Anemia in dogs is a symptom of a number of possible underlying conditions, rather than a disease. Today, our Stroudsburg veterinarians discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments for canine anemia.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a condition that is usually a symptom of another disease. Anemia in dogs occurs when the body fails to produce enough red blood cells or hemoglobin, or when they experience severe blood loss as a result of a condition such as cancer or stomach ulcers, or trauma such as an injury or accident.
What are the types of anemia in dogs?
- Blood loss anemia - Due to a severe loss of blood caused by injury, surgery, or a bleeding disorder. This form of anemia may also be caused by internal bleeding due to parasites, cancer, ulcers, or other conditions.
- Hemolytic anemia - Red blood cell destruction or breakdown causes this condition. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) or autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) are common causes, as are non-immune-mediated causes such as a hereditary disease, toxins, low phosphorous levels, or parasites.
- Aplastic or non-regenerative anemia - Insufficient production of red blood cells is the cause of this form of anemia. This may occur due to toxin exposure (poisoning), bone marrow disease, kidney disease, parvovirus, chemotherapy drugs, or certain medications.
- Methemoglobinemia - Too much methemoglobin in the blood caused by certain genetic disorders, or exposure to toxins including some human medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and benzocaine.
What are the symptoms of anemia in dogs?
The signs and symptoms of anemia in dogs vary based on the underlying cause but can include:
- Black stools
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pale gums, eyes, or ears
- Fast pulse or rapid breathing
- Weakness or lethargy
- Swelling in the face or jaw
What causes anemia in dogs?
Because anemia is a symptom rather than a disease, there are a number of conditions that can lead to anemia in dogs, including:
- Kidney disease
- Cushing’s disease
- Medications that interfere with red blood cell production
- Infectious diseases including canine distemper
- Severe blood loss as a result of trauma (accident or injury)
- Poor nutrition
- Intestinal bleeding caused by medications or disease
- Blood loss caused by parasitic infections such as hookworms, whipworms, or fleas
- Chronic diseases that affect or suppress red blood cell production
- Bone marrow disease
- Toxins or poisons including rat poison or lead poisoning
- Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease
Can a dog die from anemia?
Unfortunately, anemia in dogs can sometimes indicate that your dog is suffering from a potentially fatal condition such as poisoning, cancer, or autoimmune disorders. As a result, canine anemia should always be taken seriously. If your dog exhibits any of the signs or symptoms of anemia, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
Can anemia in dogs be cured?
The prognosis for anemia in dogs depends on the cause and whether treatment is available for the underlying condition causing the anemia. Once your vet has established the cause of your dog's anemia they will recommend the best possible treatment. Some treatments that may be recommended by your vet include:
- Blood transfusion
- Intravenous fluids
- Bone marrow transfusion
- Change of existing medications
- Immunosuppressive drugs
- Gastrointestinal medication
- Parasite or de-worming medications
- Potassium phosphate supplements
Because anemia in dogs is caused by other underlying conditions, preventing those conditions whenever possible is key. Parasite prevention against ticks, fleas, and worms is one way to help protect your dog against developing anemia. Keeping toxic substances far out of your dog's reach, and providing your dog with a healthy diet may also help.
If your dog belongs to a breed that is prone to anemia, such as American Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Shih Tzus, regular wellness examinations at your primary care veterinarian can help detect early signs of anemia and provide treatment before the condition worsens.