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.
Anemia is a result of other diseases, not a disease itself. For
one reason or another, your dog won’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 dog’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 dog’s red blood cells
directly and kill them faster than they can be replaced.
Anemia can affect every organ in the body, and can have a
profound affect on your dog’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
Your vet will confirm the anemia by testing your dog’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 pup’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
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 it’s very rare. Most anemic dogs have plenty of iron.
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
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 Ringer’s solution, will help
get your dog through the crisis. Ringer’s solution is an
artificial nutrient mix that essentially mimics blood plasma
and helps the body’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
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
Red blood cells work to carry oxygen through the body, where
all the body’s organs lay in wait. If the body’s organs don’t
get the oxygen they need, they function below healthy levels.
WHAT IS AN ANEMIC DOG’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
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
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
won’t need the Internet to tell you it’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 dog’s
urine and feces for traces of blood.
Hookworms, other 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.
Red blood cells are made in the bone marrow. If the marrow
isn’t working properly, or if the kidneys cannot make the
hormone that triggers red blood cell production, anemia
There are several possible causes:
- Diseases and cancers of the bone marrow
- Infections of the blood (usually tick-borne)
Poisoning, especially lead
- 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
3. Hemolytic Anemia
Red blood cells don’t last forever, which is why the bone
marrow needs to grow new ones. A dog’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,
illnesses, poisons, drug reactions, and genetic
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
don’t despair, either. Your pup has a very good chance of being
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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.