Anemia in Cats: Types, Symptoms & Treatment

Anemia in cats can be caused by either sudden blood loss or a potentially serious underlying condition. Our Flat Rock vets explain what anemia is, and describe its symptoms and treatment options.


What is anemia in cats?

Though anemia is not a specific disease, it is a symptom of another condition or disease. Anemia is a medical term we use to refer to a decrease in the number of circulating red blood cells, hemoglobin, or both.

Types of Anemia in Cats

These are the types of anemia cats can experience:

Regenerative

Regenerative anemia in cats is the result of acute or sudden blood loss, which could be caused by serious illness (such as cancer), infection, parasites, poisoning due to toxins, or an injury. Serious illnesses or conditions can destroy red blood cells.

Non-Regenerative

Anemia in cats with kidney failure, bone marrow disorders, liver disease and other chronic diseases can suffer from non-regenerative anemia. In healthy cats, the kidneys create a hormone that helps to produce red blood cells. However, malfunctioning kidneys will not replace those cells as quickly as the cat’s body uses them, which leads to anemia.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia in cats is a disease of the immune system where the red blood cells are destroyed by the body. Though red blood cells are still being produced in bone marrow, they have a short life span and circulation period. You may also hear this disease referred to as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). This form of anemia is uncommon in cats.

What is the most common type of anemia in cats?

While younger cats tend to experience regenerative anemia due to acute blood loss due to parasites, injuries and infections, older cats often face chronic diseases as they age, which leaves them susceptible to non-regenerative anemia. Auto-immune diseases or bone marrow issues such as leukemia can also result in anemia.

Signs of Anemia in Cats

If your cat has anemia, symptoms will depend on the severity, duration (short or long-term) and the underlying cause of the illness. If your cat loses more than a third of his or her blood volume too rapidly and it is not replaced, this can lead to shock and even death.

If your cat has anemia, you may notice:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of energy or lethargy
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weakness
  • White or pale gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Jaundice (yellowish color in skin, gums or eyes if red blood cells are destroyed)

The cause of blood loss may be internal (parasites, a bleeding disorder or ruptured tumor) or external (major injury). If your vet cannot detect any external bleeding, he or she will look for a source of blood loss internally. The vet may detect a heart murmur, low blood pressure or other indication.

What should I do if I think my cat is suffering from anemia?

Visit your vet as soon as possible; in particular, discovering blood in vomit or feces is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Your vet will need to officially diagnose anemia and test your cat to find out which type she has, and its underlying cause. The veterinarian may perform a series of blood tests for diagnostic purposes.

You may hear them refer to this as a complete blood count, which measures the amount of red and white blood cells (hematocrit level) The number of immature red blood cells in your cat’s blood (known clinically as the reticulocyte count) will also be measured. A normal red blood cell count for the average cat is 35.

Treatment of Anemia in Cats

Treatment of and recovery from anemia in cats depends on the underlying cause of the illness, the anemia’s severity and other factors. Diagnosis is based on your cat’s health history, physical examination, clinical symptoms, iron testing, bone marrow testing, urinalysis and complete blood cell counts. 

At Western Carolina Regional Animal Hospital, our vets use diagnostic technology and testing to provide precise diagnoses and tailored custom treatment plans to fit your pet's needs. 

Once your vet determines the cause of non-regenerative anemia, it can typically be resolved by treating the underlying disease.

Your vet can work with you to develop a custom treatment plan to treat the underlying condition. Depending on the condition, a combination of diet changes and medications may help effectively treat anemia. For a severe case of anemia, your cat may need a blood transfusion from a donor cat.

Recovery Time for Cats with Anemia

Prognosis for anemia will depend on many individual factors. Cats with severe non-regenerative anemia usually require long-term treatment and this type of anemia does not usually happen.

If your cat’s case is severe, it’s best to prepare for a prolonged recovery period. He or she will need to see the vet frequently (as often as every day or two in the preliminary stages.

The time between visits will gradually decrease to every one or two weeks, depending on your cat and his or her circumstances. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment and medications closely.

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.

Is your cat displaying symptoms of anemia? We offer both primary veterinary care and emergency services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. contact our office today to book an appointment. Our compassionate vets are experienced in diagnosing and treating a number of illnesses and conditions.

Anemia in Cats, Flat Rock Vet

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