At our pet emergency centre, we believe in educating pet owners around common illnesses and ailments that pets face. Anaemia is a condition that we often see in emergency and critical care situations. In this blog, we will explain what anaemia is and how our vets investigate the cause and treat your pet.
What is anaemia, and how do I know if my pet has it?
If your pet has anaemia, it means that it has a low number of red blood cells in its circulation. Red blood cells transport oxygen around the body and when there is a decrease in circulating red blood cells, the amount of oxygen being delivered around the body is also decreased. This is a significant cause for concern and all efforts should be made to increase the number of red blood cells.
One way to tell if your pet has anaemia is to look at their gums. If your pet’s gums are pale or white (instead of pink), this could signal that it has anaemia. Common symptoms your pet may face due to anaemia include difficulty breathing, lethargy, collapse, or hyperthermia. If you believe your pet has anaemia, it is essential to have a vet check them
What causes anaemia?
There are 3 common ways a pet can become anaemic. You can have anaemia through blood loss, anaemia through the destruction of red blood cells and anaemia because red blood cells are not being made.
Bleeding can cause anaemia and can be external via a cut or laceration. It can also be internal after an accident, with bleeding into the abdomen, chest, intestines or other body cavities which will not cause any external evidence of bleeding. This is called blood loss anaemia.
Destruction of red blood cells is when a pet’s own immune system decides it does not recognise its own red blood cells and destroys them. With the red blood cells being destroyed, the number of circulating blood cells decreases and the pet is classed as anaemic.
A not-so-pleasant cause of anaemia is when something is going on with a pet’s bone marrow or kidney and it affects the ability of the body to produce new red blood cells. In a normal healthy pet, the lifespan of a red blood cell is approximately 90 days for cats and 120 days for dogs, following which the red blood cell degrades and is removed from circulation. If new red blood cells are not being produced the number of circulating blood cells decreases over time as the existing red blood cells are removed at the end of their lifespan.
How can a blood transfusion help with a pet emergency?
If a pet is anaemic and has significant cuts or lacerations, it is obvious what the likely cause of anaemia is, and our pet emergency team can solve those problems for you. Sometimes the cause of anaemia is not so obvious and finding the cause can be trickier. In this case, additional testing (such as blood tests, ultrasound, x-ray and/or CT scan) will need to be performed to help determine the underlying disease process.
As a doctor would suggest for a human with anaemia, our veterinary team may recommend a blood transfusion for your pet. Also, like humans, dogs and cats have different blood types. Our emergency team will type your pet’s blood and ensure that only blood from a suitable donor is administered. Blood transfusions for pet emergencies are common and can be successful in helping pets recover from anaemia.
If your pet’s cause of anaemia is not as simple as being stitched up, but due to the immune system or another cause, additional investigations and treatment will likely be required. Whilst a blood transfusion will help with the initial anaemic episode, if the underlying issues are not treated, they will continue, and your pet will become anaemic again. Whilst another blood transfusion is possible (and maybe needed) it is important that the underlying cause is identified and treated, if possible, to prevent further bouts of anaemia. This may be done by your regular veterinarian, or in some cases, a referral to our medical specialist team may be required.
How can I donate blood to save the lives of pets?
At our pet emergency centre, we require blood frequently as we regularly see patients that need life-saving blood transfusions due to their injury or condition. We rely on pet owners in the community to assist by allowing their dog and/or cat to donate blood. If you would like your pet to become a hero and save another pet’s life, click the below link to register your interest.
If you have any further questions about anaemia or how you can help with our pet blood donor program, get in touch with our friendly team!