When an animal's red blood cell count falls below normal, anemia develops. This reduction can be brought on by blood loss, a decline in the production of red blood cells, or an increase in the amount of cells the body is destroying. Cats can get anemia due to a variety of illnesses. The cat may require hospitalization, blood transfusions, and in rare circumstances, anemia can be fatal if the red blood cell count falls rapidly or falls to dangerously low levels.
What Is Anemia?
Anemia is a sign of another condition. It happens when the blood lacks sufficient amounts of hemoglobin or healthy red blood cells. The primary component of red blood cells, hemoglobin, is responsible for transporting oxygen. The body's cells can't function correctly if there aren't enough hemoglobin or red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to them. The symptoms observed in the cat are the result of this oxygen deficiency.
What Is Anemia in Cats?
When an animal's red blood cell count falls below the usual range, anemia, a blood condition, develops. If neglected, it frequently indicates another illness and may necessitate hospitalization or a blood transfusion.
Regenerative and non-regenerative anemia are the two subtypes. When anemia is regenerative, the body produces additional red blood cells. When the body is unable to produce extra red blood cells, non-regenerative anemia develops.
In cats, the symptoms of anemia can vary based on how quickly the cat's red blood cell count dropped.
There may be less oxygen in the blood, which would explain pale gums. In an effort to supply oxygen to the cells that require it, a cat's heart rate likewise rises. A cat may also feel lethargy due of the decreased oxygen in the blood, which results in less energy for the cells and makes the cat sleepier. The breathing rate rises to carry more oxygen into the body.
Cats with anemia may not be able to run, leap, or play because their muscles are unable to receive the oxygen they require to operate correctly. When a person is anemic, they may experience a loss of appetite and may drink more in an effort to replenish decreased blood volume. When a cat loses a lot of blood, the brain does not receive enough oxygen, which can result in extreme situations in which the cat is unable to move or becomes unresponsive.
If your cat is showing any of these symptoms, it should be evaluated immediately by a veterinarian.
Causes of Anemia in Cats
Anemia is not an illness, but a symptom of many other illnesses. The different causes of anemia are grouped based on whether the anemia is regenerative or not.
Causes of Regenerative Anemia
- Blood Loss: This can occur externally or internally. Blood loss can be caused by trauma or a major injury (like being hit by a car), parasites (like fleas, lice, and hookworms), stomach ulcers (usually associated with kidney failure), and tumors. (Tumors in the spleen or bleeding tumors in the intestinal tract are most common.)
- Hemolysis: The body is destroying red blood cells because they appear abnormal in some way.
- Toxins: The cat eats something accidentally. Toxins can be divided into several groups: Medications, plants like oak, red maple, or bracken ferns, foods like fava beans and onions, and heavy metals like copper, lead, selenium, or zinc.
- Infections: The cat is exposed to a bacteria or virus that can cause anemia. Bacteria, like Hemobartonella, can cause anemia, as can viruses like Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Parasites like cytauxzoon and hemotrophic mycoplasma can also cause anemia.
- Genetic Diseases: Anemia can be inherited. The Abyssinian and Somali breeds are known to develop a specific type of anemia due to an enzyme deficiency.
Causes of Nonregenerative Anemia
- Poor Diet: A poor diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies that result in anemia. This is not common in a typical cat.
- Chronic Diseases: Diseases of the liver, adrenal, or thyroid glands, and cancers can all cause anemia. These illnesses cause inflammation, and this inflammation can decrease the body’s ability to make more red blood cells.
- Kidney Disease: A hormone called erythropoietin stimulates the body to make new red blood cells. This hormone is made by the kidneys. Kidney disease decreases the amount of erythropoietin the kidneys can make.
- Bone Marrow Disorders: The bone marrow is where new red blood cells are made. Any disease affecting the bone marrow can cause anemia. The most common diseases of cats that affect the bone marrow are cancer, feline leukemia virus, and feline immunodeficiency virus.
How to Diagnose Anemia
To do a Complete Blood Count, the veterinarian will obtain a sample of blood (CBC). The total number of red, hemoglobin, platelets, and white blood cells in the cat's blood will be determined by the complete blood cell count. The results of this test also indicate whether or not the anemia is regenerative.
Once the veterinarian identifies anemia, other tests will be recommended based on the cat’s symptoms to determine what the cause of the anemia is.
Since anemia is a symptom of many other diseases, it is important to find out what disease is causing your cat to be ill. Focus on treating the primary illness and the anemia should improve.
In cases where the anemia is severe or due to a chronic illness, hospitalization and blood transfusions may be necessary.
How to Prevent Anemia
Anemia is a symptom of many diseases so preventing anemia is not always possible, but there are some specific things you can do to decrease the risk for your cat.
- Use a monthly parasite prevention product that kills fleas, ticks, lice, and intestinal parasites.
- Keep your cat indoors, or only allow them outside with direct supervision.
- Feed them nutritionally balanced cat food.
- Have them tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses as recommended by your veterinarian.
- Prevent access to toxins.
- Take your cat in for veterinary exams at least once per year and have blood tests done every one to three years to determine their normal values.