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Anemia in Cats – Symptoms and Treatment

Picture of a black cat

Cats can suffer from anemia, just like other animals and humans. Unfortunately, cats are also excellent when it comes to hiding illness, so you might not be able to tell when something is wrong with your feline friend.

In this post, we’re looking at the clinical signs of anemia, the types that exist, how it is diagnosed, how it is treated, and how it can be prevented.

Types of anemia in cats

Some people define anemia as a decreased number of red blood cells circulating in the cat’s blood flow. But it’s not as simple as that, unfortunately. Some animals can have the right number of red blood cells, but there might not be enough hemoglobin in them.

Red blood cells and hemoglobin are involved in transporting oxygen to and from the body’s organs. An anemic cat can show symptoms of cyanosis when there is not a sufficient amount of oxygen being delivered to the local tissues and organs.

There are two types of anemia that can show up in animals and humans alike:

  • Regenerative anemia
  • Nonregenerative anemia

Regenerative anemia is characterized by an adequate response of the bone marrow in creating red blood cells, but since they would be young and light, they might have a lower hemoglobin amount carrying capacity. For instance, a cat that sustained an injury that has led to blood loss will almost always have regenerative anemia.

This type can be caused by some other factors, most of which are listed below:

  • Toxins (onions or some medications, such as paracetamol)
  • Low blood phosphate
  • FeLV
  • Infections with Mycoplasma haemofelis
  • Immune-mediated anemia (where the animal’s immune system attacks the red blood cells)
  • Trauma, bleeding caused by a ruptured spleen, a ruptured mass or tumor, or bleeding due to the inability of the cat’s blood to clot)

Nonregenerative anemia, on the other hand, almost always involves a pathology of the bone marrow, in which case the latter isn’t capable of developing as many red blood cells as the body needs. Nonregenerative anemia cases are caused by nutritional deficiencies, chronic disease (kidney disease, liver disease, or those involving hormonal disorders, such as hypoadrenocorticism, hyperadrenocorticism, or hypothyroidism).

Nonregenerative anemia can also be caused by bone marrow pathologies, such as pure red cell aplasia and aplastic anemia, leukemia, myelofibrosis, or myelodysplastic syndrome.

Symptoms of anemia in cats

If you have been a cat guardian for a while now, you probably know how your pet’s visible mucous membranes are supposed to look. A healthy cat’s gums are light pink, and so are his/her eye lining and nose. Pale or almost white membranes can be a sign of anemia, but this symptom shows up in other medical conditions, too.

Anemic cats can show the following signs:

  • Lethargy
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Increased heart rate

A cat that has anemia for a number of reasons can also lose blood through vomit or diarrhea or it can show up in their urine.

How can feline anemia be diagnosed?

Blood samples are the safest when it comes to diagnosing a case of anemia in cats, and one of the most effective ones is a complete blood cell count.

Blood tests can reveal the PCV (packed cell volume), and a healthy cat should have about 25-40/45% of the entire blood in the body in her red blood cells. If a PVC value under 25% is detected, the cat most likely suffers from anemia.

Cats that are suspected of being anemic will also have their red blood cell number determined, and the amount of hemoglobin in them, too.

When you bring your cat to the vet clinic, you will be asked a number of questions such as what the animal could have eaten recently and whether he or she has been exposed to certain toxins. Some cats can develop anemia after eating a rodent that has ingested rat poison.

If none of the tests, including a coagulation profile, X-rays, ultrasound, and an examination of the urine and feces under the microscope, reveal an exact cause of the anemia, your cat might have to undergo a bone marrow evaluation. This diagnostic method is used for unexplained anemia cases.

How can feline anemia be treated?

The treatment of anemia in cats largely depends on the underlying medical condition that was discovered through several diagnostic techniques. Some cats might receive deworming medication if a parasite is at the root of the problem.

Cats that were involved in an accident might have to receive blood transfusions. There are three blood groups (A, B, and AB) that cats can have and blood compatibility can be extremely important. If your cat receives the wrong type of blood group, she could develop a number of reactions, but most of them are mild.

That is why the patient’s blood group has to be determined first in order for the transfusion to be correct and safe.

If the anemia was caused by the rupture of a mass or tumor, the cat might have to undergo surgery in order to have that mass removed and the bleeding stopped. But in the end, it all depends on what the diagnosis has revealed.

Is there any way you can prevent anemia in cats?

Taking your cat to the vet clinic for regular checkups, especially if he or she is older than 7, can help you prevent your feline companion from becoming anemic. Indoor cats are less exposed to this health problem as the likelihood of them ingesting a mouse or a rat that ate rat poison is lower.

Deworm your cat regularly, make sure that your pet is vaccinated as per the vaccination plan recommended by your vet, and use tick and flea products to make sure that your cat doesn’t end up suffering from anemia because of these parasites.

Make sure that your cat is fed a healthy diet, with no grains, preservatives, artificial colors, or additives. Cats are carnivores, so they should eat a diet based primarily on meat, and this is the only type of food that can prevent anemia.

In general, cats that are healthy on the whole and do not suffer from any autoimmune diseases or cancer have a good prognosis, so even if they do become anemic, they will recover safely and faster than immunocompromised cats.

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