How Anaemia Occurs & How it is Potentially Deadly for Your Pet
By Helen Burns | Dated April 21, 2016
Is your pet a life saver?
We often hear the word anaemia mentioned in relation to people not eating enough red meat, but most dogs and cats eat plenty of meat, which begs the question, “Why do our pets suffer from anaemia?”
To answer this question, let’s start at the beginning.
How Anaemia Happens in Pets
The blood is made up of a number of cells (red blood cells, white blood cells), and platelets suspended in a salty fluid containing various proteins, hormones, electrolytes, enzymes and waste products. It transports gases, nutrients, waste products and hormones around the body, and even helps with maintaining body temperature.
A dog’s blood volume is approximately 7-9% of their bodyweight, and a cat’s is approximately 6.5%. So, a 5kg cat will have about 300ml of blood and a 25kg dog will have approximately 2L of blood in their body.
Anaemia occurs when there are inadequate red blood cells in the blood, and is often first noticed when an animal’s gums are pale, or they are weak and lethargic.
How To Know The Symptoms of Anaemia in Pets
In hospital we are able to easily check the patient’s PCV or their haematocrit with just a couple of drops of blood. These tests tell us what percent of the blood is made up of red blood cells, and indeed whether our patient is anaemic or not.
Anaemia can be classified as regenerative, when the body is actively trying to replace the lost red blood cells, or as non-regenerative when the red blood cell production is not significantly increased in response to the deficit. Regenerative anaemias are caused by loss of red blood cells as may happen with a bleeding tumour or with a heavy burden of fleas, or with destruction of the red blood cells, most commonly when the immune system turns on itself.
This may happen when the red blood cells are damaged by other factors such as blood parasites or toxins such as onions. It is quite rare for animals to have an iron deficiency anaemia. The most common time we see this is in small puppies who have suffered from a chronic heavy flea burden.
Non-regenerative anaemias are usually more chronic and mild in their nature and can be caused by reduced red cell production as occurs in kidney disease and other chronic illnesses, or with bone marrow diseases.
What Treatments for Anaemia Your Pet Can Have
When the anaemia is severe, and when pets are not coping with their reduced red blood cells, they need to have a blood transfusion. This life-saving procedure is usually carried out in vet hospitals without the use of a blood bank, but rather with generous donations from staff pets.
After blood typing or cross matching the blood (yes, dogs and cats have multiple blood types just like people), the transfusion is slowly given.
So, if you have a healthy dog or cat, it just may be worth a chat with your vet next time you’re visiting. They may be suitable to go on the vet hospital blood donor list, so that they can save another loved family pet in the future.