What is Anemia in Cats and How is it Treated?


Cats are prone to a medical condition called anemia. It’s characterized by lethargy and a change from active behaviors to the cat lying around, doing little to nothing. If you notice these behaviors it’s essential to schedule an appointment with your pet’s healthcare provider. Your vet will conduct the necessary examinations and tests to determine if your cat is afflicted with anemia. When a diagnosis of anemia is given, most vets discuss the effects of the condition and the best course of treatment. Some cases of feline anemia are mild and may be caused by environmental or external conditions. They’re easier to treat than some of the more complicated types. Not all diagnoses of anemia result in catastrophic health complications, but some do, depending on the underlying causes. If your cat is anemic, you might still have questions that you didn’t think about until after the appointment. We offer a guide that explains anemia in cats including the signs, causes, and treatments, to help you understand what’s going on with your cat’s health, and what you can do to help.

What is anemia in cats?

A diagnosis of anemia in cats means that your cat has a decrease in the number of red blood cells in his body. There are two types of anemia. Regenerative anemia is a condition that triggers increased red blood cell production in the bone marrow to compensate. Nonregenerative anemia is characterized by a lack of red blood cell production in the bone marrow. The bone marrow is not able to keep up with the body’s red blood cell production needs. Anemia in cats is a serious condition that can lead to severe illness and death if left untreated. This is why it’s imperative to schedule an appointment with a licensed animal healthcare provider if you notice any of the signs or symptoms of anemia in your cat.

What causes anemia in cats?

Merck Vet Manual explains that feline anemia has a few causes. excessive bleeding can cause anemia. You may not see internal bleeding. Some anemia is caused by decreases in the hormones that signal the bone marrow to produce blood cells. It can also be caused by abnormalities in the blood marrow or brought on by cats eating foods that cause inhibitions in essential hormones in the body. Poor nutrition and eating foods or substances that are toxic for cats can also cause anemia. Regenerative anemia may be caused by diabetes in cats, or an immune response in newborn kittens. Other causes are inherited red blood cell disorders most often seen in Abyssinian and Somali breeds. Viruses, bacteria, and parasites can cause anemia in cats. Feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency are also common causes. If your cat ingests acetaminophen, aspirin, certain metals, chemicals, or foods such as fava beans or any member of the onion or garlic families, these things may also cause regenerative anemia. Non-regenerative anemia in cats may be caused by myelodysplasia, a bone marrow disorder, or by enlargement of the spleen and liver. Primary leukemia, pure cell aplasia, aplastic anemia, and iron deficiencies may also be causes. A long-term inflammatory infection, tumor, hormonal disorder, or hyperthyroidism are also potential causes. Identifying the specific cause is essential for prescribing the best treatment course.

What are the symptoms of anemia in cats?

Anemia can cause various symptoms in cats. The most common and noticeable symptom is lethargy. The symptoms displayed depend on the duration of the anemia, the cause, and the severity. Symptoms may have a sudden onset or may come on gradually, making them harder to notice. Rapid blood loss causes increased heart rate, low blood pressure, and pale gums. If the anemia is caused by factors other than internal or external bleeding, typical symptoms include yellow color in the whites of the eyes, skin, and gums with low energy. Your cat may also experience weakness with little energy and a lack of appetite.

How is anemia in cats diagnosed?

Wag Walking explains that there are many potential causes of anemia in cats. Your cat’s vet will begin the examination by asking you questions about your cat’s behaviors and overall health. Inform the vet about all foods, medications, and supplements you give your cat. In some cases a poor diet is responsible. The vet will give your cat a thorough physical examination and will order the appropriate tests Routine diagnostic testing includes a CBC, which is a blood test that measures the level of red and white blood cells and platelets. A PCV Packed Cell Volume test, also called a hematocrit measures the percentage of blood volume, indicating how well your cat’s blood can carry oxygen. Your vet will also order a blood smear test to look for any abnormalities in the blood cells, looking at the size and shape of them. A bone marrow Aspirate Biopsy may be necessary to observe the bone marrow. It is extracted with a fine needle from inside the bone. Your vet will also order a urinalysis and check for ingestion of toxins. The main things that they look for are toxification, infections, and organ failure.

What are the treatments for anemia in cats?

VCA Hospitals report that the treatment for anemia in cats depends on the severity and the cause. Severe anemia can be life-threatening. Your cat may require a blood transfusion. This requires blood typing to find the right blood type to stabilize the cat while the underlying cause is investigated. When anemia is caused by parasitic infections, your cat will need to be dewormed. If a poor diet is the cause of the condition, your vet will prescribe a rigid treatment regimen that includes specific types of foods with supplements to stimulate the production of red blood cells. The type of treatment depends on what the tests reveal about the cause.

