Anemia in Pets: Why It Happens and How to Spot It

3.Hemolysis: Demand Exceeds Supply

Red blood cells have a thin outer shell, or membrane. The membrane allows oxygen into the cell where it binds to hemoglobin, which is the molecule responsible for depositing the oxygen in the blood where it needs to be in our bodies. Although sturdy enough to bend and fold as the red blood cell circulates through the blood vessels, this membrane is easily damaged by drugs or an immune system problem. When damage occurs, the red blood cells can explode. This is called hemolysis. If the red blood cell membrane damage and hemolysis continues unchecked, the bone marrow will not be able to produce enough red blood cells to meet demand. There are a number of things that can cause hemolysis in pets. Infection of red blood cells with such organisms as Babesia, Ehrlichia and Mycoplasma; ingestion of such items as pennies, onions, and garlic; and a disease known as immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) are well known causes of increased blood cell destruction in dogs and cats.

4.Hemorrhage: Product Diversion

Even if the bone marrow is producing an adequate number of red blood cells and they are not damaged in any way, anemia can result if the red blood cells are diverted from the bloodstream by hemorrhage.From the standpoint of a veterinarian, anemia from blood loss can be extremely difficult to sleuth out. A dog or cat hit by a car and bleeding from an exterior wound is an easy anemia diagnosis, but low-grade blood loss from a bleeding tumor of the intestine, kidney, spleen or nose is much more difficult to detect. Your pet may need to undergo a lengthy series of tests to get to the root cause of anemia.

If Your Pet is Anemic…

Given the complexity of red blood cell production, it is easy to understand why any glitch in red blood cell status makes anemia a common problem in both dogs and cats. Making a diagnosis as to the type of anemia and its cause is critical to determining the appropriate treatment. Figuring out if the cause is due to a “manufacturing” problem (bone marrow failure), destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis) or an inability to keep up with an increased demand due to blood loss (hemorrhage) takes perseverance on the part of the veterinarian and patience on the part of the pet family, but with these two critical elements, anemia can often be corrected.

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