Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia in Cats Identifying and Managing Feline Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia in Cats Image by K L from Pixabay

Cats are susceptible to anemia (AIHA), which is characterized by the immune system's destruction of its own red blood cells. We discuss this disease further in this article.

Anemia (AIHA) is a disorder that affects cats and is defined by the immune system's destruction of red blood cells. This can result in anemia, a disorder marked by a deficiency of red blood cells in the body and characterized by symptoms including weakness, exhaustion, and jaundice.

We'll talk about the causes, signs, and potential treatments for AIHA in cats in this article. We will also discuss the prognosis for cats who have this ailment and offer advice on how to avoid it.


The specific origin of Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) in cats is unknown. However, it is believed to be an immune-mediated disorder, which means that the cat’s immune system mistakenly attacks the cat's red blood cells. Numerous things, such as infections, exposure to specific medications or chemicals, or underlying medical disorders, including cancer or autoimmune diseases, can cause this.

Infections like feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) have been associated with the development of AIHA in cats. Certain drugs and chemicals, such as antibiotics and pesticides, can also cause the condition. Additionally, some cats may be genetically predisposed to the condition. It can also be idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause.

In general, AIHA is a rare condition in cats, but it can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.


Depending on the extent of the disorder, the indicators of autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) in cats might vary. However, some typical symptoms include:

  • Weakness and fatigue: Cats with AIHA may appear tired and lethargic and may have difficulty moving around or performing normal activities.

  • Loss of appetite: Cats with AIHA may lose their appetite and stop eating.

  • Jaundice: AIHA can cause a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes due to the accumulation of bilirubin, a waste product produced by the breakdown of red blood cells.

  • Pale gums: The gums of cats with AIHA may appear pale due to the lack of red blood cells.

  • Rapid breathing and heart rate: Cats with AIHA may have difficulty getting enough oxygen, which can cause them to breathe faster or have a faster heart rate.

  • Enlarged spleen or liver: The spleen and liver may become enlarged as they try to compensate for the destruction of red blood cells.

  • Hemoglobinuria: Dark red or brown urine may be visible due to the breakdown of red blood cells.

Clinical Diagnosis

The clinical diagnosis of Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) in cats often involves multiple steps:

  • Physical examination: A veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination of the cat, including measuring its temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Additionally, they will look for anemia symptoms like pale gums and jaundice.

  • Blood work: A veterinarian will typically run a complete blood count (CBC) and a chemistry panel to evaluate the cat's red blood cell count, hemoglobin levels, and other important blood markers. In addition, they will look for cancer or other diseases that may manifest similar symptoms.

  • Coombs test: A Coombs test, sometimes referred to as a Direct Antiglobulin Test (DAT), is a special test that looks for antibodies or complement proteins that are adhered to red blood cell surfaces. The examination is performed to validate the AIHA diagnosis.

  • Bone marrow examination: A bone marrow examination may be performed to determine the stage of the disease and the cause and to rule out other causes of anemia.

  • Additional tests: Additional tests, such as a reticulocyte count or other specialist testing, may be carried out to further explore the etiology of the anemia, depending on the outcomes of the first tests and the physical examination.

A combination of the aforementioned tests and a detailed investigation of the cat's medical history may be necessary for a conclusive diagnosis of AIHA.

Treatment Options

The treatment options for Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) in cats typically include:

  • Steroids: Steroids are the most commonly used treatment for AIHA in cats. They work by suppressing the immune system and stopping it from attacking the red blood cells. Prednisolone and prednisone are the most commonly used steroids for this condition.

  • Immunosuppressive drugs: In some cases, immunosuppressive drugs such as Azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, or cyclosporine may be used in conjunction with steroids to control the immune response.

  • Blood transfusions: In extreme circumstances, blood transfusions would be required to replenish the cat's red blood cells and restore its ability to transport oxygen.

  • Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG): IVIG is a medication that inhibits the cat's immune response by using antibodies from human plasma.

  • Plasmapheresis: Plasmapheresis is a procedure in which blood is removed from the cat, the plasma containing the harmful antibodies is separated and discarded, and the remaining blood cells are returned to the cat.

  • Splenectomy: In some cases, the spleen may be removed to reduce the destruction of red blood cells.

  • Supportive Care: Cats with AIHA will also require supportive care such as fluid therapy and monitoring of vital signs, electrolyte balance, and nutritional support.

The course of treatment will depend on the disease's etiology, stage, and overall health of the cat.


Since the precise origin of AIHA in cats is unknown, there is no surefire strategy to prevent the condition. To lessen the likelihood of the illness or to treat it if it does develop, cat owners can take the following steps:

  • Vaccinate your cat: Vaccinating your cat against diseases such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) can reduce the risk of AIHA.

  • Avoid exposure to toxins: Try to limit your cat's exposure to pesticides, chemicals, and other toxins that may trigger AIHA.

  • Keep your cat healthy: Provide your cat with a healthy diet and veterinary diet to help keep them in good health and to detect any underlying medical conditions that may increase the risk of AIHA.

  • Be aware of the signs: Be aware of the signs and symptoms of AIHA and seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect that your cat may have the condition.

Recall that AIHA is a rare condition in cats and that most cats that develop the condition can be treated successfully with proper care.

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