Anemia In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Joanne Keenan
anemia in dogs

Anemia in dogs means there aren’t sufficient red blood cells to deliver oxygen throughout the body … so one sign of anemia could be excessive panting as your dog tries to increase his oxygen supply. We’ll list some other symptoms of anemia later in this post. 

First, here are some causes and types of anemia in dogs ... 

What Causes Anemia In Dogs?

Some of the most common causes of anemia in dogs include:

  • Blood loss from injury, surgery, or a chronic condition that causes bleeding, such as a tumor or an ulcer. Anemia from blood loss is called hemorrhagic anemia.
  • Nutritional deficiencies from a lack of essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid, which are needed for the production of red blood cells.
  • Iron deficiency, when there isn’t enough iron in the body to produce hemoglobin that’s needed to form red blood cells. It can be caused by poor diet or chronic blood loss.
  • Chronic diseases, such as kidney disease, liver disease, or cancer, can lead to anemia due to many factors including blood loss, impaired red blood cell production, or increased destruction of red blood cells.
  • Parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and hookworms, can cause anemia by feeding on the dog's blood or damaging red blood cells.
  • Inherited disorders in some breeds of dogs can cause anemia, such as hereditary elliptocytosis or pyruvate kinase deficiency.

Types of Anemia In Dogs

  1. Hemolytic anemia: Hemolytic anemia occurs when red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be replaced. This can be caused by an autoimmune disorder, certain medications, or exposure to toxins or infectious agents. 
  2. Aplastic anemia: Aplastic anemia occurs when the bone marrow fails to produce enough red blood cells. It can be caused by a number of factors, including exposure to toxins or radiation, certain medications, or viral infections.
  3. Regenerative anemia: Regenerative anemia occurs when the body is producing new red blood cells to replace those that have been lost or destroyed. This type of anemia can occur in response to blood loss or hemolysis.
  4. Nonregenerative anemia: Nonregenerative anemia in dogs occurs when the bone marrow is not producing enough new red blood cells to replace those that have been lost or destroyed. This can be caused by bone marrow diseases such as leukemia or myelofibrosis, nutritional deficiencies, or chronic inflammation.  

Heinz Body Anemia In Dogs

Dog owners are often warned not to feed dogs onions because of the risk of Heinz body anemia. But onions aren’t the only cause. Heinz bodies form when toxins damage hemoglobin in the red blood cells ... so Heinz body anemia can result from exposure to toxins like pharmaceutical drugs (eg acetaminophen or naproxen), onions, or heavy metals like zinc.

What Is Chronic Anemia In Dogs?

Chronic anemia in dogs is when your dog has a persistently low red blood cell count or low hemoglobin levels for several weeks or even months. This type of anemia can be caused by underlying illness, such as chronic kidney disease, cancer, bone marrow disease, and some autoimmune disorders.

Chronic anemia can be difficult to manage in dogs because it has a gradual onset and the symptoms may be subtle at first. 

Symptoms Of Anemia In Dogs

Some dogs may not show any symptoms of anemia, especially in the early stages of the condition. If your dog has several of the following signs, blood tests might be needed to confirm anemia.

Common signs of anemia in dogs include:

  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Pale gums, tongue or eyelids - pale pink or white
  • Rapid or difficulty breathing, excessive panting
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dark urine
  • Blood in feces
  • Cold extremities
  • Increased heart rate

How Vets Diagnose Anemia In Dogs

Your vet can diagnose anemia based on a combination of clinical signs, physical examination, and laboratory tests. This will include a complete blood count (CBC) to measure the number and characteristics of red blood cells in the blood. Other diagnostic tests may identify the underlying cause of anemia ... for example, blood chemistry tests, urinalysis, bone marrow evaluation, and imaging.

The CBC provides important information about your dog's red blood cell count, hemoglobin level, hematocrit level, and other related factors. A dog with anemia will have a lower red blood cell count, hemoglobin and hematocrit levels than the normal values for their breed and age. Additional findings on the CBC, such as the size and color of the red blood cells, can also provide clues about the underlying cause of the anemia.

How To Treat Anemia In Dogs At Home

You’ll want your vet to figure out the cause of your dog’s anemia so you can treat the underlying problem. Meanwhile, to help support your dog’s red blood cells, you can try the following options.

Increase Iron And Protein In The Diet 

Insufficient iron in the blood can be a reason for anemia. You can feed your dog a diet with iron-rich and protein-rich foods like these:

  • Raw beef liver
  • Salmon and sardines
  • Raw egg yolk
  • Leafy greens like kale and spinach, pureed, chopped or steamed
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, pureed or steamed
  • Chickpeas and beans, organic and well-cooked

Supplement Vitamin Deficiencies

Your vet may identify vitamin deficiencies, which can cause a reduction in proteins. Certain vitamins like vitamin B12 and B9 are needed as co-enzymes for proper metabolic function. Foods with vitamin B12 and B9 are fish, liver and vegetables. If there’s a substantial deficiency, your vet may recommend vitamin injections. 

How To Prevent Anemia In Dogs

Here are some ways to prevent anemia in dogs:

  • Healthy diet: Feed a raw, fresh whole food diet to prevent nutritional and vitamin deficiencies that can lead to anemia.
  • Control parasites. Monitor your dog and use natural remedies when you notice parasites such as fleas, ticks, and heartworms that can cause anemia. 
  • Regular exercise: Regular walks, activity and play time can improve circulation and overall health.
  • Environmental safety: Keep your dog’s living space safe and chemical-free, to avoid injury and trauma that can lead to blood loss and anemia.

If your dog has anemia as the result of a gastrointestinal infection, low iron in the diet or parasites, you may be able to manage it at home as described above. Serious cases due to underlying health problems require veterinary care as blood transfusions or vitamin injections might be required.

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© 2024, Four Leaf Rover - The content on this website is not meant to replace veterinary advice. Please support the hard working holistic vets who make this information possible. To find a holistic or homeopathic vet near you or to find one who will do phone consultations, visit The Academy Of Veterinary Homeopathy.