What is it and what to expect after an anemia diagnosis

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According to a 2014 article in the journal Blood, the percentage of the global (human) population suffering from anemia in 2010 was a whopping 32.9%. You may have experienced iron-deficiency anemia in your own life, or known someone who struggled with it, but did you know that our pets can also be affected by anemia? Below we’ll tell you more about what it means for an individual to be “anemic,” the symptoms of anemia, how a diagnosis is made, and how it’s usually treated in both canines and felines.

What precisely is anemia? It’s a condition characterized by a reduced number of red blood cells (RBC’s), hemoglobin, or both. It is not a specific disease itself but the result of some other disease process. In pets, the most common signs and symptoms of anemia include pale gums, listlessness, and lethargy. The causes of anemia vary widely but include the following:

  • Chronic blood loss (as from injury or trauma)

  • Deformed red blood cells

  • Parasites

  • Bone marrow diseases

  • Cancer

  • Autoimmune disease

  • Chemicals or toxins

  • Nutritional deficiency

Usually an anemia diagnosis can be established with blood tests, such as packed cell volume (PCV) or hematocrit (HCT) panels. In this test, a blood sample is processed in a centrifuge to separate the red blood cells from the plasma (the liquid part of the blood). Once separated, the sample is measured to determine what percentage of the sample is made up of red blood cells. If the PCV is below 35%, the pet is anemic. Others tests to determine anemia include the red blood cell count and hemoglobin count. If these are below 5.5 x 106/mm3 or 12 g/dl, respectively, it’s indicative of anemia.

Because there are so many potential causes of anemia other tests may be ordered for the pet in question. This brings us to the matter of regenerative vs. non-regenerative anemia. Ideally bone marrow will respond to low red blood cell counts by increasing production. When this happens it is regenerative anemia (as in regeneration of red blood cells). However, when this fails to happen, it is non-regenerative anemia. To determine the nature of a given pet’s anemia a blood smear may be ordered. If the test results indicate the presence of increased numbers of immature (young) red blood cells called reticulocytes it usually means the bone marrow is responding to the need for more red blood cells. If the cause of the anemia is parasites, this may also be determined from the blood smear. Further testing may be done depending on the suspected cause from this point, including urinalysis, a fecal exam, or a bone marrow biopsy.

Treatment for anemia depends on the underlying cause as well as the severity of your pet’s condition. Oftentimes iron will be supplemented through IV and/or through oral medications. In more extreme cases of anemia, the pet who is brought into the vet’s office may be given a blood transfusion as this stabilizes the pet until further action may be taken. Luckily, mild to moderate anemia is highly treatable and, depending on the root cause, there’s plenty of hope for a positive prognosis!

If you suspect that one of your pets may have anemia or would like to come to NOVA Pets Health Center for routine monitoring of a pet who has experienced anemia, we’re more than happy to help. Call us today at (703) 378-9791 to book an appointment.


Nova Pets Health Center

3935 Avion Park Court, Suite A102

Chantilly, VA 20151


For general information, questions, appointment requests, call us at:

Clinic: (703) 378-9791
Fax: (703) 997-7786
Email Us: info@novapets.com

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