Anemia in dogs is typically a symptom of a serious underlying health issue that requires urgent veterinary care. Our Boulder vets explain the different types of anemia we see in dogs, including causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Why Anemia Occurs in Dogs
Anemia occurs when your dog’s body is unable to produce enough hemoglobin or red blood cells, or when your dog suffers severe blood loss due to trauma or conditions such as stomach ulcers or cancer.
If your dog has anemia, it's a good indication that your pet is suffering from an underlying condition or disease that requires urgent veterinary attention.
Types of Regenerative Anemia in Dogs
If your dog is suffering from a form of regenerative anemia it means that your dog's bone marrow is producing red blood cells normally but is unable to meet the body's demand either due to loss of blood or destruction of the cells after they are produced.
Blood Loss Anemia
- Blood loss anemia is a type of regenerative anemia in dogs that can result from severe blood loss due to a bleeding disorder, accident, injury, or surgery. Internal bleeding can also lead to blood loss anemia and may occur due to parasites, cancer, ulcers, or other serious health conditions.
Immune-Mediated & Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs
- Hemolytic anemia (which is sometimes immune-mediated anemia) is characterized by the breakdown or destruction of red blood cells in your dog’s body. This form of anemia often stems from a hereditary disease, or the non-immune mediated form of the condition caused by toxins, parasites, low phosphorus levels, or hereditary disease.
Aplastic or Non-Regenerative Anemia in Dogs
Aplastic, Anemia of Inflammatory Disease (AID), or non-regenerative anemia in dogs is characterized by the insufficient production of red blood cells. Common causes of aplastic or non-regenerative anemia in dogs include bone marrow disease, kidney disease, exposure to toxins, parvovirus, chemotherapy drugs, and other medications.
Methemoglobinemia in Dogs
- Genetic disorders can lead to too much methemoglobin in the blood and result in methemoglobinemia in dogs. Methemoglobinemia can also result from exposure to toxins, including human medications, such as benzocaine, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen.
Symptoms of Anemia in Dogs
The symptoms shown by your dog will depend upon the type of anemia they are suffering from and the underlying cause of the condition. The following are some of the most common symptoms of anemia in dogs.
- Fast pulse or rapid breathing
- Pale gums, eyes, or ears
- Weakness or lethargy
- Black stools
- Swelling of the jaw or face
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
If your pet is displaying signs of anemia, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to schedule an examination. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential when it comes to treating dogs with conditions that can lead to anemia.
Causes of Anemia in Dogs
Anemia can result in dogs due to several serious health conditions such as
- Poor nutrition
- Medications that interfere with the production of red blood cells
- Infectious diseases (such as canine distemper)
- Cushing’s disease
- Chronic diseases suppressing red blood cell production
- Intestinal bleeding
- Severe blood loss
- Poisons or toxins
- Tick-borne diseases
- Kidney disease
- Blood loss caused by parasites
- Bone marrow disease
Treatment for Anemia in Dogs
If your dog is diagnosed with anemia their treatment will depend upon the underlying cause of their condition. Your dog's treatment for anemia could include:
- Intravenous fluids
- Parasite medications
- Gastrointestinal medication
- Change in existing medications
- Immunosuppressive drugs
- Blood transfusion
- Bone marrow transfusion
- Potassium phosphate supplements
The Prognosis for Dogs with Anemia
Anemia can be an indication of very serious life-threatening health issues such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, or poisoning. So the prognosis for dogs with anemia varies based on the availability of effective treatment for the underlying condition.
The only way to prevent anemia in dogs is by preventing the conditions that cause it. Keep substances that are toxic to dogs (such as human food and medications) far away from your canine companion, and provide your dog with a healthy diet and an appropriate level of exercise.
Protecting your dog against worms, fleas, and ticks with year-round parasite prevention medications can also help to prevent your dog from developing anemia.
If you’ve got a breed of dog that faces a higher than average risk of developing anemia (Shih Tzus, Labrador Retrievers, American Cocker Spaniels, and Miniature Schnauzers), take your dog for a veterinary wellness exam - every six months - to monitor for early signs of the condition.
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.