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Types of Anemia in Dogs

While anemic can have a large impact on your dog's health, it is typically a symptom related to an underlying condition. Here, our Springfield vets discuss the different types of anemia in dogs, what the common symptoms and causes are, and how anemia can be treated.

What is anemia in dogs?

Anemia is rarely a condition on its own, it is usually caused by an underlying health condition. Anemia results from your pet's body not producing enough red blood cells or hemoglobin, or if your dog suffers severe blood loss due to conditions such as cancer, or stomach ulcers, or due to trauma such as a serious accident or injury.

What are the different types of anemia in dogs?

  • Blood loss anemia: Occurs due to severe loss of blood caused by injury, surgery, or a bleeding disorder. This form of anemia may also be caused by internal bleeding due to parasites, cancer, ulcers, or other conditions.
  • Hemolytic anemia: This is caused by the destruction or breakdown of red blood cells. Often the result of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), or autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), or non-immune mediated anemia in dogs is caused by hereditary disease, parasites, toxins, or low phosphorous levels.
  • Aplastic or non-regenerative anemia in dogs: Develops in dogs due to insufficient production of red blood cells. This form of anemia may occur due to toxin exposure (poisoning), bone marrow disease, kidney disease, parvovirus, certain medications, or chemotherapy drugs.
  • Methemoglobinemia: This is caused by too much methemoglobin in the blood due to certain genetic disorders, or exposure to toxins including some human medications such as benzocaine, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.

What are the symptoms experienced by dogs with anemia?

Anemia can cause a variety of symptoms, some of which can be serious. Depending on the type of anemia experienced and the underlying cause, your dog may experience a range of symptoms at different severities. Some of these symptoms are:

  • Vomiting
  • Black stools
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fast pulse or rapid breathing
  • Pale gums, eyes, or ears
  • Swelling in the face or jaw
  • Weakness or lethargy

What are the causes of anemia in dogs?

Some of the conditions that are commonly responsible for the development of anemia are:

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

What are the options for treating anemia?

The treatment for your dog's anemia is greatly depend on the underlying cause and symptoms. Some of the treatments that your vet may recommend include:

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

The prognosis for dogs with anemia depends upon whether an effective treatment exists for the underlying illness. Sadly, anemia can sometimes indicate that your dog is suffering from a very serious or possibly fatal condition such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, or poisoning. This is why anemia in dogs should always be taken seriously. If your dog may be experiencing anemia or any other condition affecting their health, you should contact your vet and schedule an exam including complete diagnostics as soon as possible.

How can anemia in dogs be prevented?

The key to preventing anemia in dogs is preventing the conditions which lead to anemia, (whenever possible). Year-round parasite prevention medications to protect your dog against ticks, fleas, and worms are one way to help your dog avoid developing anemia. Keeping toxic substances far out of your dog's reach, and providing your dog with a healthy diet may also help to prevent your dog from developing anemia. If your dog is a breed that is susceptible to developing anemia including American Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Shih Tzus, regular wellness examinations twice yearly at your primary care veterinarian may help to detect the early signs of anemia and provide treatment before the condition becomes more severe.

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.

If you see any signs related to anemia in your dog, please contact The Regional Veterinary Referral Center in Springfield to schedule an exam right away.

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