If your cat is acting lethargic or experiencing some shortness of breath, they might be suffering from anemia. Our Santa Cruz County veterinarians describe anemia in cats and offer some insight on causes, symptoms and treatment options.
What is anemia in cats?
Anemia is a medical term that represents a drop in the number of red blood cells or hemoglobin (or both) circulating in your cat’s body. While anemia is not a specific disease in itself, it’s typically a symptom of another disease or condition.
If you notice that your cat has been acting more lethargic than usual, seems uninterested in treats or other food, or is breathing rapidly even when lying still, he 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.
Sudden or acute blood loss, whether a result of parasites, infection, serious illness (such as cancer) or injury, can lead to regenerative anemia in cats. Serious conditions or illnesses can destroy red blood cells.
Regenerative anemia tends to affect younger cats more often.
Causes for non-regenerative anemia in cats include liver disease, bone marrow disorders, kidney failure and other chronic diseases.
The most common underlying cause for anemia in cats is kidney failure. Normally, the kidneys produce a hormone that helps to produce red blood cells. When the kidneys are malfunctioning, those cells will not be replaced as quickly as your kitty’s body uses them, which leads to anemia.
Non-regenerative anemia tends to affect older cats more often.
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 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 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 take a series of diagnostic blood tests. This is often called a complete blood count (CBC).
Your cat will need an official diagnosis and potentially more tests to identify which type of anemia he has, as well as the underlying injury, illness or disease that’s causing symptoms.
If you discover blood in your cat’s feces or vomit, this is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from your vet.
Treatment & Recovery
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 a severe case 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.