Anemia in Cats: Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

Anemia in Cats: Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

Our veterinarians in Plains describe the kinds of anemia in cats and offer some information about its causes, symptoms and treatments. 

What is anemia in cats?

Anemia is a medical term which describes a drop in the number of hemoglobin, red blood cells, or both which circulate your cat's body. Anemia isn't a specific disease itself, rather, it is usually a symptom of another disease of condition. 

If you notice that your cat has been more lethargic than usual, seems uninterested in food, or is breathing quickly even when lying still, they may be suffering from anemia.

Types of Anemia in Cats

There are three types of anemia in cats - regenerative and non-regenerative. The causes for each vary.

Regenerative Anemia

Whether caused by infection, parasites, serious illnesses like cancer, or injury, sudden or acute blood loss can lead to regenerative anemia in cats. Serious conditions or illnesses can destroy red blood cells.

Regenerative anemia tends to affect younger cats more often.

Non-Regenerative Anemia

Non-regenerative anemia in cats can be caused by bone marrow disorders, kidney failure, liver disease and other chronic illnesses. 

The most common cause of anemia in cats in cats is kidney failure. Usually, in a healthy cat, their kidneys will produce a hormone which encourages the production of red blood cells. When your cat's kidneys are malfunctioning, their cells will be replaced more slowly than they are consumed, leading to anemia. 

Non-regenerative anemia tends to affect older cats more often.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) in cats is an immune system disease in which the body destroys red blood cells. The disease is also sometimes referred to as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA).

AIHA is commonly a secondary condition, since an underlying disease or toxin changes the surface of the red blood cells. Most cats with AIHA have severe anemia, which causes symptoms such as pale gums (usually, the gums are normally pink or red in color).

Symptoms of Anemia in Cats

The underlying cause of this illness, as well as its duration or severity, affect the symptoms of anemia exhibited by your cat. 

The most common symptoms can include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite

Other symptoms may include:

  • Pale or white gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Jaundice (yellowish color in eyes, skin or gums if red blood cells have been destroyed)
  • Weakness

What should I do if my cat shows symptoms of anemia?

If your cat is showing symptoms of anemia, book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to have your pet examined. The vet may take a number of diagnostic blood tests, often called a complete blood count (CBC).

Your cat will need an official diagnosis and potentially more tests to identify which type of anemia he has, as well as the underlying injury, illness or disease that’s causing symptoms.

If you find blood in your cat's vomit or feces, this is absolutely a medical emergency that needs immediate veterinary attention. 

Treatment & Recovery

The underlying cause of your cat's anemia, its severity and other factors will determine the treatment and prognosis for your pet.

Finding the right course of treatment and following it closely is incredibly important. Your vet's diagnosis will be based on a complete examination and assessment of your cat's clinical symptoms and health history. The physical exam your cat receive can include a wide variety of tests such as bone marrow testing. iron testing, a complete blood cell count and urinalysis. 

If your cat has non-regenerative anemia, this can typically be resolved by diagnosing and treating the underlying disease. If kidney disease is the culprit, your vet may recommend long-term hormone treatments to help red blood cell production.

For secondary AIHA, the goal will be to treat the underlying cause, potentially with toxin antidotes or numerous antibiotics.

Your vet might recommend changes to your cat's medication and diet and will work closely with you to develop a treatment plan that works for you and your cat and will treat their underlying condition. If your cat is diagnosed with a severe case anemia, a blood transfusion may be required.

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.

Do you suspect that your cat is showing signs of anemia or of an underlying condition which may be causing it. Contact your vet as soon as possible to inquire about treatments and referral to Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital. Contact our vets for more information about anemia and its treatment. 

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