Our veterinarians in San Jose discuss the types of anemia in cats and offer some perspective on causes, symptoms and treatment options.
What is anemia in cats?
The medical term anemia represents a drop in the number of hemoglobin or red blood cells (or both) circulating throughout your cat's body. While anemia is not a specific disease in itself, it's typically a sign of another condition or disease.
If you've wondered why your cat is breathing rapidly even when lying still, has seemed uninterested in treats or food, has been acting more lethargic than usual, they may well be suffering from anemia.
Types of Anemia in Cats
There are three types of anemia in cats - regenerative, non-regenerative, and autoimmune hemolytic anemia The causes for each vary.
Infection, parasites, serious illness (such as cancer), injury or sudden or acute blood loss can lead to regenerative anemia in cats. Serious illnesses or conditions can destroy red blood cells. Younger cats tend to be diagnosed with regenerative anemia more often.
Liver disease, bone marrow disorders and other chronic diseases can cause non-regenerative anemia in cats.
Anemia in cats with kidney failure is also common as malfunctioning kidneys are the most underlying cause of this type of anemia. Normally functioning kidneys produce a hormone that assists in the production of red blood cells. However, when the kidneys are malfunctioning, those cells will not be replaced as quickly as your cat's body uses them, which leads to anemia.
Older cats are more often affected by non-regenerative anemia.
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) in cats is an immune system disease in which the body destroys red blood cells. The disease is also sometimes referred to as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA).
AIHA is more often secondary because 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 underlying cause of illness, as well as its severity and duration, determine which symptoms of anemia your cat will exhibit.
The most common symptoms can include:
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Lethargy or lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
Other symptoms may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Jaundice (yellowish color in eyes, skin, or gums if red blood cells have been destroyed)
- Pale or white gums
What should I do if my cat shows symptoms of anemia?
If your cat is displaying any of the symptoms above, book an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible for an exam. The vet may run a series of diagnostic blood tests, which are often referred to as complete blood count (CBC).
Your cat will need an official diagnosis and potentially more tests in order to identify which type of anemia they have, as well as the underlying injury, illness, or disease that’s causing the symptoms.
If you discover blood in your cat’s feces or vomit, it is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from your vet.
Treatment & Recovery
When it comes to anemia in cats and what you can expect from treatment and recovery time, beware that the underlying cause of the illness, its severity, and other factors that lead to the anemia will determine the treatment path and prognosis, or recovery, for your cat.
Finding and closely following an appropriate course of treatment is key. Your vet’s diagnosis will be based on a comprehensive assessment of your cat’s health history and clinical symptoms, in addition to a physical examination. The exam may involve bone marrow testing, a complete blood cell count, iron testing, and urinalysis.
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 also recommend changes to medication and diet and will work with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your cat’s needs, and designed to treat the underlying condition. If your cat is diagnosed with severe anemia, a blood transfusion may be required.
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.