Signs and Causes of Anemia in Cats

Anemia refers to the decrease in red blood cells or hemoglobin in your cat's body. This condition rarely appears on its own and is usually an indicator of another condition affecting your cat. Our Flat Rock veterinarians describe the types of anemia in cats and offer some insight on causes, symptoms and treatment options. 


What is anemia in cats?

Anemia refers to a drop in the count of red blood cells or hemoglobin or both which circulate through your cat's body. Anemia is not a specific disease itself and is most often a symptom of another condition or disease. 

If you notice more lethargy in your cat than usual, if they seem uninterested in food or treats, or are breathing rapidly and often, they may be suffering from anemia. 

Types of Anemia in Cats

There are three types of anemia in cats - regenerative and non-regenerative. The causes for each vary.

Regenerative Anemia

This type of anemia is caused by sudden or acute blood loss. This could be caused by a major injury, a parasite or an illness. Some serious conditions or illnesses can destroy red blood cells.

Regenerative anemia tends to be the most common kind of anemia in cats.

Non-Regenerative Anemia

Non-regenerative anemia in cats can be caused by kidney failure, liver disease, bone marrow disease and other chronic diseases

The most common underlying cause for non-regenerative anemia in cat's is kidney failure. If functioning properly, kidneys produce a hormone that helps create red blood cells. When kidneys are malfunctioning, these cells will not be replaced as quickly and they are used, causing anemia. 

This kind of anemia is found far more often in older cats.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) in cats is an immune system disease which causes a cat's body to actively destroy its red blood cells. This disease is sometimes called immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) as well. 

AIHA is more commonly secondary, since an underlying toxin or disease alters the surface of the red blood cells. Most cats with AIHA have severe anemia, which causes symptoms such as pale gums (usually, the gums are normally pink or red in color).

Symptoms of Anemia in Cats

The severity, duration and underlying causes can all affect the kinds of symptoms of anemia you cat will exhibit. Some of the most common symptoms are as follows:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite

Other symptoms can include:

  • Jaundice (yellowish color in eyes, skin or gums if red blood cells have been destroyed)
  • Pale or white gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Weakness

What should I do if my cat shows symptoms of anemia?

If you cat is showing any of the symptoms above, it is important that you book an appointment with your Flat Rock veterinarian as soon as possible to have them checked out. Your vet may take a series of diagnostic blood tests to confirm whether or not your cat is suffering from anemia, and the severity of their condition.

You cat will need more tests to determine which kind of anemia they have as well as the underlying condition, illness, or injury which is causing it.

If you discover blood in your cat's vomit or feces, this is a medical emergency and will require the immediate attention of your vet.

Treatment & Recovery

Your cat's treatment and recovery are reliant on the condition underlying their anemia and its severity, as is their prognosis. 

Discovering the root cause and finding it's appropriate course of treatment is key to your cat's recovery. Your vet's diagnosis will be based on their complete assessment of your cat's health history and symptoms as well as a physical examination. This can involve bone marrow testing, a blood cell count, urinalysis and iron testing.

If your cat has non-regenerative anemia, this can typically be resolved by diagnosing and treating the underlying disease. If kidney disease is the culprit, your vet may recommend long-term hormone treatments to help red blood cell production.

For secondary AIHA, the goal will be to treat the underlying cause, potentially with toxin antidotes or numerous antibiotics.

Your vet may recommend changes to your cat's diet and medications. They will work with you to develop a treatment plan which is tailor-made for your cat's specific needs. This can include a blood transfusion if your cat's case of anemia is severe enough.

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 showing symptoms of anemia, or serious illness or disease? Contact our Flat Rock vets at Western Carolina Regional Animal Hospital & Veterinary Emergency Hospital right away to schedule an appointment for testing.

Signs and Causes of Anemia in Cats, Flat Rock Vet

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