as the examples listed below.
Common clinical signs of anemia include:
- Trouble breathing
- Pale mucous membranes
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Increased heart rate
- Easily fatigued
- Blood in the urine, stool, or vomit
- Bloody nose
Causes of anemia in dogs
There are a number of health problems and disease processes that can cause blood loss, red blood cell breakdown, or the decrease of red blood cell production in the bone marrow. These conditions include, but are not limited to: trauma, blood feeding parasites, bleeding tumours, blood clotting problems, autoimmune diseases such as immune-mediated haemolytic anemia (IMHA), toxins, cancer, poor nutrition, and chronic diseases of the kidneys and liver.
The most common diagnostic test for determining if a patient is anemic is a packed cell volume blood test (or PCV for short), also known as a hematocrit test. This test involves drawing a blood sample and quantifying the amount of red blood cells in the blood as a percentage. A result of 35% or lower in dogs is generally considered anemia.
Typically, the initial correction of anemia begins with addressing the underlying issue or cause. Depending on the specific condition that caused the concern, this may include corrective surgery, medications, or nutritional support. Acute supportive care may include the need for a blood transfusion. Managing diseases and conditions that tend to cause anemia is the best form of preventative care. Additionally, feeding a well-balanced diet, maintaining regular parasite prevention, and bringing your pet to the vet for annual wellness exams including regular blood screening, will aid in minimizing your pet’s risk of developing anemia.