How to Treat Anemia in Cats
Anemia is a condition in which a cat does not have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin in his blood. This means the cat has a reduced capacity to carry oxygen in the blood, which leads to lack of energy. Anemia in cats is often the result of disease elsewhere in the body, so in order to treat anemia in cats, the underlying cause of the anemia must be found and treated.
Veterinarian Pippa Elliott has this advice:
"Anemia has the potential to be a serious problem. It nearly always has an underlying cause. Most important of all is for the vet to identify that cause and treat it so as to prevent the condition worsening."
Identifying and Treating the Causes of Anemia
Seek immediate veterinary care if your cat has been injured.Injury resulting in bleeding is one possible cause of anemia in cats.If your cat has been injured, then take your cat to your veterinarian or to a veterinary emergency clinic right away.
- If your cat is bleeding, then apply a pressure bandage or apply pressure with a clean cotton tea towel to the area to stop the bleeding.
Tell your veterinarian about any signs of blood loss from the gut.Anemia may also be caused by blood loss from the digestive tract.Signs of blood loss from the gut include blood-stained vomit or feces, or very dark colored feces. If you are in doubt, then collect a sample to show the vet.
- If the cat is on medications, especially NSAID medications (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, Tylenol, Asprin, etc.), then stop the medication and inform your vet. NSAIDs are associated with gut ulceration.
- For a bleeding tumor, the vet needs to run diagnostic imaging such as an ultrasound, CT or MRI scan, or radiography in order to identify the tumor and decide on the best treatment option.
Check your cat for fleas.A heavy infestation with fleas or lice can cause anemia because these parasites suck blood. To treat the anemia, you will need to kill the parasites. Doing so will remove the cause of the blood loss and allow your cat to regenerate the missing red blood cells.
- There are many effective flea control medications available. Be sure to use something that is approved for use on cats and that has been proven to be effective such as fipronil (Frontline, Effipro) or selamectin (Stronghold UK, Revolution US).
Get your cat checked for other parasites.Blood-borne parasites such as Babesia or Haemobartonella may damage red blood cells and cause anemia as well. It is critical to seek veterinary help for these conditions because they require specific medications such a primaquine or quinine and clindamycin for Babesia, and tetracycline antibiotics for Haemobartonella.
Consider whether kidney disease may be to blame.One common cause of anemia in cats is kidney disease. This is because the kidney produces a hormone called erythropoietin which stimulates the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells. Kidney failure causes the active renal tissue to be replaced with scar tissue and this results in fewer available cells to produce erythropoietin.
Determine if your cat may have autoimmune disease.Autoimmune disease is when the body turns against its own tissues and the immune system attacks them as if they were foreign invaders. This can also cause anemia in cats.
- If your veterinarian identifies autoimmune disease as the cause of your cat's problems, then your cat will need immunosuppressive drugs, such as corticosteroids. These drugs switch off the immune response, stop the attack, and allow the body to regenerate red blood cells.
Treating Your Cat for Anemia
Talk to your veterinarian about supplements.Your veterinarian may recommend iron supplements and B vitamins to help treat your cat. Many cats with kidney failure have poor appetites and may be deficient in these vitamins. However, the benefits of supplements are limited, so supplements would be used along with other treatments for anemia.
Ask your vet about a blood transfusion.In cases of severe blood loss, a blood transfusion may be necessary. Transfusion in cats is complex because of numerous major and minor cross-reactions.Because of the complexities and the risk of serious problems if an adverse reaction occurs, your veterinarian may suggest referral to a specialist center for a transfusion.
Follow your vet’s instructions to treat the cause of your cat’s anemia.Anemia is often the result of another health condition that will require treatment before your cat’s anemia will improve. The treatment may include medications, surgery, or other veterinary interventions.
- Make sure that you follow your vet’s instructions and contact your vet if your cat’s condition worsens or does not improve.
Spotting Anemia in Cats
Be aware that mild anemia may have no noticeable symptoms.Mild anemia may not become noticeable until it has progressed to a more severe level.That is why it is important to take your cat for an annual checkup with a veterinarian to detect health problems early and treat them before they get worse. If you do not have a veterinarian where you take your cat, find one as soon as possible and take your cat for an initial appointment.
Watch for a severe lack of energy.Although cats are known to be a bit lazy, lethargy is not normal for a cat. If your cat is skipping meals because she is asleep, or you return home from work to find the cat in the same spot you left her, then your cat could be lethargic.
Pay attention to your cat’s appetite.A loss of appetite is another potential symptom of anemia in cats. Pay attention to how much your cat is eating. If she is eating less than is normal for her, then this may also indicate that your cat may be anemic.
Check the color of your cat’s gums.Pale gums indicate that your cat may be anemic.Your cat’s gums should be a rosy pink color, just like our gums. It is preferable to look at your cat’s gums in a room with natural lighting. Artificial lighting can give gums an artificial creamy or yellow tinge.
- To look at your cat’s gums, gently lift the upper lip and look at the gums. If your cat has pale gums, then this is a sign that your cat may be anemic.
Take your cat to see a veterinarian for a full exam.If your cat has pale gums and/or other symptoms of anemia, you will need to take your cat to see a veterinarian. The vet will examine your cat and check for problems such as fleas, lice, or other parasites. The vet will also check for unusual organ enlargement or masses within the abdomen that could indicate that your cat has a tumor. The vet will then draw blood to run lab tests.
- The lab tests will look at the cat's biochemistry and hematology, an examination of the red and white blood cells. These lab tests can tell the vet if the cat is anemic, as well as determine the severity of the problem, tell whether the problem is recent or long-standing, and confirm whether the cat is making new red blood cells or not.
Video: Dr. Becker Talks About Anemia in Cats
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