Anemia in Cats: A Helpful Guide

Anemia is a serious disorder that can affect cats of any age and breed. While there are multiple varieties of anemia that cats can develop, they all involve loss of red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout your cat’s body and are therefore vital to his overall health. If you are concerned about anemia in your kitty, this guide will help you understand what anemia is, how to tell if your cat has anemia, and what the available treatment options are. Read on for more!

What is Cat Anemia?

Anemia is not a disease of its own; it is the result of an existing or previously existing disease or health condition. Anemia refers to a reduced red blood cell count. Since red blood cells deliver oxygen to the entire body of your cat, a cat with anemia will show symptoms that are a result of a lack of oxygen. Red blood cells are produced in bone marrow, and then circulated throughout the body. When they are damaged, they are removed from the blood, resulting in anemia.

What are the Symptoms of Anemia in Cats?

Symptoms of anemia vary depending on the cause and rate of onset. Sudden anemia can occur in cats when a large amount of blood is lost in a traumatic event. Longer-term anemia can be the result of a disease such as feline cancer. Regardless of the cause of anemia, visible symptoms will be the result of decreased oxygen levels. Rapid heart rate, pale gums, and lethargy are all cause for worry and enough reason for a trip to the vet.

What are the Different Types of Anemia?

Anemia is grouped into two separate categories: Regenerative and Non-Regenerative. Cats with regenerative anemia have a chance to return to full health, while cats with non-regenerative anemias will suffer from the condition for the duration of their lives.

Regenerative Anemia

Regenerative anemia is caused by sudden, acute blood loss, as well as disorders that actively destroy red blood cells. This doesn’t necessarily mean a traumatic external injury is the cause. Parasites, infections, and even cancer can destroy red blood cells in large numbers. The most common causes of regenerative forms of anemia in cats are traumatic injury such as being hit by a car, infections of the blood or bone marrow, parasites, and immune disorders.

Non-Regenerative Anemia

Non-regenerative anemias are chronic conditions caused by malnutrition, chronic disease, disorders of the bone marrow, and kidney disease. Severity of the condition depends on the overall health of the cat and the other symptoms associated with the underlying cause. Oftentimes, cats with nonregenerative anemia will require treatment of the underlying cause in addition to expensive injections to manually increase the red blood cell count.

How is Anemia Treated?

If your cat is diagnosed with anemia, treatment will vary greatly depending on the severity and underlying cause. If your kitty’s condition is critical, a blood transfusion may be necessary to stabilize him before treatment of the underlying cause of anemia can begin. Otherwise, treatment will involve fixing the underlying issue so that your cat’s body can begin producing red blood cells at a normal rate on its own.

Because cats with anemia will often show no signs of sickness aside from pale gums and lethargy, the first step in treatment will usually be to run a large number of tests to determine the underlying cause. Be prepared to spend some serious money on these tests if your kitty does not have a health insurance plan.

Once the cause is revealed, actual treatment will vary greatly. It could be as simple as a quick deworming pill, or as involved as multiple surgical procedures. It simply depends what the underlying cause of anemia is, how severe the condition is, and what lengths you are willing to go to return your feline friend to full health.

Prevention

Some causes of anemia are unpreventable and are the result of genetic factors and simply luck-of-the-draw. Others, such as traumas resulting from car impact, certain infections, and certain parasites, can be prevented to an extent. The single most effective way to prevent these forms of anemia is to keep your cat indoors. If this is not an option, and if it is, be sure to keep him up-to-date on all vaccinations and preventative medicines, such as flea and tick controllers. Feed your cat a well-balanced diet to prevent anemia resulting from malnutrition. As always, ask your veterinarian about anything you can do to prevent anemia.

Sources:

“Signs, Causes, and Treatment of Anemia in Cats.” PetMD, Accessed 17 Oct. 2018. www.petmd.com/cat/signs-causes-and-treatment-anemia-cats.

“What You Need to Know About Cat Anemia.” Vetstreet, Accessed 17 Oct. 2018. www.vetstreet.com/care/anemia-in-cats.

“Anemia in Cats – Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Accessed 17 Oct. 2018. www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/blood-disorders-of-cats/anemia-in-cats.

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