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Signs and Symptoms of Anemia in Dogs

Anemia in Dogs

There are several signs and symptoms of anemia in dogs and recognizing them is important for the dog owner. Any signs and symptoms of anemia in dogs should prompt a visit to the veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. The signs and symptoms of anemia in dogs can be quite vague and are often underestimated. Sometimes they are attributed to the becoming sluggish and "slowing down" with age or the dog just exhibiting behavior changes such as becoming "picky eaters." Following is some information about the symptoms of anemia in dogs by veterinarain Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic.

Erythropoiesis in dogs

Anemia consists of shortage of red blood cells and/or the hemoglobin.

Understanding Anemia in Dogs 

Anemia is a condition, not really a disease that develops when the blood lacks enough healthy circulating red blood cells (RBC) and/or hemoglobin (Hg). Hemoglobin is the main part of the red blood cells that carry oxygen.

Red blood cells are produced by the bone marrow (in the bone marrow) and then released into the bloodstream with a lifespan of three months in dogs and two months in cats.

The reason for the loss of red blood cells can be a problem in production – decreased production or increased loss. If the number of the red cells is less than normal, or they are abnormal, or the hemoglobin is abnormal or low, the cells will not get enough oxygen. The main symptoms of anemia in dogs are a consequence of organs and tissues that aren't getting enough oxygen.

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Anemia can be a sign of a serious illness. There are many different forms of anemia with different causes. The anemia may be short-lived or temporary and it can range from mild to very severe oreven life-threatening.

Diagnosis of Anemia in Dogs 

Symtoms of anemia in dogs

There are many tests that can help veterinarians diagnose anemia, and the most common test is the packed cell volume (PCV) or hematocrit (HCT). These tests are performed routinely as a part of complete blood cell count (CBC).

The PCV determines the percentage of the red blood cells in the sample. A normal sample of dog's blood is made up of 35 to 55 percent of red blood cells. The dog is considered anemic if the PCV is below 35 percent.

Others tests such as urinalysis or biochemical profiles, can evaluate organ function; while bone marrow aspiration can reveal the real cause of anemia.

Other tests, may also help diagnose underlying causes that may cause a low red blod count in dogs. For example, a fecal parasite exam can indicate the presence of parasites that can cause anemia.

Did you know? A low platelet count is also known by the medical term thrombocytopenia.


Causes of Anemia in Dogs 

If PCV (or other tests) show a low red blood cell count, it is important to find out the reason behind it.

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The body will sense the lack of red blood cells and react by releasing immature red blood cells from the bone marrow, and the bone marrow will increase the production as well. These immature red blood cells are called reticulocytes and can be identified on the blood smear.

If the body can recognize the anemic state and is attempting to correct the deficit by releasing reticulocytes, this anemia is called responsive – the body is responding to the problem. In non-responsive anemia instead, the bone marrow is not responding to the anemic state.

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There can be many causes of anemia, but they can be group into 1) conditions that cause blood loss, 2) conditions that cause hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) 3) conditions that suppress the bone marrow, therefore, suppress red blood cell production

Conditions that cause blood loss can be trauma or injury to the vessel or organ, parasites (internal and external), tumors (gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, bladder, spleen), and many others. Diseases that cause hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) can be auto-immune (especially immune-mediated hemolytic anemia), toxins, neoplasm, while the conditions that prevent the proper production include autoimmune disease, toxins, neoplasm, nutritional imbalances, and chronic diseases (liver diseases for example).

 Checking a dogs gums is a good way to assess for anemia. This dog has nice, healthy pink gums.

Checking a dogs gums is a good way to assess for anemia. This dog has nice, healthy pink gums.

Signs and Symptoms of Anemia in Dogs

Red blood cells are directly connected to oxygen, which is essential for basic life and basic body functions, so the first signs and symptoms of anemia in dogs would be exercise intolerance and lethargy.

Another sign of anemia are pale mucous membranes (usually checked on the gums). Pale mucous membranes are a sign of oxygen-deficient blood. Lethargy, pale gums and decreased appetite are the first signs that should point out to possible anemia.

Other symptoms are shortness of breath, dizziness (low oxygenation in the brain), heart racing, bruising, and even dark stool or vomiting blood.

Other signs and symptoms of anemia in dogs may be closely related to the underlying causes. Trauma or injury can cause visible external on non-visible internal bleeding.

Gastrointestinal bleeding can take place as a reaction of inflammation or as a reaction to medications (like NSAIDs -non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

Treatment of Anemia in Dogs 

Treatment of anemia in dogs is a multi-step process. First, a veterinarian needs to assess if the anemia is serious and if the condition requires a blood transfusion, and the next step is treating the underlying reason of anemia.

The treatment of the underlying cause of anemia will vary and may include different medications, chemotherapy, or surgery (for cancers). Some causes of anemia, like parasites, can be avoided by reducing the risk of infection, or vaccination against some diseases that can lead to anemia.

Anemia can be caused by many different conditions and some of them, like toxins, or trauma are life-threatening and very serious. The prognosis of anemia depends on the cause and treatment combined.

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