Our West Chester vets explain the types of anemia in cats and describe the causes, symptoms and treatment options.
What is anemia in cats?
Anemia is a medical term that refers to a decrease in the number of circulating red blood cells, hemoglobin, or both. Though anemia is not a specific disease, it is a symptom of another condition or disease.
Your cat might be suffering from anemia if you notice that your cat is more lethargic than usual, breathing rapidly even when lying still, and seems uninterested in food or treats.
Types of Anemia in Cats
There are three types of anemia that cats can experience: regenerative, non-regenerative and autoimmune hemolytic anemia. The causes for each are varied.
Regenerative anemia in cats is the result of acute or sudden blood loss, whether from an injury, parasites, infection, or a serious illness (such as cancer). Serious illnesses or conditions can destroy red blood cells.
Regenerative anemia tends to be more common in younger cats.
Non-regenerative anemia in cats can be caused by kidney failure, bone marrow disorders, liver disease and other chronic diseases.
Kidney failure is the most common underlying cause for anemia in cats. In healthy cats, the kidneys create a hormone that helps to produce red blood cells. When the kidneys are not working properly it will not replace those cells as quickly as the cat’s body uses them, which leads to anemia.
Non-regenerative anemia is more common in older cats.
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) in cats is a disease of the immune system where the red blood cells are destroyed by the body. You may also hear this disease referred to as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA).
It is more common for AIHA to be secondary, where the surface of the red blood cells becomes altered by an underlying disease or toxin. Most cats with AIHA have severe anemia causing their gums will be very pale, rather than the normal pink to red color.
Symptoms of Anemia in Cats
Symptoms of anemia in cats will depend on the severity, duration and the underlying cause of the illness.
The most common symptoms of anemia in cats are:
- Lethargy or lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
Other symptoms may include:
- White or pale gums
- Increased heart rate
- Jaundice (yellowish color in skin, gums or eyes if red blood cells are destroyed)
What should I do if my cat has symptoms of anemia?
Visit your vet as soon as possible for an assessment. The veterinarian may perform a series of blood tests for diagnostic purposes, often referred to as a 'complete blood count'.
Your vet will need to officially diagnose anemia in your cat and run further tests to find out which type she has, and its underlying cause.
It should be considered an emergency if you discover blood in your cats vomit or feces, this requires immediate medical attention.
Treatment of Anemia in Cats
Treatment and recovery will depend on the underlying cause of the illness, the severity and other factors causing anemia in your cat.
Determining the underlying cause of the anemia is the key to finding the right treatment. Diagnosis is based on a comprehensive assessment of your cat’s physical examination, health history, clinical symptoms, iron testing, urinalysis, bone marrow testing and complete blood cell counts.
For non-regenerative anemia, once your vet determines the cause it can typically be resolved by treating the underlying disease.
If your cat has kidney disease, your cat may be put on long-term hormone treatments that will help the kidneys produce red blood cells.
For secondary AIHA the treatment will be directed at the underlying cause and may include various antibiotics or toxin antidotes.
Depending on the condition, a combination of diet changes and medications may be effective in treating anemia in cats.
Your vet can work with you to develop a custom treatment plan to treat the underlying condition. For a severe case of anemia, your cat may require a blood transfusion.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.