Browse our veterinary-reviewed Dog and Cat Illness Guide to learn more about pet health. Always talk to your veterinarian if you have a concern about your pet's symptoms or health.
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Bone marrow produces red blood cells and releases them into the blood. These red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your dog's body, which allows its entire body to function correctly. After about eight weeks, the body removes the old blood cells from the bloodstream and creates new ones.
Anemia is a reduced number of red blood cells in your pet's blood. An anemic dog will either remove too many cells or not produce enough new ones.
Anemia is not a disease on its own but a result of another illness.
- Kidney damage that prevents bone marrow from producing more red blood cells
- Blood does not clot properly
- Excessive parasites in or on the body (whipworms, hookworms, ticks, or fleas)
- Any injury that causes excessive bleeding
- Tumors of the intestinal tract (urinary bladder, kidneys, or spleen)
The most obvious symptom is pale pink or white gums. If you notice pale gums, you must have a blood test done as soon as possible. Other signs include:
- Lack of energy and depression
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Increased breathing rate (your pet is trying to get more oxygen)
Your veterinarian will begin with:
- Reviewing the medical history
- Physical exam
Then the veterinarian will perform different blood tests:
- PCV (Packed Cell Volume): Checks the ratio of red blood cells to the rest of the blood. In a healthy pet, 25% to 45% percent of the blood will be red blood cells. If less than 25% is red blood cells, the animal is anemic
- CBC (Complete blood count): Measures the total amount of red and white blood cells in the body
- Blood smear: Your veterinarian will use a microscope to study a sample of your pet's blood, checking the amount, size, and shape of red blood cells. Veterinarians will also check for parasites that might destroy red blood cells
- Bone marrow biopsy: Checks if the bone marrow is functioning and creating enough red blood cells
- Fecal parasite exam: This shows if there are parasites in the intestinal tract that might be causing blood loss
Treatment will consist of either medications or surgery, depending on the cause of anemia.
If the anemia is life-threatening, your dog will need an immediate blood transfusion, which will temporarily stabilize them. The blood transfusion allows your veterinarian to determine the cause of the anemia and begin the appropriate treatment.
There are a variety of causes for anemia, and most of them are preventable. The best thing to do is to ensure your dog is up to date on all preventives, especially for fleas, ticks, and internal parasites.
The prognosis depends on the medical problem that is causing the anemia. If you catch the anemia early and your dog is in overall good health, there is a good prognosis for recovery. Sometimes, a more severe disease, such as cancer, causes anemia and could be life-threatening.
Medically Reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM