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Feline Anemia Causes

Why Your Cat’s Red Blood Cell Count Is Low

By Meredith Alling. January 17, 2014 | See Comments

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Feline anemia occurs when a pet's red blood cell count is low, and can be caused by numerous illnesses. Learn what these underlying health conditions are here.

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You are probably familiar with anemia because it is a fairly common condition in humans. But did you know that cats can suffer from it too? Feline anemia develops when there are not enough red blood cells in the body to deliver the adequate amount of oxygen to the tissues. This is either because the body is not producing enough red blood cells, or because the red blood cell count is lowered through blood loss or blood cell destruction. Either way, these irregularities and the resulting anemia are typically caused by underlying medical conditions. Let’s take a look at the causes.

Types of Feline Anemia

There are two types of feline anemia -- nonregenerative and regenerative.

Nonregenerative anemia is the result of insufficient production of red blood cells by the bone marrow. In many cases, an underlying medical condition displaces or eliminates the red blood cells, and the bone marrow cannot keep up with the heavy demand for new cells.

Regenerative anemia is either the result of blood loss or hemolysis, which is the atypical destruction of red blood cells. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (or IMHA) -- a form of regenerative anemia -- occurs when a cat’s body is tricked into seeing red blood cells as foreign, and the immune system kicks into action to destroy them.

Nonregenerative Anemia Causes

Conditions that can cause inadequate red blood cell production are:

Regenerative Anemia Causes

Conditions that can result in blood loss are:

  • Injury or trauma -- either external or internal
  • Intestinal, kidney, or bladder tumors
  • Clotting conditions
  • Severe parasitic infections from ticks and fleas, such as Cytauxzoon felis and Mycoplasma haemophilus. Cytauxzoon felis is an often fatal infection passed to cats by ticks, usually in rural areas. Mycoplasma haemophilus is a parasite passed to cats through tick and flea bites. It can also be passed through cat bites or from an infected mother cat while the kitten is in utero.

Conditions that can result in red blood cell destruction (hemolysis):

Is Anemia Hereditary?

Anemia itself is not hereditary, and all cats are at equal risk for developing it. However, there are some rare genetic disorders -- such as neonatal isoerythrolysis and the blood disorder porphyria -- that can cause anemia. Your veterinarian may check your cat for these and other genetic disorders if they discover that your cat has anemia.

See Your Veterinarian

If your cat is suffering from any of the above conditions, or if you notice symptoms of anemia, contact your veterinarian. They will perform a series of tests to determine if your cat is suffering from a low red blood cell count. If so, there are a number of treatment options available, and for many cats the recovery prognosis is very good. 

More on Cat Health

Cat Symptom Checker: Match Your Cat's Symptoms to Health Conditions
How You Can Know if You Pet Has Whipworrm
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Feline Anemia at a glance

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  • 1Anemia occurs when there are not enough red blood cells to deliver sufficient oxygen to the tissues
  • 2There are two types of anemia -- nonregenerative and regenerative
  • 3Both forms of anemia are caused by underlying medical conditions
  • 4Anemia is not hereditary, but some rare genetic disorders can cause it