What is the prognosis for curing anemia in cats?

Cats with anemia caused by cancers, immune disorders, and toxins have a less favorable prognosis. Cats with underlying medical conditions that are treatable and curable have a more favorable outlook. When the causes of anemia are addressable, cats may recover and go on to live a full and healthy life, but some medical issues that cannot be treated or cured leave medical professionals with few options other than managing the symptoms. Cats with kidney disease may be treated with long-term hormone therapies. Certain medications can help to alleviate the underlying health condition and stimulate the production of more red blood cells. If your cat is diagnosed with a condition called Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia, the best treatments are toxin antidotes and antibiotics to help restore the overall health of your cat and flush out the toxins causing the depression of red blood cell production. Your vet may prescribe flea and tick treatments along with deworming. Sometimes a combination of medications and dietary changes can effectively treat some types of anemia. Special dietary formulations for cats with kidney impairments help improve kidney function and combat anemia. Corticosteroids can help treat anemia in cats with auto-immune disease. They’re often combined with other immunomodulatory drugs that can help to alleviate anemia in cats to enhance your cat’s quality of life.

Can anemia be prevented in cats?

This depends on the causes of anemia. Inherited genetic conditions can only be prevented by screening cats for genetic disease before breeding. It’s not recommended that you breed cats with a high likelihood of passing on inherited conditions that cause anemia. Some types of anemia in cats are preventable. You must take kittens to a veterinarian for wellness checkups. Get your kittens and adult cats immunized against feline diseases and prevent tick, flea, worm, and other parasitic infections by working with your vet to administer the most appropriate solutions and preventative medications. Your cat’s vet can advise you about the best cat food formulations for your cat’s individual health needs. Provide your cat with a healthy and nutritious diet. It is a good start for preventing anemia. Keeping all toxic human foods and other substances out of your cat’s reach is another way to prevent anemia. You might want to share tasty snacks with your cat, but don’t do it. Many foods that are healthy and enjoyable for people are toxic to cats. Any foods that contain onions, chives, or garlic are dangerous for cats and can lead to the development of anemia. Continue with regular medical checkups to keep your cat up on vaccinations and parasite control. The purpose of wellness checkups is to catch any problems early. Early detection and treatment are essential in maintaining the health of your cat. Not all types of anemia in cats are preventable, but many of them are.

Can you boost red blood cell production in cats?

Sharon Lakes Animal Hospital advises that you can boost the production of your cat’s red blood cells by following the advice given to stay current with vet checkups and follow the recommendations of your cat’s healthcare provider. You can also do more at home to help by feeding your cat a diet that is rich in iron. Look for cat food formulations that contain extra iron. You can also enhance your cat’s nutrition with iron supplements. Foods that contain iron include beef, chicken, and pork. It’s fine to feed these foods to your cat, but they must be properly prepared. Choose lean meats with little fat. Trim any fat from them and cook them fully. Excess fat in a cat’s diet can lead to pancreatitis and can cause further health complications. Avoid adding salt or any spices or sauces. Plain meat without seasoning is the best. You can also feed your cat fully cooked fish or eggs to provide extra iron in the diet. Pet health experts advise feeding these foods occasionally as any big changes in diet can upset your cat’s delicate digestive system. It’s best to consult with your vet before making any dietary changes. Owners of cats with anemia face special challenges in managing their pet’s health. The odds of success depend on knowledge and consistency in following the recommendations of a qualified healthcare provider as each cat has individual needs. No two cases are exactly alike.

Final thoughts

Changes in cat behavior are the first signs of anemia. If you notice that your cat has changes in appetite, is lethargic, and seems to lack his usual energy, it might be time to see the vet and find out why. The symptoms of anemia may come on suddenly if there is rapid blood loss either externally or internally, but in most cases, the symptoms develop slowly and you may not notice them. Raising a healthy cat involves regular wellness checkups to identify any health problems early. Some types of anemia are preventable, but others are genetic. In most cases, anemia in cats can be managed through a combination of diet and medications, depending on the underlying cause. Your vet will ask you a series of questions about your cat including his diet and health history. Follow-ups with a series of tests can quickly diagnose anemia in cats, and help the vet to choose the best treatment to help your cat start feeling like his old self again. The best thing that you can do when your cat is diagnosed with anemia is to learn all you can about the underlying causes, and how the recommended treatment will help alleviate the condition. Follow the advice of your pet’s healthcare provider, and do everything you can to remain consistent in staying on the recommended course of treatment.

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