Anemia is one of the most common blood disorders in cats. Know its causes and symptoms, detect them early and provide your pet with the treatment and care it needs.

Anemia in cats

Anemia is defined as the decrease in the volume or total mass of red blood cells from the bloodstream and happens to both humans and animals, particularly cats. Sometimes our little furry friend is downcast, lethargic, no longer playing with his favorite stuffed rat, has a poor appetite, or even pale. 

To know if it is anemia, what it is due to, its level of severity, and when you should go to the vet to help your kitten overcome it, we will tell you everything related to the anemic cat.

How anemia originates in the cat?

Red blood cells, also called erythrocytes or red blood cells, are responsible for transporting oxygen to all body tissues for their proper functioning. This gas transport function is possible thanks to hemoglobin, a protein inside erythrocytes that depends on iron to be synthesized.

The synthesis of red blood cells and other blood elements takes place in the bone marrow, in the heart of the bones, and is hormonally regulated by the secretion of erythropoietin from the kidney, in addition to other hormones. Cells that have already fulfilled their function, or are impaired, are destroyed by macrophages in the spleen, bone marrow, and liver.

Types of anemia in cats

Anemias are classified according to the response of the bone marrow to the decrease in erythrocytes and how these are lost, destroyed, or stop being synthesized.

Regenerative anemia: the bone marrow can respond by synthesizing new red blood cells. In turn, these anemias can be caused by the loss of all blood elements ( hemorrhage ) or the rupture of erythrocytes ( hemolysis ).

non-regenerative anemia: the bone marrow cannot respond adequately to the decrease in erythrocytes. It can be caused by a reduction in erythropoiesis or red blood cell synthesis, a decrease in hemoglobin synthesis or the amount of iron, or functional disorders of the bone marrow.

Causes of anemia in cats

The prognosis and treatment of anemia in cats depend fundamentally on the cause that originates it. Most of the time, anemia is the result of other underlying diseases. For example, in our companion felines, the most frequent causes of anemia are:

  • Acute hemorrhages: trauma, or anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning.
  • Chronic hemorrhages: bleeding in the gastrointestinal, urinary, or nasal epistaxis due to ulcers, tumors, or parasites.
  • Hemolysis: infectious diseases (feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency, Mycoplasma haemofelis – a bacteria transmitted by fleas -), toxic (onion, garlic, paracetamol, lead), alterations in blood vessels, congenital and immune-mediated disorders.
  • non-regenerative anemias: chronic or endocrine diseases (chronic kidney failure), nutritional deficiencies (iron or vitamin B12), and loss of bone marrow function (infectious diseases or tumors).

Predisposing factors for anemia in cats

Anemia can be diagnosed in cats of any age, sex, and breed, but younger animals are more prone to accidents or poisonings due to their curious and restless nature. In contrast, older cats are more prone to chronic diseases or tumors.

Symptoms of anemia in cats

There are a series of symptoms or clinical signs that can make you suspect that your cat suffers from anemia or has active bleeding, and you should go to your trusted veterinarian as soon as possible to carry out tests on your feline and confirm the diagnosis:

  • Changes in the color of the mucous membranes (easily recognizable in the conjunctival mucosa – inside the eyelids – or oral – inside the lips and gums -): paleness or jaundice (yellowish color).
  • Loss of appetite, with or without associated weight loss.
  • Lack of energy and desire to play.
  • Very dark or fresh bloody stools.
  • Urine that is darker, brownish, or orange in color.
  • Petechiae, ecchymoses, and hematomas (purplish spots on the skin dotted, circular, or more extensive due to hemorrhages of different caliber).
  • Tachycardia and polypnea (increased beats per minute and rapid, shallow breathing, which may be indicative of a state of shock caused by very severe anemia, which must be treated urgently).

Anemia in cats

In addition, if the anemia is secondary to other diseases, your cat will show other additional symptoms depending on the condition:

  • Chronic kidney failure: polyuria, polydipsia, vomiting, diarrhea, halitosis, and oral ulcers.
  • Infectious diseases (feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency, Mycoplasma haemofelis ): fever, lymphadenomegaly, weight loss, gingivitis, oral ulcers, delayed healing, eye disorders
  • Neoplasms (lymphoma): lymphadenomegaly, palpable masses, fever, cachexia …
  • Endocrinopathies (diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism): polydipsia, polyuria, polyphagia, alopecia, weight loss, urinary infections
  • Intoxications: gastrointestinal manifestations (vomiting, diarrhea), neurological signs, cyanosis (bluish color of the mucous membranes)

Diagnosis of anemia in cats and associated diseases

After reading the symptoms, you are surely wondering how you can confirm if your cat suffers from anemia or not. The diagn, Not unexpectedly, of anemia in a cat, is relatively easy through a blood test, but the challenge is to discover the causes that originated it. To do this, your veterinarian will follow a diagnostic protocol that begins with a series of questions about the health and symptoms observed in your cat. It is essential to know:

  • Your vaccination and deworming status.
  • If you have had feline leukemia and immunodeficiency test.
  • Their way of life (home or with access to the outside).
  • Coexistence or contact with other cats.
  • Recent drug treatments.
  • Access to toxins (rodenticides, lead paints, paracetamol).
  • And, in general, any symptoms that lead to suspect that something is wrong with your feline.

What can an analysis of your cat’s anemia indicate?

After this questionnaire, the vet will examine your cat and draw a blood sample for a blood test. The hemogram verifies the number and volume of erythrocytes in the blood (hematocrit) and other parameters that help characterize the type of anemia in the kitten, such as the amount of hemoglobin, the variability in the size of the erythrocytes, the presence of reticulocytes, and the count and typing of white blood cells and platelets.

In blood chemistry total, albumin, globulins, proteins, and other parameters indicative of underlying diseases such as liver transaminases are measured urea, creatinine, and thyroid hormones.

Likewise, in a blood smear, it is possible to observe directly under the microscope the shape, size, and color of the blood elements, as well as the presence of the parasite Mycoplasma haemofelis.