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What does it mean to be anemic?

Anemia may be due to:-

  1. A reduced number of red blood cells (erythrocytes) or
  2. Reduced hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying pigment contained within the erythrocytes.

Sometimes both erythrocytes and hemoglobin are reduced.

Anemia is not a specific disease but is the result of other disease processes.

How is anemia diagnosed?

The most easily observed sign of anemia is a loss of the normal pink color of the mucous membranes, either the gums, the lips or the mucous membranes inside the eyelids. Anemic dogs often have little stamina so that they appear very lethargic. Pale mucous membranes in the mouth and a tired listless dog will alert us to perform some blood tests to confirm the condition.

There are several tests that can be performed on the blood sample. The most common test for anemia is the packed cell volume (PCV); it is also called the hematocrit. A blood sample is placed in a centrifuge to separate the red blood cells from the plasma (the liquid part of the blood). Thirty-five to fifty-five percent of the normal dog's blood will be red blood cells. If the PCV is below 35%, the dog is anemic

Others tests to determine anemia include the red blood cell count and the hemoglobin volume.

What other tests are important when a dog is anemic?

It is important to know if the bone marrow is producing an increased number of new red blood cells. Often, this can be determined by a study of a stained blood smear. The presence of increased numbers of immature (young) red blood cells usually means the bone marrow is responding to the need for more red blood cells.

A careful study of the blood smear is also important to look for parasites that might be causing red blood cell destruction and any abnormal cells that could indicate conditions such as leukemia.

If bone marrow response is not obvious by studying the blood smear, a reticulocyte count is performed. A special stain is used to clearly identify reticulocytes (immature red blood cells).

A bone marrow biopsy is a procedure that removes cells for examination directly from the bone marrow. Studying these cells can give valuable information about the cause of some anemias and the condition of the bone marrow.

A biochemical profile and urinalysis are other important tests for anemic dogs. These tests evaluate organ functions and electrolyte levels. They will often provide important information about the total health of the dog.

A fecal examination is important to identify any parasites in the intestinal tract that might be causing blood loss.

Thus several tests are important for an anemic dog because there are many diseases that cause this problem

A full examination involves many different tests and techniques and consequently is often quite expensive.

What diseases cause anemia?

These can be grouped into:-

1. What diseases of dogs cause blood loss?

The main causes of blood loss in dogs include:

  • Trauma or injury that damages blood vessels or internal organs
  • Parasites such as fleas, ticks, and hookworms
  • Tumors of the intestinal tract, kidneys, and urinary bladder
  • Diseases that prevent proper clotting of blood
2. What diseases of dogs cause hemolysis?

The main causes of hemolysis in dogs include:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Blood parasites
  • Chemicals or toxins
  • Neoplasia (cancer)

3. What diseases of dogs prevent red blood cell production?

The main causes of bone marrow suppression in dogs include:

  • Any severe, chronic disease
  • Very poor nutrition or nutritional imbalances
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Chemicals or toxins
  • Neoplasia (cancer)

There has been no mention of iron deficiency. Why not?

Iron deficiency anemia is a common disease in people, especially women. However, this is not common in dogs and occurs secondary to some form of chronic blood loss. It is occasionally seen in puppies with hookworms and also those on very iron deficient (poor) diets.

How are anemic dogs treated?

If your dog's anemia is so severe that it is life-threatening, a blood transfusion may be required. This may be performed immediately after a blood sample has been taken for testing. The main purpose of the blood transfusion in these circumstances is to stabilize the dog long enough to establish the cause of the anemia

Further treatment will be determined once the underlying disease has been diagnosed.

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