Anemia in Cats: A Silent Enemy

Feline anemia is a serious condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. From recognising the symptoms, to getting a rapid diagnosis and effective treatment, you can make sure your cat recovers quickly.

What is Feline Anemia: we explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of feline anemia.

Anemia in Cats

Unveiling the Stealthy Threat of Feline Anemia

Understanding Anemia in Cats

Feline anemia is a condition that affects cats, and it can be quite serious if left untreated. As cat carers, it’s essential to be aware of this silent enemy so that we can protect our cats. From recognising the symptoms, to getting a rapid diagnosis, and effective treatment, you can make sure your cat lives a long and healthy life.

Feline anemia is a decreased amount of red blood cells, arising from blood loss or as a consequence of another condition, such as feline infectious anemia, leukemia, a liver problem or kidney disease. The reduced levels of red blood cells mean that insufficient oxygen is carried to the body’s tissues and organs.

The condition can be mild, or serious and can lead to further complications if ignored. The most common cause of anemia is age related chronic illness.

Anemia can develop from loss, destruction, or lack of production of red blood cells, and is classified as regenerative and nonregenerative.

Regenerative anemia triggers the bone marrow to increase red blood cell production in response to a decrease in their numbers. Anemias due to bleeding or the destruction of existing red blood cells are usually regenerative.  Younger cats are more susceptible to regenerative anemia.

Nonregenerative anemia is when the bone marrow fails to respond to the increased need for red blood cells. This can be caused by a deficiency in the hormone that stimulates red blood cell production, or abnormalities in the bone marrow.   Nonregenerative anemia is more common in older cats.

Anemia can be caused by various factors, and identifying the underlying cause is crucial  to determine the best course of treatment. The prognosis varies greatly depending on the cause and severity of the anemia, but with prompt treatment, many cats can lead a normal, healthy life.  

Recognizing the Symptoms

The symptoms of feline anemia may not always be apparent.  Some common signs to watch out for include:

  • Exhaustion and lack of energy: Does your cat seem sluggish and lethargic? This is one of the first signs of anemia.
  • Weight loss and increased urination.
  • Jaundice: the whites of the eyes appear yellow in colour.
  • Pale or white Gums: Your cat’s gums should be a healthy pink color.
  • Weakness: Cats with anemia may seem weak or unsteady on their feet.
  • Decreased Appetite: A loss of interest in food.
  • Rapid Breathing: Cats often breathe more quickly to compensate for the lack of oxygen in their blood.
  • Traces of blood: from the nose or in urine, stools and any vomit.
  • Black stools, vomiting and diarhoea.
  • Sensitivity to coldness.
  • Neurological symptoms: In severe cases, anemic cats might collapse or show disorientation and seizures.

Common causes of anemia:

  • Infection by parasites: Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, lice and the Hookworm parasite (Ancylostoma tubaeforme) which all feed on the cat’s blood.  Kittens have a lower blood volume and are more vulnerable to blood-sucking internal parasites.
  • Feline infectious anemia (FIA), caused by the Haemobartonella Felis parasite.
  • Blood-borne parasites, such as Mycoplasma and Cytauxzoon Felis.
  • Blood loss from a trauma or injury to internal organs resulting in bleeding.
  • Benign or malignant tumours in the intestine, stomach, kidneys, and bladder, that cause inflammation and hemorrhage.  Medications can help stop bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Diseases that prevent proper clotting of the blood
  • Certain medications: such as antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, can cause anemia in cats.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: such as deficiencies due to an improper diet, lacking in iron, copper, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin E.
  • Autoimmune disease when the cat’s immune system attacks its own body tissues and organs.
  • A liver problem: Hepatic lipidosis is the most common cause of liver disease in cats and can cause anemia. Excessive accumulation of fat (triglycerides) within the liver leads to liver failure.
  • Some breeds are more prone to anemia, with Abyssinians and Somalis known to have excessively fragile red blood cells.
  • Toxins such as garlic powder, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodent poison or heavy metals.

Leukemia, Cancer and Kidney disease

Older cats are more susceptable to developing kidney disease or cancer, two common causes of anemia.

