Anemia is a condition in which a dog’s blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. Many underlying conditions can cause anemia in dogs, and treatment depends on identifying the cause. Your first step is to recognize the symptoms so you know when to get your dog to the vet.
Anemia’s Most Common Symptoms in Dogs
The most common symptoms of anemia are pallor and tiredness. To check for pallor, look at your dog’s gums and tongue (or inside the ears, if the skin there is unpigmented) and see if they are less pink than normal. Pale gums and tongue are a sign of anemia.
Other symptoms depend on what kind of anemia your dog has and how bad it is.
Anemia is basically an oxygen delivery problem, so a lot of the symptoms have to do with the body’s organs not getting enough oxygen. Breathing problems also cause the body to not get enough oxygen, but require very different treatment.
The main difference in the symptoms of these two issues is color. Anemia will cause the membranes of your dog’s gums to be pale pink to white. Hypoxia, a problem with the dog’s lungs or with the air (if the air is too thin or is poisoned, for instance) causes the membranes to be bluish. If the membranes are bright red that could be another form of hypoxia caused by carbon monoxide inhalation. If the dog next to you has carbon monoxide poisoning, then so do you. You both need to get outside to fresh air right away.
- Anemia = gums are pale, light pink, white
- Hypoxia = gums are blue
- Carbon monoxide = gums are bright red
Other Symptoms to Look For
If your dog is anemic you might see the other symptoms:
- Lack of appetite
- Fast breathing, even at rest (in severe anemia)
- Fast heart rate, even at rest (in severe anemia)
- Heart murmur (in some severe cases, but not all)
In some cases anemia might also be accompanied by jaundice, since red blood cells form bile when they break down.
Anemia is sometimes caused by either infections or by heavy parasite infestations, and these problems have their own symptoms as well. When checking for fleas, remember that fleas hop on and off their hosts. You might only find a couple of fleas on your dog at a time, even though the infestation is bad enough to cause anemia. A better indication is to look for flea droppings, which look like black pepper in your dog’s fur and which turn water red.
Anemia can develop quickly or slowly, depending on the cause. Fast onset is definitely worse, because your dog’s body will not have time to adapt.
What to Do Now?
If you think your dog has anemia, go to your vet right away. Anemia itself can be life-threatening, plus whatever is causing the anemia might be threatening your dog in other ways. For example, there are some forms of cancer that cause anemia.
If the anemia itself is severe, your dog might need one or more blood transfusions to bring the red blood cell count up to a safe level again. Ultimately, though, successful treatment depends on your vet diagnosing and addressing whatever has caused the anemia in the first place. The prognosis depends on the cause, but many forms of anemia can be completely cured.
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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.