Dog Anemia: Treatment & Prognosis Treatment Options Available for Anemic Dogs

BY | January 29 | COMMENTS PUBLISHED BY
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When diagnosed early, treatment options for dogs suffering from anemia are available. Depending on the cause of your dog's anemia, your vet will put together the right treatment plan. Find out what those possible treatment options could be.

Anemia Sections

Anemia is a shortage of either red blood cells or hemoglobin. Many things can cause dog anemia, and the type of treatment needed will depend on the cause.

Causes of Anemia in Dogs

Anemia is a result of other diseases, not a disease itself. For one reason or another, your dog wonโ€™t have enough red blood cells to carry enough oxygen through its body, causing anemia. Injury, infection, or parasites
might cause bleeding. Problems with your dogโ€™s bone marrow or kidneys might keep the body from making new red blood cells to replace those that naturally age and die. Or, disease might attack your dogโ€™s red blood cells directly and kill them faster than they can be replaced.

Dog Anemia Symptoms & Prognosis

Anemia can affect every organ in the body, and can have a profound affect on your dogโ€™s well being. An anemic dog will be tired and weak, you might notice a decrease in their appetite, and their gums and tongue will be very pale.

Fortunately, anemia can be treated. Most cases of anemia can even be cured by addressing the underlying problem.

Anemia Diagnosis & What to Expect at the Vet

Anemia is not something you and your dog can deal with by yourselves. If you notice pale gums and tongue, or other symptoms, take your dog in right away.

Your vet will confirm the anemia by testing your dogโ€™s blood for its proportion of red blood cells or its proportion of hemoglobin. If your dog has a heavy infestation of fleas or ticks, or has already been diagnosed with something known to cause anemia, the diagnosis could be clear. Otherwise, your vet will examine your pupโ€™s urine and feces for signs of internal bleeding and look for parasites and signs of infection. With the cause identified, your vet can usually prescribe medication for the problem, such as antibiotics or de-worming drugs.

As humans, we tend to associate anemia treatment with iron supplementation, because iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in humans. Dogs can get this form of anemia, too, but itโ€™s very rare. Most anemic dogs have plenty of iron.

Treating Anemia

Sometimes anemia treatment is relatively quick and simple, but some forms require long-term intensive management. Your dog might have to be seen by a vet every day or two for a while for check-ups and emergency treatments. A cure, or at least a much-improved quality of life, still waits at the end of the tunnel. You and your vet will have to treat the underlying cause of the anemia. Restricted exercise and occasional transfusions can give your pup a long, happy life.

In rare cases, especially if the other components of the blood (the white blood cells and platelets) are also affected, the anemia might be impossible to cure.

Emergency Anemia Treatment

Sometimes cases of anemia are so severe that they must be treated separately from the underlying problem. One or more transfusions, or an injection of Ringerโ€™s solution, will help get your dog through the crisis. Ringerโ€™s solution is an artificial nutrient mix that essentially mimics blood plasma and helps the bodyโ€™s organs survive blood loss. Even with transfusions, the anemia will come back until the underlying cause is addressed, but these treatments buy your dog time.

Low Red Blood Cell Count in Dogs: Causes of Anemia

Anemia Sections

Your beloved pup is tired, not acting right, and has a really pale tongue. Your dog could have a low red blood cell count. In other words: anemia. Your vet will need to figure out why.

WHAT IS ANEMIA IN DOGS?

Anemia is either a dangerously low red blood cell count or a dangerously low hemoglobin level. Any red-blooded mammal, including humans, can get anemia. Low red blood cell count, or anemia, is not a disease in itself. Instead, it is a consequence of other medical problems and it can be very serious.

Red blood cells work to carry oxygen through the body, where all the bodyโ€™s organs lay in wait. If the bodyโ€™s organs donโ€™t get the oxygen they need, they function below healthy levels.

WHAT IS AN ANEMIC DOGโ€™S PROGNOSIS?

Anemia can usually be cured, but only by addressing the underlying problem. To treat anemia, you have to understand the symptoms, and identify its causes.

WHAT CAUSES LOW RED BLOOD CELL COUNT IN DOGS?

Different animals get anemia for different reasons. We humans often become anemic because of iron deficiency, but low-iron anemia is extremely rare in dogs. But no matter the specifics, there are three basic causes of a low red blood cell count, in dogs or in any other animal: the total blood volume is dropping, the body is not making enough red blood cells, or something is damaging the red blood cells or killing them off.

1. Blood Loss

Fast or slow, blood loss is the most common cause of anemia in dogs. If the blood loss is fast and messy and obvious, you wonโ€™t need the Internet to tell you itโ€™s an emergency. But some bleeding is so slow nobody notices until the dog is anemic. An ulcer somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract, or damage to the urinary tract, is often to blame. Your vet can test your dogโ€™s urine and feces for traces of blood.

Hookwormsother internal parasites, and digestive tract tumors are also common causes of hidden blood loss. Look for fleas and ticks, too, especially with young or very small dogs, since too many of these literal blood-suckers can occasionally kill.

2. Non-Regenerative Anemia

Red blood cells are made in the bone marrow. If the marrow isnโ€™t working properly, or if the kidneys cannot make the hormone that triggers red blood cell production, anemia follows.

There are several possible causes:

  • Kidney failure
  • Diseases and cancers of the bone marrow
  • Infections of the blood (usually tick-borne)
  • Poisoning, especially lead poisoning
  • Radiation
  • Certain medications

Some puppies are also born with genetic or congenital problems that cause non-regenerative anemia. These issues are most common in Beagles, Giant Schnauzers, and Border Collies.

3. Hemolytic Anemia

Red blood cells donโ€™t last forever, which is why the bone marrow needs to grow new ones. A dogโ€™s red blood cells usually live about three months, and healthy bone marrow has no trouble replacing them as they die and break down.

If something starts killing off the red blood cells faster, though, hemolytic anemia results. There are several different kinds of hemolytic anemia, and causes include infections, especially tick-borne illnesses, poisons, drug reactions, and genetic problems. 

TREATMENT

Your vet is best equipped to find the right diagnosis for your dog, but this overview of anemia treatments will help you make sense of the process. What comes next depends on what caused the anemia, since different causes require different treatments. Severe anemia can be treated with blood transfusions until your vet can find and treat the cause.

The bottom line is that anemia is a serious, but usually treatable condition. Never ignore the symptoms of anemia, but donโ€™t despair, either. Your pup has a very good chance of being 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.

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