  • Chronic kidney disease is a very common cause of non-regenerative anemia in cats.  A crucial function of healthy kidneys is the production of a hormone called erythropoietin which instructs the bone marrow to produce red blood cells.  Insufficient levels of erythropoietin lead to reduced red blood cell levels. Anemia from chronic kidney disease can sometimes be quite severe.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) can cause tumors (mainly lymphoma), and bone marrow suppression syndromes such as anemia.
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) Cats with FIV are more likely to suffer anemia. 

Seeking a Diagnosis

Anemia is a serious condition that should not be ignored. Early detection is key to successful treatment. If you suspect your cat is anemic, it’s essential to consult your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood Work: your vet will conduct a series of blood tests including a complete blood cell count (CBC), packed cell volume (PCV), red blood cell count, and hemoglobin count. There may be additional tests for FeLV and FIV.
  • Other blood tests and urinalysis indicate how well the internal organs are functioning. Possible blood loss within the stomach or intestines is investigated by an examination of the cat’s feces for traces of blood and parasites.
  • A coagulation profile to identify any disease or condition affecting the ability of the blood to clot.
  • Bone Marrow Aspiration when a sample of bone marrow is taken under sedation or with anesthetic to determine any issue with red blood cell production.
  • X-rays or other imaging studies.
  • Biopsy of abnormal organs or tumors.

Treatment Options 

The treatment options will depend on the severity of anemia and the underlying cause. Your vet will recommend the best course of treatment.

Common treatments include:

  • Medications: medications are used to treat infections, help stop bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, manage chronic illnesses, or eliminate parasites.  Steroids can successfully treat immune-mediated diseases, and vaccines are available for both FeLV and FIV.
  • Chronic kidney disease – Erythropoietin injections: Cats with chronic kidney disease and reduced erythropoietin, can be successfully treated with erythropoietin injections, such as Darbepoietin.
  • Darbepoetin is a powerful hormone treatment that stimulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow, providing an effective treatment.
  • Cancer – CBD oil an ideal solution: CBD oil and other phytocannabinoids have antioxidant properties, which help reduce cancer symptoms and inflammation.  Clinical studies have shown that CBD  slows down tumor growth.

CBD supplements are effective and safe for cats with cancer. Always use high-quality organic CBD manufactured in a clean, controlled environment and third-party lab-tested.

When starting a course of CBD, talk with your vet, who can offer advice on the appropriate treatment.

  • Liver failure: the specific treatment for liver disease depends on the underlying cause.  With chronic liver disease, supportive treatment slows the  progression of disease, allowing the liver to regenerate and compensate. Various possibilities include the administration of fluids, and medications to protect the liver.

The recommended diet for liver disease is easy to digest and high in calories. Some liver disorders require modifications of fat or protein, or supplementation with zinc, B vitamins, vitamin K, and vitamin E.

  • Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia – treatment with Prednisolone: Autoimmune disease is when the cat’s immune system attacks and destroys the red blood cells.   Immunosuppressive medications such as Prednisolone may be prescribed, .
  • Dietary Changes: A nutritionally balanced diet, with iron supplements, can help address anemia caused by nutritional deficiencies.
  • Surgery: The source of any blood loss must be established, with surgery undertaken if the bleeding is due to trauma or a tumor.
  • Blood Transfusion: In extreme cases, a blood transfusion is necessary to replace red blood cells while the underlying cause is treated.
  • Supportive Care: Supportive care such as oxygen therapy, can stabilize your cat’s condition.

Preventing Feline Anemia

Prevention is always better than cure, and there are many ways you can reduce the risk of feline anemia:

  • Regular Vet Check-ups: your vet can make sure your cat is negative for FeLV and FIV, and check for underlying health conditions that may lead to anemia. Always keep your cat up to date on their vaccine program.
  • Parasite Control: regular flea and tick control, especially if your cat goes outdoors.
  • Balanced Diet: a high-quality diet with all the necessary nutrients helps prevent anemia.
  • Well-being: regular exercise improves your cat’s overall health and immunity.
  • A safe environment: indoor cats are more protected from illness, accidents or injuries.  Keep all poisons (such as Tylenol, garlic/onion powder, heavy metals, rat poison, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) safely away from your cat.
  • Prompt Treatment: always seek prompt veterinary care if your cat develops any unusual symptoms.
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