Anaemia is not in itself a specific disease, but rather the result of another underlying disease/injury, which causes pets to have a reduced number of red blood cells. Depending on the severity level, anaemia on its own can be life threatening and may require emergency vet care, but what is usually more concerning for the pet’s health is the underlying disease/injury that is causing it to become anaemic.
There are three main causes of anaemia in cats and dogs – diseases/injuries that cause blood loss; diseases that decrease the production of red blood cells; and diseases that cause haemolysis (which is the destruction or breakdown of red blood cells). Anaemia caused by blood loss is often the result of serious trauma or injuries that sever blood vessels or damage internal organs. It can also be the result of excessive parasite activity on the animals, or tumours in areas of the body such as the intestinal tract, kidneys, urinary bladder or spleen, which cause internal bleeding.
The most common cause of reduced blood cell production is any severe or chronic disease, such as cancer, renal disease or cardiac disease. However, it can also be caused by poor nutrition, autoimmune disease, hypothyroidism, or toxicity. Anaemia caused by haemolysis can also be the result of the same diseases like autoimmune disease, cancer or toxicity, as well as blood parasites.
The first clinical signs of anaemia that pet owners will witness are their cat or dog appearing to have little stamina and seeming lethargic or tired, as well as having pale gums. When these signs are displayed the pet will need to be seen at a 24 hour vet clinic for examination. Unless there is an obvious injury or chronic disease that is found to be causing the anaemia, a range of tests will need to be performed to determine what is causing the disease. These tests include taking a blood sample to measure the red blood cell and haemoglobin count. This blood sample will also be used to test for increased numbers of immature red blood cells (known as reticulocytes) to ensure the pet’s bone marrow is responding correctly to the need for more red blood cells. It often takes at least 3-5 days for the body to realise it is anaemic and start releasing immature red blood cells from the bone marrow.
Tests may also be done by the veterinarian to check for parasite activity or any evidence of abnormal cells that may be caused by leukaemia. In some cases, other tests may include a reticulocyte count, bone marrow biopsy, a biochemical profile or urinalysis, or a faecal exam. These tests will help the emergency vet to determine the overall health of the animal and check whether the animal’s organs are functioning normally.
If the anaemia is severe then it can certainly be life threatening and need emergency vet care, which will often involve a blood transfusion. However, a transfusion is not a cure for anaemia, it is used to stabilise the animal and allow time to conduct the diagnostic tests needed to find the underlying disease causing the anaemia. Treatment for the anaemia and the underlying disease will require intensive care and ongoing monitoring at a 24 hour animal hospital to allow for the best chance of success and recovery.
Animal Accident & Emergency have two 24 hour pet emergency centres in Melbourne, which are ideally located in Essendon and Point Cook and both with easy freeway access and amble parking. Our emergency vet clinics operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (including public holidays), and offer all the latest equipment and state of the art technology, as well as a 24 hour intensive care unit. Our dedicated team of emergency vets and nurses provide the highest standards of emergency vet care, critical care medicine and surgery, and are experienced in treating all emergencies from right across Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat. So when you bring your pet to Animal Accident & Emergency you can rest assured that your pet will receive the best and most advanced vet care available.
If you believe your pet may be have anaemia or for any emergency, please phone one of our 24-hour Animal Accident & Emergency Centres:
Essendon Fields (03) 9379 0700
Point Cook (03) 8368 7400
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