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Anemia in Dogs

By | Last Updated: 14th July 2020

Anemia is a condition occurring when there are low RBC or hemoglobin levels in the blood. [2,3]. It is not a particular disease by itself but occurs mostly because of underlying conditions like chronic kidney diseases [38], diabetes, an enlarged spleen or splenic tumor [11], lymphoma or cancer that results in lesser number of erythrocytes or red blood cells. Other external factors like parasite bite, some injury or reactions to a particular drug may also be responsible [3].


Symptoms of anemia

The early signs of anemia often seen in most affected dogs include:

  • Tiredness
  • Exercise intolerance
  • White, pink or pale coloration of the skin and gum [16]

Hair loss is another sign observed in dogs with chronic anemia[13].

There may be other symptoms depending on the cause and type of anemia present in your dog.

Types of anemia with causes and symptoms

Classification Causes Characteristic symptoms
Hemolytic anemia (Autoimmune or immune mediated hemolytic anemia) Primary autoimmune hemolytic anemia: Improper functioning of the immune system [7].

Secondary autoimmune hemolytic anemia: Cancer, snake bites, medicinal reaction, toxins, chemicals or bee stings.

Blood cells have a short lifespan, getting destroyed fast since the dog’s immune system perceives it to be a foreign agent and attacks it [6, 7, 14, 17].

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dark urine
  • Vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Yellow or jaundiced coloration of skin and gums (excessive bilirubin)
Non-immune mediated anemia Parasites, toxins, low phosphorus levels, hereditary red blood cell disorder [6], and enzyme defects, destroying the red blood cells for which the canine’s immune system is not responsible.   Similar to those seen in IMHA
Aplastic anemia Bone marrow disorder, chronic kidney disease, hypothyroidism and improper nutrition, lessening the bone marrow’s ability to produce sufficient red blood cells[3,4,12]
  • Nosebleeds
  • Fever
  • Black feces
  • Blood in urine
  • Purple or red spots on the skin (petechial hemorrhage)
  • Recurrent infections
Anemia due to blood loss Injury of the blood vessel, internal organ damage, tumor, surgery, any disease that prevents blood clotting [3,39], as well as bites of blood-sucking parasites like fleas, hookworm, ticks (anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis) and sand fly (leishmaniasis) [3,18,28,36], reducing the number of red blood cells in the body [33].
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
Iron deficiency anemia External blood loss [40], parasite bite, lymphoma, urinary tract infection, lead poisoning [26], and stomach or intestinal tumors [34,6], hampering the development and oxygen-carrying capacity of the red blood cells  [34].
  • Slow growth
  • Depression
  • Increased breathing
  • Loss of appetite or anorexia
  • Reduced immunity to fight diseases
  • Dark or tarry stool
Heinz body anemia Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, reaction to medicines, ingestion of onion, garlic, kale, or red maple leaves [10,32,37], may destroy red blood cells.
  • Fever
  • Anorexia or loss of appetite[10]
  • Skin discoloration[10]
  • Reddish brown urine [10,19]
Megaloblastic anemia Folate and vitamin B12 deficiency [29, 30], leading to a decreased red blood cell production as they get too big to come out of the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream [27, 29].
  • Reduced appetite
  • Increased heart rate and breathing
  • Pale mucous membrane
  • Blood in stool[30]
Pernicious anemia A kind of megaloblastic anemia caused due to Vitamin B12 deficiency [15, 31], lessening red blood cell production.
  • Fever

Poodle, Irish Setter, Cocker Spaniel and Collies between the ages of one and thirteen [8,9], are mostly affected by hemolytic anemia, whereas Giant Schnauzers and Toy Poodles are more prone to megaloblastic anemia[27].           

How is a low red blood cell count diagnosed in dogs

  • Blood smear to check if the bone marrow is producing sufficient red blood cells (in the case of low blood cell count) [3].
  • A bone marrow biopsy to check if it is properly responsive [25].
  • Urinalysis to detect chronic kidney disease (CKD).
  • Biochemical profiles to test the internal organ functioning and electrolyte levels [3].
  • Fecal parasite test to check if parasites are responsible for the blood loss [3, 12].
  • A blood test to check your dog’s red blood cell count and hemoglobin level [20].

How to treat your anemic dog

Medical Treatment

Mild to moderate anemia can be managed at home with a healthy diet plan and adequate medications.

If your dog is diagnosed with autoimmune hemolytic anemia in its severe form or chronic anemia where a lot of red blood cells have been destroyed, a blood transfusion may be recommended to stabilize its condition[3,5].

At times the dog’s body is so weak to produce sufficient red blood cells that multiple transfusions may be needed [1]. Treatment for the underlying conditions also begins [1].

Home remedies and dietary changes

  • For anemia related to blood loss or iron deficiency, include foods that are rich in iron, like red meat, chicken, turkey, and pork [22, 23].
  • For megaloblastic anemia, give it vitamin B9 (folic acid) and B12 rich foods like egg yolk, rye, whole wheat, pumpkin, carrots [35], milk, fish, and beef.
  • For pernicious anemia, include vitamin B12 rich foods such as milk, liver, fish and beef [22, 23].
  • Green vegetables should also form a significant part of their diet because of the rich chlorophyll content [22].

You can also attempt other remedies like sprinkling kelp powder in his food, giving him phosphorous (to control bleeding) and sulfur (for flea or worm bites) pellets or trying out herbal remedies (yellow dock, burdock, raspberry and red clover). However, have a word with the vet before implementing any of these [21,22].

Prognosis for anemia

The prognosis depends on the cause and the condition of your dog when diagnosed. Early diagnosis of mild to moderate anemia has better chances of recovery, depending on the dog’s overall health [3].

Chronic aplastic anemia may take some time to improve.

Anemia occurring after an operation, or due to an ulcer is curable as soon as the bleeding stops [6].

Nonimmune hemolytic anemia has chances of getting better once the hemolysis or the agent damaging red blood cells is detected and removed [6].

For autoimmune hemolytic anemia, the life expectancy is as high as 50% to 80%, unless there are further complications [24].

Though it is not possible to completely prevent anemia in dogs, take certain precautionary measures like protecting your pet from sustaining injuries, being bitten by fleas or ticks, as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle and food habits.


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