HEALTH & CARE

Anemia in Cats: A Deeper Look at This Feline Blood Disorder

orange sick cat
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

One feline attribute that makes them a popular pet is their docile, almost laid back nature. Aside from food, water, and shelter, they do not require a lot of attention. However, this feline personality is also what makes it quite challenging for cat owners when trying to identify a potential health concern, especially when there are few outward signs, such as with anemia in cats.

One serious feline condition that can be difficult to diagnose is cat anemia. It is a disorder that can be acquired by cats regardless of their breed. Cats often sleep the day away, so it might take a while before you realize that your cat seems more lethargic than usual due to anemia.

The good news is that if you are aware of anemia in your cat and can take actions to treat the health issue, it can be managed and potential complications can be reversed.

In this article, we will be taking an in-depth look at cat anemia—what it is, causes of anemia in cats, and the signs and symptoms that you need to look out for if you suspect your pet of having anemia. On top of this, we will be providing guidelines on how you can treat and prevent this feline disorder.

What is Cat Anemia?

cat's anemia

Cat anemia is a condition that is characterized by a reduction in the number of circulating blood cells in a feline’s body. Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, are equipped with hemoglobin. This is a molecule that is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the different organs of the body.

Anemia is not considered a disease but a secondary disorder that results from an underlying health condition. These can include hormone or bone marrow abnormalities, toxicity, nutrition, or disease.

What are the Different Types and Causes of Cat Anemia?

There are two general categories of feline anemia: the regenerative and non-regenerative type.

#1: Regenerative Anemia

cat and onions

This is caused by acute or sudden blood loss coming from an injury, infection, or illness like cancer. Basically, it happens when the body experiences trauma or injury which results in major blood loss. It can also be caused by certain conditions that destroy healthy red blood cells.

Common causes of regenerative anemia include the following:

  • Inherited red blood cell disorders (common in Abyssinian and Somali breeds)

  • Toxins like chemicals, metals, and food (e.g. fava beans, onions)

  • Neonatal Isoerythrolysis, a newborn immunologic disease in cats

  • Infections (bacteria, viruses, and infectious organisms like feline leukemia and cat immunodeficiency virus)

  • Hypophosphatemia, a deficiency in blood phosphate that is common in diabetic cats

  • Human medications like aspirin and acetaminophen

#2: Non-Regenerative Anemia

This type of anemia is caused by chronic or long-term conditions brought about by malnutrition, disorders of the bone marrow, chronic health issues, or kidney disease. Sometimes, anemia serves as a secondary disorder caused by an underlying health issue.

Common causes of non-regenerative anemia include:

  • Kidney Disease. Some signs that your pet might be suffering from a kidney disease include vomiting, wetting more often, increased thirst, and poor appetite.

  • Feline Cancer. Symptoms vary but may include poor appetite, weight loss, low energy levels, vomiting, increased thirst, or the presence of fecal blood.

  • Gastric Ulcers. This may result from a history of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) use. Felines can exhibit vomiting which may include blood.

  • Nutritional Deficiency

  • Aplastic Anemia. A condition where the bone marrow cannot produce new red blood cells.

  • Pure Cell Aplasia. A severe drop of red blood cells due to a viral infection

  • Myelodysplasia. A bone marrow disorder.

  • Myelofibrosis. A condition that leads to spleen and liver enlargement.

When a cat’s bone marrow fails to produce hemoglobin and a marked decrease in the number of RBC is noted, this is also classified as non regenerative anemia in cats. Prognosis depends on the severity of the condition, the underlying cause, and the overall health of the cat.

It’s important that the focus is on treating the underlying condition, because anemia is just the symptom. Some medical conditions such are bone marrow disease do not show any signs other than a significant drop in the production of red blood cells.

Conditions like hemolytic anemia can also cause a rapid drop in red blood cell count. This rapid process of hemolysis may cause jaundice or yellowing of the oral membranes and conjunctiva (white part of the eyes).

In some cases, your cat may be required for both treatment of the underlying condition and specific treatments to increase the number of red blood cells.

Regenerative anemia often affects juveniles or younger cats. This is usually seen in the form of blood parasites and flea infestation. On the other hand, non-regenerative anemia is more commonly observed with older cats.

#3: Flea Anemia

cat itching

Flea anemia in cats is a condition in which fleas present in your cat’s body drain so much blood that it disrupts your cat’s normal bodily functions. This commonly affects very young or old felines that are too weak to combat the ill effects of blood loss.

Flea anemia should be addressed immediately, or it can be fatal. Your cat will need both physical and emotional support since he will have to undergo transfusions and flea treatment at the same time.

See Also: How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Cat Anemia?

Anemia in cats symptoms can vary depending on its cause and rate of onset. Accidents or traumatic events that result in major blood loss may cause sudden or acute anemia. On the other hand, chronic or long term anemia can result when cats suffer from diseases such as feline cancer.

During the early stages, there is usually a slow decrease in the number of red blood cells. This allows your cat’s body time to somewhat adapt to the slow drop of oxygen and will mask some signs of anemia.

Oftentimes, signs and symptoms of the disorder surface when the anemia is growing severe. Some of these signs may include:

  • Low energy level. You might notice that your cat naps more often and longer than usual.

  • Generalized lethargy. This may include obvious changes in energy-related behaviors, such as less playtime and grooming, or lack of the usual greeting when your pet sees you.

  • General weakness. Again, this is evident when your cat shows a decrease in activity level and appears to get tired easily from their usual feline activities like running, playing, or jumping.

  • Pale or white gums. A cat’s gums should have a healthy pink color. White or pale looking gums can signal anemia and require veterinary attention.

