Canine Anemia: Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Sun, April 18, 2021

Canine Anemia: Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment


Anemia is a condition that refers to a reduced number of circulating of RBCs (red blood cells), hemoglobin (Hb or Hgb), or both, explained Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM, and Ernest Ward, DVM, of VCA Hospitals, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada.

Red blood cells are created in the bone marrow and released into the blood. This where they circulate for about three months. Hemoglobin is responsible for delivering oxygen to the cells and the body’s tissues. Hence, dogs who are anemic will exhibit symptoms associated with a lack of oxygen. Anemia is not a specific disease, but it is the result of other disease processes or conditions.  

What Are the Causes of Canine Anemia In Taiwan (2015)?

Pin-Chen Liu and Bi-Ling Su of journal portal Research Gate said a total of 3,174 dogs were included in the research, with 52.9% of them being male and 47.1% being female. Of the 3,174 dogs, the causes of anemia were not identified in 35.8% of dogs. 45.2% of dogs were classified as anemic with a single cause and 19% were anemic with multiple causes. 44.3% were mild anemia, 38% were moderate anemia, 12.7% were severe, and 5% were severe anemia, suggesting that the severity between the groups was similar.

In the multiple cases group, 47% had mild anemia, 36.5% had moderate anemia, 10.8% had severe anemia, and 5.7% had very severe anemia. In the undetermined case group, the degree distributions were 54.7% for mild anemia, 34.3% for moderate anemia, 7.4% for severe anemia, and 3.6% for very severe anemia. In the single cases group, the figures were 44.3% for mild anemia, 38% for moderate anemia, 12.7% for severe anemia, and 5% for very severe anemia.

Anemic dogs with a single case were grouped into CRA or cancer-related anemia (32.1%), IPRA (20%), renal disease-related anemia (17.5%), post-surgery/trauma-related anemia (12.7%), heart failure-related anemia (5.6%), IMHA or infectious pathogen-related anemia (1.4%), and other disease-related anemia (10.7%).

Overall, 63.7% of dogs in the CRA category were confirmed by cytology or/and histopathology. Lymphoma (43%)  was one of the causes of CRA, followed by mast cell tumor (13.3%), mammary gland tumor (6.5%), melanoma (6.5%), hemangiosarcoma (5.2%), osteosarcoma (4.1%), transitional cell carcinoma (2.7%), squamous cell carcinoma (2.4%), and others (16.4%). In the IPRA group, the diagnosed pathogens were B. gibsoni (73.9%), E. canis (10.1%), D. immitis (6.3%), Canine distemper virus (3.1%), B. canis (2.8%), A. platys (2.1%), Parvovirus (1%), and Leptospira spp. (0.7%).  

The frequent causes of mild anemia were CRA (38.1%), post-surgery/trauma-related anemia (17.2%), and renal disease-related anemia (17.2%). Moderate anemia was mostly caused by CRA (31.7%), renal disease-related anemia (20.9%), and IPRA (18.5%). For severe anemia, the causes were IPRA (48.6%), CRA (22.4%), and renal disease-related anemia (13.1%). Cases of very severe anemia were caused by IPRA (59.7%), IMHA (13.9%), and other disease-related anemia (9.7%).

Causes of anemia among very severe anemic dogs were infectious pathogens-related anemia (59.7%), immune-mediated Hemolytic anemia (13.9%), other disease-related anemia (9.7%), renal disease-related anemia (8.3%), cancer-related anemia (5.6%), and heart failure-related anemia (2.8%).

The study helped provide possible differential diagnoses of anemia for clinicians considering that CRA and IPRA were the most frequent causes of anemia. Moreover, B. gibsoni was the most commonly observed cause of severe and very severe anemia. According to the authors, these findings may play an important role in clinical diagnosis. The results also emphasized the significance of preventing tick-borne diseases to clinicians and owners.  



What Are the Symptoms of Anemia?

One of the signs of anemia is a loss of the usual pink color of your dog’s gums, meaning they may appear pale pink to white when examined by your veterinarian. Anemic dogs may have little stamina or energy. Hence, your dog may be more exhausted or appear listless. Weight and appetite loss, labored breathing, a faster heart rate, or signs of blood loss (ex: bloody nose, blood in the urine, vomit, or stool) may also occur when your dog is anemic. Take your dog to your vet for blood tests if it is lethargic or has pale gums.



How Is Anemia Diagnosed?

The most common test is the packed cell volume (PCV) and hematocrit (HCT), which are usually undertaken as part of a complete blood cell count (CBC). 35% to 55% of your dog’s blood will be red blood cells, that is, if it’s normal. However, if the PCV is less than 35%, your dog will be considered anemic. Other tests include red blood cell and the hemoglobin count.

A bone marrow biopsy or aspirate can be obtained if your dog’s bone marrow fails to respond appropriately to the anemic state. A bone marrow sample can be withdrawn and studied, which will provide you with information about its condition as well as the cause of the anemia. 

Biochemical profiles and urinalysis can also be done on anemic dogs, which will assess organ function and electrolyte levels and provide information about your dog’s health. Moreover, a fecal parasite exam can be performed to see if there are parasites in the intestinal tract that might have caused your dog to lose blood. Imaging studies like radiographs or ultrasound may also be recommended to determine the root cause of the anemia.  



How Is Anemia Treated?

Blood transfusion is needed if your dog has severe anemia. Prior to that, blood samples will be obtained for diagnostic testing or blood typing. A blood transfusion is performed to stabilize your dog and to determine the underlying cause of the anemia. At this point, other treatments will also begin to take effect.

More specific treatment plans can be determined once the underlying disease causing the anemia has been determined. This may include corticosteroids for autoimmune hemolytic anemia), anthelmintics (de-worming medications like pyrantel or fenbendazole), and vitamin K1 cases of some rodenticide toxicities. Antibiotics like doxycycline with some infectious causes, or surgery if your dog’s organ is damaged. Your veterinarian will walk you through your dog’s specific treatment plan, which will be based on diagnostic test results.

Is Anemia Really Life-Threatening?

It can be caused by infectious diseases, autoimmune conditions, trauma, and dangerous toxins, said Anna Burke of the American Kennel Club, a recognized and trusted expert in dog breed, health, and training. Since some of these can be lethal, it is important to treat anemia as a serious symptom and consult your veterinarian immediately. The prognosis for anemia depends on the cause and treatment.

There are several causes of anemia and your veterinarian will determine the underlying cause by conducting diagnostic tests. Bear in mind that some causes of anemia are lethal to your dog. Hence, it is recommended to bring your dog to your veterinarian for early diagnosis and treatment.