Anemia is not a stand-alone disease in dogs, but rather a result of another disease process. It is associated with a deficiency of red blood cells, which are needed to carry oxygen through the body. When there are not enough red blood cells or hemoglobin present, anemia occurs. It can develop from loss, destruction, or lack of production of red blood cells by a dog.
Signs & Symptoms of Anemia in Dogs
- Pale tongue and gums (leading symptom)
- Low-energy, lethargy
- Loss of appetite, weight loss
- Increased breathing rate in an effort to take in more oxygen
- Increased heart rate or heart murmur
Causes of Anemia in Dogs
Since anemia is the secondary condition, some of the leading causes of blood loss include:
- A disease process that is not allowing for proper blood clotting, or not allowing for the sufficient production of red blood cells.
- An overload of internal and/or external parasites such as fleas, ticks, whipworms, and hookworms.
- Trauma and/or injury that results in damage to the blood vessels, or other organs, causing excessive bleeding.
Diagnosis of Anemia in Dogs
Diagnosis begins with a complete history and a physical exam of the dog. Your veterinarian will most likely do the following:
- CBC/Chemistry Panel - These blood tests will evaluate various internal organ functions, including the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, metabolism, and electrolyte balance. The CBC (complete blood count) is a measure of the amount and different kinds of red and white blood cells that are present in the body.
- PCV/Packed Cell Volume - Your veterinarian will likely perform this test if they suspect that your dog is dehydrated or has a low red blood cell count. They will get a small amount of blood from your dog and separate the red blood cells from the plasma in a centrifuge. They will then measure the ratio of the amount of red blood cells relative to the rest of the blood.
- Blood Smear - This involves spreading a blood sample on a slide very thinly. Your veterinarian will be able to examine all of the blood cells, focusing on the amount of red blood cells, under a microscope, paying particular attention to size, shape, and amount.
Treatment for Anemia in Dogs
When the anemia is severe enough, a blood transfusion is needed. Otherwise, mild cases of anemia are treated supportively. Anemia caused by your dog’s immune system destroying its own red blood cells is treated with drug therapy using corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.
Prevention of Anemia in Dogs
Anemia can be caused by a number of things. One way of preventing anemia is by making sure you have your dog up-to-date on their internal parasite preventive and flea and tick preventive.