Health & Hygiene

Anemia 101

Written by Nancy Boland

Anemia is defined as a reduction in the normal number of circulating red blood cells. Red blood cells deliver oxygen through the body.  Dogs can become anemic when they lose blood, have an abnormality that causes their body to destroy red blood cells or when the bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. The causes of anemia are so varied and so fundamentally different from one another that prevention must be considered on a case by case basis.

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Causes and Prevention

There are three general categories of anemia in companion animals: anemia due to blood loss, anemia due to destruction of red blood cells, and anemia due to insufficient production of red blood cells. Anemia can also occur after trauma from surgery of bleeding disorders.

Diagnosis

Canine anemia is not particularly difficult to diagnose. Initially, the veterinarian will draw blood for a complete blood count and probably a urine analysis too.

Treatment

The goals of treating anemia are to control bleeding and restore blood volume and red blood cell numbers (in cases of blood loss anemia); to identify and resolve the underlying causes of chronic blood loss and to provide good supportive care throughout the treatment process.

Goals of Treating Canine Anemia

The goals of treating anemia are to provide supportive care while waiting for the bone marrow to kick back in (in cases of regenerative anemia); to control bleeding and restore blood volume and red blood cell numbers (in cases of blood loss anemia); to identify and resolve the underlying causes of chronic blood loss (iron deficiency, parasites, ulcers); and to provide good supportive care throughout the treatment process.

Treatment Options

No one treatment protocol can be prescribed for every canine, because the reasons for anemia are so varied. Speaking generally, veterinarians have a number of treatment options at their disposal depending upon the cause of anemia in the particular patient, including:

  • Intravenous fluid therapy to increase blood volume
  • Transfusions, with packed red blood cells, whole blood, platelets, fresh frozen plasma
  • Transfusion, bone marrow
  • Antibiotics, if infection is suspected
  • Discontinue medications that may be contributing
  • Immunusuppressive drugs
  • Vitamin K1
  • Dewormers/other antiparasitic medications
  • Potassium phosphate supplementation
  • Supportive care
  • Surgical intervention

Prognosis

Careful monitoring and follow-up are critical when managing anemic dogs. However, depending on the underlying cause, the prognosis following treatment can be quite good. Cases of acute-onset aplastic anemia typically can be reversed within 3 to 4 weeks, once the causative agent is removed. Chronic cases are usually more severe and can be more difficult to resolve, often taking months, after which recovery still may not happen. Younger dogs tend to have a better prognosis.

Blood loss anemia carries a very good prognosis, once the bleeding (from surgery, trauma, parasites or otherwise) is stopped. Dogs with hemolytic anemia – where something is damaging or destroying their red blood cells – usually recover well once the cause of hemolysis is removed and the dog is stabilized medically.

About the author

Nancy Boland

I'm Nancy, owner of a very spoiled, one eyed Jack Russell called Basil. I'm a trainee veterinarian with a love for all things dogs. I'm especially passionate about dog adoption and always advocate rescue and enjoy writing about canine health and nutrition, alongside overall well-being tips for happy dogs!

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