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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

anaemia in dogs, north shore veterinary hospital, st ives vet

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?”
Credit: petmd.com

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.

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Written by Helen Burns

Helen graduated from Sydney Uni in 1997 with First Class Honours and worked in a practice on the Northern Beaches for 16 years. Helen joined the Gordon Vet team early in 2014 and our clients have really enjoyed getting to know her. She loves being a vet and takes a keen interest in all of her patients. Her gentle, friendly nature helps pets to feel relaxed when they visit the vet. Helen lives locally and has 3 children. At least one of her children seems destined to be a vet! When not ferrying her children around, Helen cares for her menagerie of pets. These include Chloe the dog, Obi and Leia the cats, Little Cocky the galah and Rosie the very tame eclectus parrot who all happily coexist at her house. In her spare time, Helen likes to be active outdoors, running, kayaking, camping or playing any manner of sport with her children.

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Lihong Xing
Lihong Xing
05:00 05 Nov 18
Highly recommend Dr David, Scott, Helen, and Catherine, I've taken my cat to see all the doctors here.
Vishal Kapoor
Vishal Kapoor
01:52 04 Sep 18
Really amazing staff members. Their systems and processes are also very
Arezu A
Arezu A
03:20 15 Feb 18
Absolutely love the service here. I switched from other Vets to this Vet as the staff here are quite attentive and really care about your furry baby! I have basically seen most of the Dr's here and all of them so far have been fantastic, friendly and fun to speak with! Easy to locate and enough parking available! 5 Stars indeed!
Gerry Stevens
Gerry Stevens
11:01 14 Jul 18
Good competant vet. Did what I needed. Staff friendly. Cat's well.
Jeremy Tarbox
Jeremy Tarbox
22:55 10 Sep 18
We found a stray, agitated dog in front of our house last night. We phoned but got no help from the Council ranger who gave two options: tie him up in front yard overnight or "let him loose, he'll find his own way home" :( So we phoned Gordon Vet: they stayed open a few minutes so we could run him up and he could have a bed and dinner. Thank you Gordon Vet Hospital, hope he gets home soon!!! :)
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