Anemia in Cats

Our Simi Valley veterinarians describe the types of anemia in cats and offer some insight on causes, symptoms, and treatment options. 

What is anemia in cats?

Anemia is a medical term that describes a decrease in the number of red blood cells or hemoglobin (or both) in your cat's blood. While anemia is not a disease in and of itself, it is frequently a symptom of another disease or condition.

If you notice that your cat has been acting more lethargic than usual, seems uninterested in treats or other food, or is breathing rapidly even when lying still, he may be suffering from anemia.

Types of Anemia in Cats

There are three types of anemia in cats - regenerative and non-regenerative. The causes for each vary.

Regenerative Anemia

Cats can develop regenerative anemia from sudden or acute blood loss caused by parasites, infection, serious illness (such as cancer), or injury. Red blood cells can be destroyed by serious conditions or illnesses.

Regenerative anemia tends to affect younger cats more often.

Non-Regenerative Anemia

Causes for non-regenerative anemia in cats include kidney failure liver disease, bone marrow disorders, and other chronic diseases.

Kidney failure is the most common underlying cause of anemia in cats. The kidneys normally produce a hormone that aids in the production of red blood cells. When the kidneys fail, those cells are not replaced as quickly as your cat's body uses them, resulting in anemia.

Non-regenerative anemia tends to affect older cats more often.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) in cats is an immune system disease in which the body destroys red blood cells. The disease is also sometimes referred to as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA).

Because an underlying toxin or disease alters the surface of red blood cells, AIHA is more commonly secondary. The majority of AIHA cats have severe anemia, which causes symptoms such as pale gums (usually, the gums are normally pink or red).

Symptoms of Anemia in Cats

The underlying cause of illness, as well as its severity and duration, determine which symptoms of anemia your cat will exhibit.

The most common symptoms can include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite

Other symptoms may include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Jaundice (yellowish color in eyes, skin, or gums if red blood cells have been destroyed)
  • Pale or white gums
  • Weakness

What should I do if my cat shows symptoms of anemia?

If your cat is displaying any of the symptoms above, book an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible for an exam. The vet may take a series of diagnostic blood tests. This is often called a complete blood count (CBC).

Your cat will need an official diagnosis and potentially more tests to identify which type of anemia he has, as well as the underlying injury, illness, or disease that’s causing symptoms.

If you discover blood in your cat’s feces or vomit, this is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from your vet.

Treatment & Recovery Time for Cats with Anemia

The underlying cause of the illness, its severity, and other factors that lead to the anemia will determine the treatment path and prognosis, or recovery, for your cat.

Finding and adhering to an appropriate course of treatment is critical. Your veterinarian's diagnosis will be based on a thorough examination of your cat's medical history and clinical symptoms, as well as a physical examination. Bone marrow testing, a complete blood cell count, iron testing, and urinalysis may all be part of the exam.

If your cat has non-regenerative anemia, this can typically be resolved by diagnosing and treating the underlying disease. If kidney disease is the culprit, your vet may recommend long-term hormone treatments to help red blood cell production.

For secondary AIHA, the goal will be to treat the underlying cause, potentially with toxin antidotes or numerous antibiotics.

Your vet may also recommend changes to medication and diet and will work with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your cat’s needs, and designed to treat the underlying condition. If your cat is diagnosed with severe case anemia, a blood transfusion may be required.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat showing symptoms of anemia, or serious illness or disease? Contact our Baltimore vets at Park Animal Hospital right away to schedule an appointment for testing, or visit our emergency team for urgent care.