  • Weight loss and changes in appetite. Because felines who suffer from anemia often exhibit a decrease in appetite, this may result in weight loss and should be a cause for concern.

How is Feline Anemia Diagnosed?

cat and a vet

Cat anemia is often diagnosed through a thorough review of your pet’s physical exam, medical history, routine diagnostics, and pet-owner interview.

To rule out the possibility of toxic substance ingestion, infection, or organ failure, your vet will usually perform a differential diagnosis on your cat. A urinalysis and blood works are just some of the tests to confirm the diagnosis of feline anemia.

  • CBC (Complete Blood Count). This test provides accurate measurements of the different blood components such as white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

  • Packed Cell Volume or Hematocrit. This is a test that measures the erythrocyte percentage volume found in the blood, which is essential in determining the ability of the blood to carry oxygen.

  • Blood Smear. Performed to identify blood cell abnormalities and irregularities in shapes and sizes.

  • Biopsy or Bone Marrow Aspirate. Uses a fine needle to aspirate bone marrow samples for study.

  • Biochemical Profile and Urinalysis. Evaluates electrolyte level and organ function and provides a significant amount of information pertaining to your pet’s overall health.

  • Fecal Parasite Exam. Identifies the presence of intestinal parasites that may be causing the blood loss.

What is the Recovery Time for Cat Anemia?

When it comes to anemia in cats recovery time, it depends. Cats who are receiving blood transfusions are often kept in hospitals or treatment facilities for a few days, depending on the severity and your cat’s overall health condition.

Non-regenerative anemia will usually require your cat to have follow-up check-ups and continuous treatment. This is to balance and maintain the ideal number of red blood cells in the blood and prevent a potentially dangerous anemic condition.

On the other hand, regenerative anemia will usually cease to be a problem as soon as the symptoms and underlying causes are managed.

How to Manage Cat Anemia at Home

checking cat's eyes

When anemia is severe, treatment is always geared towards the replacement of lost blood, and this is normally done through a series of blood transfusions. Like humans, it is important to know the blood type of both the donor and the recipient and making sure they match to ensure compatibility and avoid any serious adverse reactions.

Likewise, a combination of medication and proper diet may be useful in treating anemia, depending on the underlying cause. Generally, determining the underlying cause of your cat’s anemia guides you and your vet towards finding the appropriate treatment plan.

The remedies listed below generally can help cats who are diagnosed with a form of anemia. If there is an underlying condition causing the anemia, the symptoms won’t go away until the cause is cured, but these tips on how to treat anemia in cats can at least help raise the red blood cells count.

  • Go with more iron. Cats who are diagnosed as anemic will benefit from a diet that is rich in both iron and vitamins B. In particular, the liver is a rich source of iron and is very helpful when included in an anemic cat’s diet. An ounce of liver served for two to three weeks will help speed up your pet’s recovery.

  • Supplements. Ask your vet to prescribe or recommend supplements for your cat. There are many over the counter iron and vitamin supplements you can avail and will help provide much-needed nutrients for your cat.

  • Slow down with the exercises. Rest is important to help speed up your pet’s recovery. Anemic cats tire easily, and the decreased oxygen that comes with anemia may be further aggravated by exhaustion and fatigue.

  • Regular mouth inspection. Since a cat’s paleness can be hidden from view because of their fur, one way to assess this is by checking your pet’s mucous membranes. A normal cat has pink tongue and gums, but with the presence of anemia, it turns the gums and tongue to a pale pink or white in color.

  • Check the eyes. By pulling down the lower eyelid, you can check your cat’s conjunctiva for paleness or whiteness, which is indicative of anemia.

  • Check for parasites. Parasites like fleas, ticks, or hookworms may infest your pet’s body and cause anemia by sucking too much of your feline’s blood. Always make sure that your pet is free from fleas. You can have him checked for parasites by asking your vet to do a fecal sample.

  • Avoid onions. According to recent studies, onions and garlic can cause your cat to suffer from Heinz anemia. Make sure that your cat is not fed any food that may contain onions like broth, baby food, or commercially available foods.

How to Prevent Feline Anemia

cat's vaccination

Although anemia is sometimes caused by genetic factors and unforeseen events that cannot be prevented, there are others resulting from trauma, infections, or parasites which can be prevented. Below are some simple guidelines to help decrease the likelihood of your cat developing feline anemia.

  • As much as possible, orange sick cat If there is a single, most effective way of preventing feline anemia, that would be keeping your cat safe in the comforts of your home. This will not only decrease the likelihood of trauma such as being hit by a vehicle but will also lessen the chances of acquiring flea infestation from other cats, for example.

  • Keep his vaccination and medications up to date and help fight against disease-carrying organisms that may cause sickness, which eventually leads to anemia.

  • Always provide your pet with a healthy, well-balanced diet to help prevent nutritional deficiency anemia.

  • Keep an eye on any changes in your cat’s behavior and energy level, as well as the other early signs of anemia.

  • Pay attention to scheduled follow-up check-ups with the vet and always ask for recommendations on managing and preventing the occurrence of this feline disorder.

Wrap Up

happy cat

Anemia is a serious feline condition that can be life-threatening if left untreated. The lack of oxygen-carrying components in the blood depletes the oxygen level and puts a toll on your cat’s body, especially on an already sick or immunocompromised feline.

As always, early detection and prompt treatment are the keys to improving the prognosis for a cat with anemia. We hope that the information we have provided in this article will guide you on how to properly care and manage your pet’s anemia so that your pet can live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

What signs of feline anemia have you observed in your cat? Do you have any tips on tricks on how to manage feline anemia? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Next, check out our article on how much onion is toxic for cats since that is one of the main causes of feline anemia.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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