When dogs are diagnosed with anemia it means that there is an underlying condition threatening your dog's overall health. Today, our Rock Hill vets explain the different types of anemia seen in dogs, as well as their symptoms of anemia and how they can be treated.

Anemia in Dogs

Anemia in dogs is a condition that indicates that your pet has an underlying disease or illness. Anemia occurs when your pet's body fails to produce enough red blood cells or hemoglobin when your dog suffers from severe blood loss due to conditions such as cancer or stomach ulcers, or if your dog has been in a serious accident or injury.

The different types of anemia seen in dogs each have their own unique cause and treatment will depend upon the cause of your dog's condition.

Blood Loss Anemia in Dogs

Blood loss anemia occurs when your dog has lost a significant amount of blood as a result of an injury, surgery, or a bleeding disorder. Internal bleeding caused by cancer, ulcers, parasites, or other health conditions can also cause this type of anemia. Blood loss anemia is a type of regenerative anemia. This is because, despite increasing production in response to the decreased number of red blood cells, the bone marrow is unable to meet the demand.

Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

The destruction or breakdown of red blood cells in your dog's body causes hemolytic anemia. This type of anemia is frequently caused by immune-mediated or autoimmune hemolytic anemia (IMHA) or non-immune mediated by a hereditary disease, parasites, toxins, or low phosphorous levels.

Immune-Mediated Anemia in Dogs

Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia in dogs - also called IMHA for short - is an autoimmune condition in which your pet's body attacks its own red blood cells leading to anemia and the need for blood transfusions. This serious condition can lead cause the formation of blood clots in the brain and lungs in some dogs.

This form of anemia comes in two types: 

  • Primary AIHA occurs when your dog's immune system isn't working as it should and attacks your dog's red blood cells. Approximately three-quarters of the cases of Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia in dogs are primary.
  • Secondary AIHA develops when the surface of your dog's red blood cells changes as a result of an underlying disease or toxin. Your dog's immune system perceives the altered red blood cells as an invading health threat and responds by attacking. Cancer, Ehrlichiosis, Leptospirosis, parasites, drug reactions, snakebites, chemicals, toxins, or bee stings can all cause secondary AIHA.

Aplastic or Non-Regenerative Anemia in Dogs

Aplastic or non-regenerative anemia develops in dogs as a result of insufficient red blood cell production. Toxin exposure, bone marrow disease, kidney disease, certain medications, chemotherapy drugs, or parvovirus can all cause this type of anemia.

Methemoglobinemia in Dogs

Methemoglobinemia in dogs is caused by an excess of methemoglobin in the blood, which can occur as a result of genetic disorders or exposure to toxins such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or benzocaine.

Signs That Your Dog May Be Anemic

Dogs suffering from anemia can display a variety of symptoms depending upon the type of anemia they are experiencing. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of the face or jaw
  • Black stools
  • Weight loss
  • Fast pulse or rapid breathing
  • Pale gums, ears, or eyes
  • Lethargy or weakness

Common Causes of Anemia in Dogs

There are a number of conditions that can result in your pup developing anemia. Some of the most common causes of anemia in dogs include:

  • Medications that interfere with red blood cell production
  • Blood loss caused by parasites 
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Infectious diseases including canine distemper
  • Severe blood loss as a result of accident or injury
  • Toxins or poisons
  • Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease
  • Poor nutrition
  • Bone marrow disease
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Chronic diseases that suppress red blood cell production

Treatment for Dogs with Anemia

If your pooch is diagnosed with anemia, the treatment that your vet prescribes will be based upon the underlying cause of the condition. Common treatments  for anemia in dogs include:

  • Surgery
  • Blood transfusion
  • Bone marrow transfusion
  • Chemotherapy
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Change of existing medications
  • Antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs
  • Potassium phosphate supplements
  • Gastrointestinal medication
  • Parasite or de-worming medications

The prognosis for dogs with anemia depends upon the availability of effective treatment for the underlying illness. Severe anemia in dogs can indicate a very serious or possibly fatal condition such as poisoning, cancer, or an autoimmune condition. If your pet is showing any signs of anemia contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to book an examination.

Preventing Anemia in Dogs

Preventing anemia in your dog relies upon preventing the conditions that cause anemia (where possible). Parasite prevention medications year-round can help to protect your dog against diseases spread by ticks, fleas, and worms which can lead to anemia.

Keeping toxic substances such as human medications and foods far out of your dog's reach as well as providing your dog with a healthy diet, may also help to prevent your dog from developing anemia.

If your canine companion is of a breed that is prone to anemia (Shih Tzus, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and American Cocker Spaniels), regular wellness examinations at your primary care veterinarian twice a year may help detect the signs of anemia early and provide treatment before the condition worsens.

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.

If your dog is showing signs of anemia, contact our vets right away to schedule an urgent examination for your pup or visit a Rock Hill emergency animal hospital for emergency care.