Feline Anemia

"Feline anemia refers to a condition where there is a reduced number of red blood cells (RBC) circulating in the blood available to carry the needed amount of oxygen to the tissues. The causes of anemia in cats may be due to loss, destruction or the reduced production of RBC’s. Anemia may be regenerative or non regenerative. Blood loss anemia and hemolytic anemia are types of regenerative anemia, while anemia due to nutritional deficiencies, diseases and defects in the bone marrow are considered non regenerative anemia. Signs of anemia depend upon the severity and the underlying cause. Diagnosis usually involves examination, history and laboratory counting of the volume different cell types. Treatment requires that the underlying cause be addressed, blood transfusion and in some cases life saving procedures."

Different Types of Feline Anemia:

Anemia in cats is mainly referred to as being regenerative or nonregenerative, depending upon the cause. Red blood cells in cats last for between 70 and 80 days, so they constantly need to be replaced by the body. When the body can't keep up, it is referred to as nonregenerative anemia (bone marrow can't make blood cells fast enough). The most common cause of nonregenrative anemia is feline leukemia virus infection. In regenerative cat anemia there is usually a loss of blood due to red cell death or from bleeding (hemorrhage).

Regenerative anemia in cats is usually due to bone marrow that produces excessive red cell mass, i.e. RBC’s & reticulocytes. Non regenerative anemia on the other hand is when the red blood cell requirements of the body are not compensated for by red blood cell production in the bone marrow, thus complicating these types of cases.

Feline infectious anemia is a form of anemia that is triggered by a certain type of parasite.  Another name for the condition is Hemobortonella felis. The disease needs to be treated aggressively using medications and possibly blood transfusion.

Feline hemolytic anemia occurs when the immune system is destroying red blood cells in the body.  This type of regenerative anemia usually has a trigger that confuses the immune system such as a parasitic problem, some type of infection, cancer, poison, or even infection.

To determine which form of feline anemia a cat is suffering from, a veterinarian will test a cat's bone marrow.

Regenerative Feline Anemia:

Excessive hemolytic activity of the body or any trauma can cause regenerative feline anemia. Two types of anemia are known in cats, one due to nutritional deficiencies or due to hemolytic activity (when the body has an immune response that kills red blood cells).

Traumas, surgery, injury or accidents can cause an acute loss of blood in the cat’s body. This sudden loss of RBCs leads to regenerative anemia. In many cases, if the degree of anemia is relatively high, shock or even death can occur. The bone marrow responds by releasing RBC's and reticulocytes, while renal (kidney) activity slows down to maintain the fluid levels in circulation. Blood loss anemia may be treated by blood transfusions and supportive therapy that includes iron.

Lysis or breakdown of RBCs, either intra cellular or extra cellular may result in hemolytic anemia. This may be immune mediated, due to diseases like hemoglobinuria or hemoglobinemia, toxins or is genetic. Jaundice (increase of bile pigment in the blood due to liver problems) is often seen in affected cats.

NonRegenerative Feline Anemia:

In this type of anemia, the body cannot product enough RBCs in the bone marrow. This may be due to nutritional deficiencies, chronic diseases associated with anemia or defects in the bone marrow.

Several components of nutrition, are essential for the formation of RBCs. If they are not supplied it can lead to a non regenerative feline anemia. Nutrients like iron, copper, B12 complex, vitamin E, riboflavin usually causes regenerative feline anemia initially, but can turn into non regenerative anemia. By supplying missing supplements orally or through injections the condition can usually be resolved.

Several diseases, which lead to local or generalized inflammation in the cat’s body, can cause a nongenerative feline anemia. Neoplasia (uncontrolled cell growth such as a tumor), secondary inflammation of infections and hypoadrenocorticism etc. may cause reduced activity of the bone marrow, which thereby reduces the production of RBCs. Treatment of the underlying cause of the disease will resolve this type of anemia. This form of feline anemia is usually chronic (severe) with resolution taking several months.

Different primary diseases or defects in the bone marrow like aplastic anemia, cellular aplasia, and feline leukemias can cause a non regenerative anemia. These are complex forms of anemia; with many types unfortunately not treatable. Such a defect may be a lifelong problem for the affected cat, with such cats not reaching a normal life expectancy.

Signs and Symptoms of Feline Anemia:

Anemia in cats is characterized by paleness in the mucous membrane (gums). Jaundice is common in the hemolytic form (body attacks red blood cells) of anemia. Similarly, the presence of red mass in the urine may represent immature RBC (reticulocytes) presence in blood circulation, representing a deficiency of RBCs in the body. Pica (eating non food substances) or cats eating unusual things like bones, plastic or fabric etc represents a mineral deficiency with anemia in such cats suspected due to nutritional deficiencies.

Shock (fast heart beat, acting confused) is another sign of blood loss anemia in those cats having recently experience an injury, trauma or accident.

Diagnosis of Feline Anemia:

Clinical examination of the cat's physique, mucous membranes and history is very important. The history of nutrition, accidents, chronic conditions a cat must have experienced and a genetic history may help in the diagnosis of the underlying cause of the anemia, and the type of anemia. Laboratory counting of red blood cells (RBC) or packed cell volume (PCV) reveals the degree of anemia in cats. Other examinations or tests will look at the parameters of the blood content, such as the white blood cell count and reticulocytes count may help to determine the degree and type of anemia

Treatment of Feline Anemia:

The first priority in addressing anemia is to determine the underlying cause as the regenerative or non regenerative forms of anemia are treated separately and in different modes of action.

Nutritional supplementation for example is necessary in non regenerative anemia, as blood transfusions can never completely resolve it. Similarly chronic diseases like bacterial or viral infections if not addressed, will make treatment with mineral therapy useless. Antibiotics can resolve infections, with mineral and nutritional therapies preferable for the presence of nutritional deficiencies. Immunosuppressant drugs used in many diseases usually enhance the destruction of RBCs, so they should not be part of any treatment plan.

Homeopathic support might be helpful. One product, Immunity & Liver Support Formula , can help to provide relief from the symptoms of anemia by providing support for the liver and immune system. Ingredients such as Dandelion (positive impact on the liver and digestive system), Eastern purple coneflower (immune system function) Indian Ginseng (supports the blood and hemoglobin) and others are combined to help a cat with anemia. Speak to your veterinarian about combining this safe approach with other necessary conventional approaches. Note homeopathic products are not a cure, and only provide added support.


The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health (Home Edition) 

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine


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