Anaemia is used to describe a low red blood cell and/or haemoglobin count in a dog’s blood. Various pathologies and medical conditions can cause anaemia in dogs. Anaemia can be acute or chronic, depending on the underlying cause and the type of canine anaemia. The prognosis is also variable and will need to take into account several factors, such as the health status of the dog and the progression of the underlying cause.

In this article we will look at the causes, symptoms and diagnosis of anaemia in dogs. We also look at the different types of canine anaemia.

What is anaemia in dogs?

A dog’s blood is made up of different cells. These include white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Minerals, proteins and other nutrients are also found, many of which are contained in the blood plasma. These elements are maintained in a certain proportion, but changes in these proportions can occur, for a variety of reasons and with some consequences.

Red blood cells are produced in the marrow of the dog’s bones. They contain haemoglobin, which is a protein found in red blood cells and is used to transport oxygen to various parts of the body. Although a low red blood cell count causes anaemia, it is possible that the dog has enough red blood cells, but they do not contain sufficient amounts of haemoglobin to supply the amount of oxygen they need.

A normal proportion of red blood cells in a dog’s blood is between 39% and 60%. When a red blood cell count is less than 39%, it is a clear indicator of anaemia in dogs. This is a serious health problem because it correlates with a direct lack of oxygen to the different organs and tissues of the body.

The reasons for a low red blood cell count generally fall into three main categories:

  • Blood loss: when a dog has trauma or other reason for blood loss, it means that red blood cells leave the body and cannot carry oxygen.
  • Decreased red blood cell production: when the body cannot produce enough red blood cells, oxygen cannot be transported. This may be due to a pathology, genetic condition or even environmental factors.
  • Increased breakdown of red blood cells: red blood cells will naturally break down after about 3 months in the bloodstream, after which they will be recycled to create new blood cells. If pathology or any other reason increases the rate of cell degradation, anaemia will occur.

The consequences of oxygen deprivation do not only affect the blood, but the whole organism of the dog. Systemic symptoms and failures will occur and the dog will develop severe disorders. These can be life-threatening.

Learn more about blood and disease with our articles on blood parasites in dogs and blood clots in dogs.

What are the main causes of anaemia in dogs?

There are four main types of anaemia in dogs. Each is directly related to underlying causes that result in a low red blood cell or haemoglobin count. To better understand the causes of anaemia in dogs, we look at each type individually:

Haemorrhagic anaemia

This type of canine anaemia is directly related to blood loss. There are different reasons why this can develop, including wounds, external parasites or ulcers. In short, a dog that is losing blood, but not necessarily from an external wound.

Internal bleeding can be seen by blood in the dog’s urine or faeces. This is a serious reason why it is important to monitor your dog’s waste, especially if you notice other symptoms.

Haemolytic anaemia

With haemolytic anaemia in dogs, the animal’s immune system is affecting its red blood cell count. Problems with the immune system mean that the natural cycle of red blood cell creation and destruction is disrupted. Insufficient numbers of new red blood cells are being created and the right proportion is not present in the blood serum.

Haemolytic anaemia can often be due to hereditary problems, but can also be the result of internal parasites, infections, a side effect of certain medications or even excessive vitamin C intake. It can affect the liver and present as jaundice, but often begins with the dog having low energy levels. There are two types of haemolytic anaemia in dogs:

  • Immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia: this is usually the most common type of canine anaemia and the destruction of red blood cells is caused by the appearance of antibodies that directly attack these cells.
  • Congenital haemolytic anaemia: In this case the destruction of red blood cells is an inherited genetic trait and is particularly common in certain breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel and English Springer Spaniel.

Aplastic anaemia

In this case the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow is not sufficient to compensate for the natural loss of these cells. It can be caused by tumours, toxins, infections (parvovirus and ehrlichiosis), radiation and chronic renal failure. It is also known as bone marrow aplasia in dogs.

These are some of the symptoms of anaemia in dogs

Symptoms of anaemia in dogs can vary depending on the type of anaemia the dog has or the progression of the anaemia. Although they can help diagnose anaemia in dogs, the following can also be symptoms of other diseases. The most common include:

  • Pale gums and mucous membranes.
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Blood in stools
  • Low exercise tolerance
  • Tachycardia
  • Syncope (fainting)
  • Labored breathing

How is canine anaemia diagnosed?

In addition to symptoms and a general physical examination, diagnosis with a haemogram (blood test) is essential to confirm that the dog is anaemic. Urine or faecal samples may also be tested for this purpose.

This diagnosis does not indicate the exact reasons why anaemia has developed. If the precise underlying cause has not been determined, further testing will be required. Some of the tests that are performed are:

  • Bone marrow curettage.
  • Bone marrow biopsy.
  • Abdominocentesis.
  • X-ray.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Endoscopy.
  • Parasite analysis
  • Toxin analysis

The treatment administered will depend on the underlying cause. Do not forget that the veterinarian is the only person capable of diagnosing this disease. Never treat a dog without a diagnosis from a professional. You may even be able to recognise anaemia, but the underlying cause can be very serious, especially if it is due to cancer in dogs.

If you think your furry friend may be suffering from this disease, don’t hesitate to bring him or her to our veterinary hospital in Barcelona. Our veterinary professionals will carry out all the tests to find out the type of anaemia and the underlying cause of the problem, so that we can find the best treatment. Contact us and make an appointment!