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Types of Anemia in Dogs

Anemia occurs as the result of conditions that cause a decrease in hemoglobin. There are a few different types that dogs can experience. Here, our Southern Wisconsin vets discuss the different types of anemia in dogs, what causes it and how we use veterinary internal medicine to manage it.

What exactly is anemia?

Anemia is not typically a condition on its own and is typically caused by an underlying condition. Anemia in dogs occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells or hemoglobin, or when they suffer severe blood loss due to conditions such as cancer or stomach ulcers, or trauma such as an injury or accident.

When diagnosing anemia in dogs it is important to determine which type they have. Knowing the types gives us an idea of the cause and what course of action should be taken for treatment. 

What are the different types of anemia in dogs and their causes?

  • Blood loss anemia: Caused by 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: Resulting from the destruction or breakdown of red blood cells. Often the result of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), or non-immune mediated is caused by 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: High amounts of methemoglobin in the blood caused by certain genetic disorders, or exposure to toxins including some human medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and benzocaine.

What symptoms are associated with anemia in dogs?

Some of the symptoms that can be associated with anemia include:

  • Black stools
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pale gums, eyes, or ears
  • Fast pulse or rapid breathing
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Swelling in the face or jaw

How will a vet diagnose anemia in dogs?

Anemia needs to be officially diagnosed and tested to find out which type of anemia your dog has and what’s causing it. Blood tests are commonly used for this purpose.

Blood tests can include the PCV (packed cell volume) test, which measures the percentage of red blood cells in your dog’s bloodstream. If his levels register at lower than 35 percent, he’d be classified as anemic.

Other tests can include blood smears and bone marrow biopsies, which can help your vet find out whether the anemia is responsive or unresponsive.

If your dog is diagnosed with responsive anemia, this means their bone marrow is attempting to correct the anemia. But if their bone marrow is not responding as it should, this would be unresponsive anemia. Hemolytic anemia occurs when a dog’s body destroys or loses red blood cells.

What are the causes of anemia in dogs?

Anemia itself is a symptom of a condition. This means that there can be many different causes, including:

  • Cancer
  • 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 
  • Hypothyroidism
  • 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

Is anemia a serious condition in dogs?

Sadly, anemia in dogs can sometimes indicate that your dog is suffering from a very serious or possibly fatal condition such as poisoning, cancer, or autoimmune conditions. For that reason, anemia in dogs should always be taken seriously. If your dog is showing any of the signs or symptoms of anemia contact your veterinarian immediately to schedule an appointment.

What are the treatment options for dogs with anemia?

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 diagnosed your dog's anemia they will recommend the best possible treatment. Many treatments are focused on veterinary internal medicine. Your vet internist may recommend:

  • Blood transfusion
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Bone marrow transfusion
  • Antibiotics
  • Change of existing medications
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Gastrointestinal medication
  • Parasite or de-worming medications

Are there ways to prevent dogs from developing anemia?

Since anemia isn't a condition on its own, prevention will come down to preventing the illnesses and conditions that cause it. 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.

Some dog breeds are susceptible to developing anemia such as American Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Shih Tzus. Your internal medicine veterinarian in Southern Wisconsin may recommend regular wellness examinations twice yearly to detect the early signs of anemia and provide treatment before the condition becomes more severe.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of illness? Please contact our Southern Wisconsin vets at Badger Veterinary Hospital to schedule an examination.

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